Real World Financial Infidelity – Skimming

financial infidelity

What is skimming?

Skimming from marital bank accounts is the process of slowly transferring marital assets from joint accounts to a secret account in the name of one person. This version of financial infidelity may be considered outright theft and often requires the assistance of an unrelated third party.

Here’s an example of financial infidelity:

Years ago we had a client come to us after becoming suspicious of his wife’s spending habits. He knew something was fishy but wasn’t sure why. His wife spent very large amounts of money at retail establishments like department and grocery stores on her debit card. He became suspicious when he realized she never seemed to have large bags of new clothing and was purchasing groceries only for a family of three.

We completed a cash flow analysis from bank statements and prepared a list of possible avenues for financial infidelity. Principal among them were the large and abnormally frequent trips to grocery stores and Nordstrom.

Here’s what we found:

During our analysis we asked the client whether his wife typically carried around large amounts of cash. We were concerned she could be taking cash out every time she used her debit card at the grocery store. Many grocery stores will allow for $200 of cash to be withdrawn at the cash register on top of a bill for $18.99 in groceries. The total bill then looks like $218.99 was spent at the grocery store on a bank statement. It actually makes a lot of sense for stores to allow these cash back transactions because it helps reduce employees access to large sums of cash and reduces internal costs for accounting and balancing cash deposits.

We also wondered if the spouse could be taking advantage of cash refunds when returning purchased items to department stores. Many stores will give you the option to receive cash or a credit to your card if a debit card was used to make the original purchase. There is typically a limit to the amount of cash refunds they will provide but a small refund here and there can ad up quickly.

Where did the money go?

Once we raised these concerns the client was able to find tens of thousands of dollars of cash withdrawals made through these two methods by comparing receipts he acquired to bank statements. The only remaining question was…Where did the money go? It turned out the cash was being sent to her mother in a different state via US Mail and deposited into an account in the mother’s name. This was a smart move by the wife because the statements would never be sent to her and any interest earned on the account would be on her mother’s tax ID.

This type of scheme is not all that uncommon. A recent Harris Poll done on behalf of the National Endowment for Financial Education saw 26% of respondents admitting to hiding bank accounts or cash from their spouse.

Fortunately for our client there are ways to sniff out financial infidelity.


Financial Infidelity: How do I catch my spouse?

financial infidelity

How do I catch financial infidelity?

1. Ask for online access to credit and bank accounts.

Download full statements for a representative period of time. We suggest at least six months. If online access is not available, get statements from the mail. Make copies for yourself, preferably electronic copies by scanning.

2. Review transactions and note:

  • large cash withdrawals and the location of ATM usage, you may be able to pinpoint the destination of the cash withdrawals if in close proximity to strip club as an example
  • large debt or credit transactions
    1. Location of restaurant, bar and hotel expenses. Large restaurant or bar bills could indicate your spouse was not alone.
    2. Large retail store expenses, say Tiffany’s, might be indication of gifts being purchased for someone else or spending addiction. If you suspect a spending addiction look around the house for clothing with tags still on it either in bags or even hanging in the closet.

3. Get your credit report.

It is possible for your spouse to open credit cards on your credit without your knowledge or consent. Go to or to get a free copy of your report and look for any accounts you are not familiar with. If you find more credit cards than you were previously aware of this could be indication of large balances and growing indebtedness.

4. Compare your family expenses to net incomes and estimate what you should have in savings.

This may be the quickest way to confirm there are large amounts of missing money or unnecessary indebtedness. If your family’s net income after taxes is $10,000 per month and your expenses are $7,000 per month there should be $36,000 of available savings in a given year. If there is no money in savings or investments, you have reason to be suspicious.


Can anyone help me?

If all of these steps fail to return the answers you seek consider hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst at Wellspring Divorce Advisors to analyze the family financial picture and uncover financial infidelity. We will help ensure no stone is left unturned and tell you if there is something to worry about you can move on with peace of mind.

Worried? Here are 20 Questions to Uncover Financial Infidelity


What questions should you ask if you are worried about financial infidelity?

If you’re worried your spouse is being financially unfaithful,  here are 20 questions we ask a client who suspects their spouse of financial infidelity. They are all meant to uncover underlying causes or avenues for financial infidelity. You should ask yourself these questions before accusing your spouse of wrongdoing.

  1. Do you have separate bank accounts?
  2. Is your name on the family bank accounts?
  3. Is your name on the mortgage?
  4. Do you have a relationship with the family financial advisor?
  5. Do you know how much your spouse earns and how they get paid?
  6. Who gets the mail and pays the bills?
  7. Are there credit cards you know nothing about?
  8. Are your family bank and investment account balances lower than you would expect?
  9. Are there unopened boxes or clothing hanging in the closet with tags still on it?
  10. Is money an emotional conversation in your marriage?
  11. Does your spouse gamble?
  12. Does your spouse day trade a stock portfolio?
  13. Are there abnormally large expenditures charged to debit cards at department or grocery stores?
  14. Do you suspect your spouse of having an emotional or physical affair?
  15. Are you on an allowance?
  16. Does your spouse do business with family members?
  17. Do you suspect your spouse of misusing prescription or other drugs?
  18. Have you ever wondered where your spouse got the money to buy a big ticket item?
  19. Does your spouse own their own business?
  20. Is it possible your spouse has been planning for divorce for a long time?


