Briana knows that there are two sides to the story when a marriage fails.
“In my world, I was always right,” she told me. “David gambled away our future. In his mind — I ran our company into the ground.”
I asked Briana what she knew about David’s finances before they married.
“Not much,” she admitted to me. “I guess he lived paycheck to paycheck. Because David came from a poor family, I was pleased at how far he had come and how well he had done for himself.”
Briana and David were co-workers at a large international IT corporation in the Boston area. The company closed their division but offered them comparable jobs in New Jersey. Briana would have been happy to move because they were both relatively senior and received decent paychecks and benefits.
But David’s dream was to stay in Boston and start a consulting business. Briana agreed to go along with the plan. They received healthy severance packages and used that money to fund the new venture.
Briana invested most of a $100,000 inheritance to convert their attic to an office and to buy equipment and supplies. The business paid rent to her for the office space. David paid for their living expenses while they were in start-up phase. By the fourth year, their consulting company was flourishing.
Like many small ventures operating out of attics, basements, and garages, when the economy tanked their business income was decimated. Briana took on temporary secretarial work in additional to continuing the day-to-day tasks of their fledgling business.
David traveled frequently, often to Europe. Briana was stuck at home minding the consulting store, working at her day job, and looking after their two daughters. It was a stressful time; one of the girls had a serious sports injury and the other nearly flunked out of college.
When David came home after his extended overseas trips, he whined and complained that Briana didn’t spend enough time with him.
She told me, “he needed a lot of personal attention and got angry when I didn’t have any energy left for him at the end of my day.”
The couple tried marriage counseling. Everything was always Briana’s fault, it seemed. Because of her husband’s hectic travel schedule and her concerns about the kids, it was easy for them to sweep all the difficult issues under the living room rug. Often they didn’t follow up on their assignments or even make it to the counseling appointments.
Briana and David were stuck on an emotional treadmill where things would flare up and then settle down. They agreed to divorce, but never pursued it. Neither one spoke with a lawyer. They treated the issue almost as if no one remembered to pick up milk at the grocery store on the way home.
David became more distant and paranoid. “He accused me of having affairs while he was away. Once I met up with my brother at a conference in Baltimore. David got it in his head that I was sleeping with one of my brother’s work co-workers. Of course, I wasn’t. But he was distrustful and didn’t believe me.”
Her husband hacked into her Facebook account and saw messages from a college boyfriend. They were just catching up on each other’s lives and had no intention of getting together, but David was convinced that they were plotting a secret rendezvous.
Briana didn’t realize it at the time, but David was an example straight out of a Psychology 101 textbook — he was projecting his own bad behavior onto her. Much later she uncovered all his lying about the same things he accused her of doing.
The final straw came when David accused Briana of stealing money from their business. It was time for her to file for divorce.
Briana’s divorce lawyer asked David’s attorney for David’s bank account statements for the last three years. When they didn’t hand over these mandatory documents, Briana’s lawyer subpoenaed five years of financial records.
Boxes of documents were delivered to Briana. She was shocked and horrified when she got the statements. “I tried to make sense of it. I just didn’t want to believe what I saw.”
What did she find?
“I almost threw up when I saw that not only had he subscribed to lots of on-line singles dating sites for the past five years, but that he had been gambling at race tracks and casinos.”
In one year alone, he withdrew over $62,000 from ATMs located in casinos.
The records showed that David would withdraw cash at a single casino on the same day. Multiple times.
People don’t stop by a casino just to use an ATM, so it’s a fairly safe bet (no pun intended) that David used the money that the machine tirelessly ejected to bet at the blackjack tables.
All the cash in their joint savings account and most of David’s retirement funds were gone. Briana estimates that a total of $200,000 vanished over five years — and that was only the money withdrawn “within the walls of the gambling facilities.” It didn’t include money he took from the overdraft account, his personal line of credit, and cash advances on credit cards. She didn’t include those amounts in the total that disappeared because it wasn’t enough proof for her that he spent it on gambling.
“Even my lawyer didn’t expect things to be this bad.”
Their attorneys recommended divorce mediation. For Briana, litigation would have been risky because a judge might classify David’s betting as a financial risk that he took, almost like an investment. The judge might not consider it as financial infidelity.
The couple made a deal: Briana wouldn’t attack him for his gambling losses if David didn’t try to grab her retirement account. It wasn’t an equal trade, but her attorney thought she had too much to lose if the judge decided that the gambling losses were not relevant.
David accused Briana of mismanaging the business and taking a salary while working fulltime at her temp job outside the home. He also claimed she owed him for taxes and her corporate credit card charges.
David prepared formal invoices for Briana for $80,000 and $47,000 for her alleged failures to pay the business for personal expenses. She couldn’t believe it when she came home and found his statements stacked neatly on the bed.
Trying to get cash from her wasn’t enough for David. He wanted to get Briana convicted of embezzlement. The prosecutor laughed at him; his “invoices” were based on what he perceived she owed. Even their divorce attorneys agreed that there was no misuse of funds by Briana.
Because David emptied the funds in his 401(k) account before he reached retirement age, they owed taxes and penalties. The couple had to sell their home just to pay their IRS tab and legal fees.
With a deep sigh, Briana told me, “money is a huge issue but I’ll be OK in the long run. Thankfully, I have a terrific family. My brother is my eldest daughter’s godfather and pays her college tuition and rent. My other brother helped me buy a townhouse.”
Briana is embarrassed about being divorced. She feels like a failure. “It’s mortifying to be starting over at 50 years old. I had a good career and then my own business. Now all I have is a low paying job.” David pays her a small amount of spousal support, about $450 per month for the next four years.
“It’s the end of a dream. So sad,” she lamented. “But he is not the person I married. It’s disgusting to think of the awful things he did. I don’t know if I can trust again.”
This is not the only story I’ve shared about a spouse who bet the farm, lost, and lied about it.
Briana concluded, “You can’t allow someone to destroy your financial future. But I am extremely blessed and fortunate to have family and friends who are so supportive, both financially and emotionally.”
“This too shall pass,” she tells herself often.
David still claims that he didn’t cheat on her while they were married.
He has never acknowledged that he has a gambling problem. It’s no big deal.
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