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Divorcing a Financially Abusive Spouse in Illinois

You want to divorce your financially abusive spouse.  So, what exactly does that mean?  Some people do not realize that they are victims because they have always let their spouses handle the money.  Your spouse controls everything, from how much you are allowed to spend on groceries, to how much money is spent on the house.  Your spouse convinces you that “he is only trying to help,” or “she was saving for our future.”  A financially abusive spouse is one that controls you with your money.  It is a person who hides assets or financial accounts, all with the primary goal of keeping what rightfully belongs to you.

Common Questions About a Financially Abusive Spouse 

HOW CAN I GET MONEY TO DIVORCE MY SPOUSE IF I’M ONLY GIVEN A SMALL ALLOWANCE?

Under Illinois law, each person is to receive the same amount of money in a divorce case.  If your spouse has $5,000 to retain his lawyer, then you are also entitled to $5,000 for your lawyer.  It is called “leveling the playing field.”  One person is not allowed to use all of the parties’ funds just for his lawyer, essentially keeping you penniless.  Your lawyer can file a petition with the court to argue that you are entitled to funds for a lawyer in the same amount that your spouse has spent on his lawyer.

HOW CAN I HAVE MONEY TO LIVE ON IF SHE CONTROLS ALL OF THE MONEY?

It is important to let your divorce attorney know about your financial situation.  If you do not have money to pay basic necessities, then you will need to have a petition for maintenance (alimony) filed.  Under Illinois law, the word “alimony” was changed, and we now refer to it as “maintenance.”  It is the same thing, but it now has a different name.

In order to get spousal maintenance, you still have to need it.  Your spouse might be making twice as much as you, but if your employment maintains your lifestyle, then you may not be a candidate for maintenance.  There is still a requirement that you need the money.  If you do qualify for maintenance, then we look to the Illinois guidelines to calculate the amount and duration.

Maintenance is now calculated using a formula, much like child support is calculated.  Each case is calculated by a formula called “guidelines.”  It does not mean that the judge cannot give you more, or even less, but it is a guideline to start the calculation.

If you need more than the guideline amount, you will need to demonstrate why you need more than the guidelines are recommending.  The same holds true for the length of time.  If you need two more years of maintenance to finish your college degree for instance, that could be a motivating factor to the court.  You will want to go through everything financially related with your attorney to make sure that you are receiving everything you are entitled to receive.

WHAT CAN I DO IF HE IS HIDING MONEY?

Most of the time, money can leave a trail.  Cash is harder to trace, but an extensive review of all financial documents can be reviewed by professionals to figure out where money has been transferred.  You should look through the mail, and if the mail is sent somewhere else, pay attention to the junk mail.  Even if statements from a Chase account are taken by your spouse, if you receive junk mail from Chase, you can issue a subpoena to that bank to see if there are accounts there.  Junk mail can sometimes show you where accounts are held.

If you see statements sitting on the kitchen table, take a picture of them.  Pay attention to the paperwork in your house and see where the paperwork is kept. You might not be able to open mail addressed to you, but you can sure take a picture of the envelope. 

Review your tax returns closely.  If there is property purchased, it will show up in the tax return.  The tax return will give you the address of that property and how much money was spent on it.  There is a wealth of information out there if you are looking for it. 

When I worked at Pinkerton private investigation agency right after law school, I would ride along with some of the investigators for “dumpster dives.”  It is amazing what people will throw in the trash.  People rarely threw their bank statements in the garbage, but they would throw promotional material from the same establishment in the garbage.  No one bothers to shred promotional material.  Why is Citibank sending you a flyer for a home mortgage?  They might be sending it to everyone, but they also might be sending it to you or your spouse because you have an account there.  Looking through the garbage can tell you a lot about a person.

YOU OWN THE HOUSE OR ANY OTHER ASSET ACQUIRED DURING THE MARRIAGE EVEN IF YOUR NAME IS NOT ON THE ASSET.

I see this question come up in many cases.  One spouse believes that they do not own an asset if their name is not on it, which is not true.  Under Illinois law, anything acquired during the marriage is marital.  It does not matter if the asset was purchased after you moved out.  Anything acquired by either spouse, from the date of marriage and up until the day of divorce, is called marital property.  Even if the asset is in someone else’s name.

Anything acquired during the marriage is marital unless the asset falls into an exemption.  For instance, if you inherited money during the marriage, and did not deposit it into a joint account with your spouse, then this money would be deemed your non-marital monies.  There are other instances as well, but as a general rule, it does not matter that your name is not on the asset.

YOU ARE ENTITLED TO PENSIONS, PROFIT SHARING, AND 401(k)S

Again, if this money was acquired during the marriage, it is marital.  Your spouse’s name is on the asset, but you will be awarded a percentage of this asset.  It may be 50% of the asset or some other percentage that the two of you can agree to, but never walk away from this type of asset just because it isn’t in your name and your spouse tells you that you are not entitled to this asset.

If your spouse was working at the company five years before the marriage, then this asset has marital and non-marital monies in it.  Your spouse will be awarded five years’ worth of the asset without any of those monies going to you, but you will have an interest in the marital portion.

Ready to Divorce a Financially Abusive Spouse? Time to Get a Chicago Divorce Lawyer 

Whether you want or need a divorce, it will empower you just by consulting with a skilled divorce attorney.  Most lawyers will give you free advice on the phone, so take them up on it, If you are in Illinois, contact us at Anderson & Boback and we’d be happy to discuss your situation. Our Chicago divorce attorneys have extensive experience helping our Illinois clients with a wide range of complex divorce matters including divorcing a financially abusive spouse.  While it will be difficult to divorce a financially abusive spouse, once done, you will be glad you did. 

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