Call Wellspring Divorce Advisors for professional financial help if these questions heighten your sense of concern. Click here for an overview of financial infidelity in a previous post.

Protecting Your Assets: What is Financial Infidelity?


Protecting yourself.

What is Financial Infidelity?

Financial Infidelity is the misuse, mismanagement or misappropriation of marital assets and incomes during a marriage. Financial Infidelity can stem from many causes including:

  • shame from a job loss
  • extra-marital affairs
  • addiction
  • poor communication
  • downright fraud.

What are the signs?

Clients have come to us suspecting their spouse of buying gifts or lavish trips for the mistress, frequenting strip clubs and major gambling losses. We have also had clients learn of their spouse’s transgressions only when they saw the poor condition of their family finances during divorce proceedings.

Regardless of the reason for the suspicion or the reason for the financial infidelity it can wreck marriages and the long term financial security of the victim. A recent Harris poll showed 42% of poll respondents have committed some form of financial deception. 39% hid a purchase, bank account, cash or a document of some type like a bill or credit card statement. 16% admitted to a lie about the amount of debt they had or the amount of money they earned. 25% of couples experiencing financial infidelity in the poll ultimately separated or divorced while 25% said it had no effect on their relationship.

Take care of yourself.

You owe it to yourself and your children to be diligent and engaged in the finances of your marriage if only to fight for what is left in a divorce. Read on for a detailed overview.

  •  Click here for a list of 20 questions we ask clients who suspect their spouse of financial infidelity.
  •  Click here for suggestions of first steps to take if you are concerned about financial infidelity.
  • Click here for some real world examples of financial infidelity from our practice.


Protect your Assets: Prenuptial Agreements 101


What is a prenuptial agreement?

A prenuptial or premarital agreement is a negotiated agreement reached between two parties in advance of marriage. The agreement typically deals with the ownership of assets in the event the marriage ends in divorce. Some prenuptial agreements will also cover alimony and child support. There is a great overview from a legal perspective here.

Do I really need a premarital agreement?

About half of marriages end in divorce in the United States so it may be prudent to consider signing one. Following are some considerations to help guide your decision making.

Timing is everything

Many newly engaged couples believe the entire concept of prenuptial agreements is unromantic or even disgusting because the party proposing the agreement may be planning for the marriage to fail. If you plan on asking for a prenuptial agreement in your future marriage we suggest you start the conversation early so expectations are not shattered weeks in advance of the big day.

Many jurisdictions even require a party be given a certain amount of time to review and negotiate the terms of a prenuptial before the marriage date. If the adequate time is not provided the agreement can be rendered unenforceable. In California the party receiving the prenuptial agreement must be given at least seven days to review the agreement before it is signed. If someone is not given the seven days, a court may consider it to be signed under duress and refuse to enforce it’s provisions.

Protect yourself.

Prenuptial agreements should be negotiated with the assistance of licensed and independent legal counsel. Independent is a key word. We have seen many prenuptial agreements drafted for couples by one attorney. Usually the drafting attorney is working for the person with the money. So how could the other party hope to get fair and complete representation from this lawyer if they are already working for their soon to be spouse? Unfortunately they usually do not.

In the State of California the party receiving the prenuptial agreement must be represented by independent legal counsel at the time of signing the agreement or waive their right to do so in writing. If independent counsel is not present the agreement may be rendered unenforceable.

This facet works to the advantage of both parties. For the party receiving the prenuptial agreement they will have access to competent and experienced legal counsel to ensure they understand what they are signing. For the person offering the prenuptial it provides additional assurance the agreement will stand up in court if the day should come. Bottom line don’t use your fiance’s attorney.

Protect your future.

Prenuptial agreements are all about money. One or both parties have it or the expectation of having it and want the money protected in the event of divorce. They are not only for celebrities or the super rich. Say you started a business before you were married and the business is just starting to gain traction. If the business grows to a value of millions of dollars during your marriage, the value may be considered part of your marital estate and you will have to pay your spouse to keep it in a divorce.

You may wish to have the business carved out as your separate property through the use of a prenuptial agreement. If the business does not take off as expected you would still have the peace of mind to know it is yours. If it does take off, you and your new spouse probably enjoyed the fruits of this success during your marriage through the income it was able to pay you.

Be prepared.

Prenuptial agreements require diligence and full disclosure. One of the many problems we see with prenuptial agreements is a complete lack or poor effort at disclosure of financial information. A good prenuptial agreement will include exhibits attached showing the assets, debts, income and expenses of both parties. You may not be able to prove assets not disclosed in the financials of the prenuptial agreement are governed by the provisions.

Take for example a brokerage account. You sign a prenuptial agreement saying all assets owned at the time of marriage are considered the separate property of the owner. What if the brokerage account was with Lehman Brothers who subsequently goes bankrupt and their records are no longer available. Your account balance will not have disappeared with the bankruptcy but your ability to prove it existed at the time of your marriage may have. If you cannot prove it existed at the time of marriage you may not get it awarded as your separate property in divorce. Start with full disclosure, be diligent about keeping records and consider updating or amending your prenuptial agreement as circumstances change and assets move around.


Stay tuned for more on the topic as we dive into Best Practices, explain Common Provisions, uncover Postnuptial and cohabitation agreements, share some horror stories of Prenuptial Failures and maybe even convince you Prenups are Romantic.