Why are some couples putting money over marriage?

Third of people 18 to 35 years old have dealt with partner abusing finances

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Wedding vows traditionally include the promise of love, for richer or poorer. But research has showed a growing number of couples putting money over marriage.

"You think they love you, you're with them and they take full advantage of you," said Ashley, who didn't want to give her last name. 

Although people trust romantic partners with everything from their heart to their wallet, up to 30 percent of young couples claim their partners have committed financial infidelity or financial abuse.

"It can really ruin your life," Dustin Jacobs, vice president of marketing with Bright Star Credit Union, said.

A survey by financial wellness community CentSai found nearly a third of people 18 to 35 years of age have dealt with a partner abusing finances or being dishonest about them.

"I felt very betrayed, especially like, 'This is the guy that I married. He's the father of my child,'" Ashley said.

She described meeting a nice man who gradually asked her to cover more and more costs.

"Two months after we moved in together he comes home with an engagement ring," she said. "And I was like, 'Oh, maybe that's why he was saving his money!'"

But it was Ashley who paid for the wedding with her earnings as a photographer. A short time later she became pregnant and her husband assured her he would take care of the bills.

"To my surprise, I had the landlord come with a notice saying that we were two months behind rent, and also our cable bill," she said. "I ended up with $20 in my savings account."

In the end, Ashley said her ex-husband ran through $30,000 and left their joint account overdrawn.

"I have no idea what he was using the money for," she said. 

Jacobs said more people are coming in trying to recover financially from damage a partner has done.

"Stay on top of it. Look at what's coming in (and) what's going out," he recommended.

Jacobs said in this digital age it's easier than ever to log on and track financial transactions, but many just don't do it.

In cases of severe abuse, a partner uses money to hold someone in a relationship. An example, Jacobs said, is someone draining a partner's account and then using that to hold the relationship together.

"The only way they can leave is if they have the financial resources to do it," physiatrist Dr. Daniel Bober said. "So they're actually depriving them of the very route they would need to leave."

Bober said this is a generation of instant gratification, and not everyone wants to put in work.

"What do couples argue about most? It's about money," Bober said. "And a lot of times the deception that occurs in a relationship spills over into the financial realm of the relationship."

In Ashley's case, she filed for divorce after her son was born. Her credit was so badly damaged she couldn't rent an apartment without a cosigner.

"He gets to go and keep living his life the way he wants, date somebody else, do the same thing to them," she said.

Advisors said both partners should know account passwords and regularly monitor accounts.

Experts believe the behavior is more common than data shows, because it's hard to track and mostly goes unreported.

There are programs that can help victims of financial infidelity. The IRS has the Innocent Spouse Relief provision in which someone can claim a spouse or former spouse should be held responsible for a tax liability. 

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