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How to Hide Money from an Abusive Husband or Wife Part 3 — ATM Withdrawals

See the end for more information about this series and resources.

I recently posted about some of the places to hide money from an abusive husband or wife. Because bank accounts have issues with addresses, taxes, statements, etc, I suggested that if you want to get one you do it under a friend’s name.

My dad just suggested to me another hitch that people might run into with bank accounts—withdrawing the money.

For example, I can only withdraw a few thousand dollars from my ATM on a given day. It just won’t let me withdraw more…the account basically freezes. So if you’ve saved up $4000 in escape money, you’d only be able to withdraw $3000 on the day you escaped. Maybe that’s ok because you can simply hit another ATM the next day for the rest.

But here’s another hitch. Banks notice that kind of thing. Not too many people do it, and it’s often a sign that someone’s trying to steal money.

So the bank may freeze your account—the last thing you want—while it tries to get in contact with you. If you didn’t use your home address and phone number, then at least your spouse won’t be involved with their calls. But  you may not easily be able to get them to unlock your account again.

For example, when my father used his debit card to buy a $2000 violin for me (I didn’t have a debit card at that point, so I’d deposited the cash into his account vs. carrying it into downtown Philly), we got a call from the bank that afternoon. I don’t know what they would have done if they hadn’t been able to reach him, quite possibly they would have kept his account locked until they made contact.

I don’t know what they’d do if you withdrew all of your $500 in savings. That might not be a problem, since you wouldn’t need that account anyway.

On the other hand, physically storing the money in a safe, safety, deposit box, or PO box means that when you take it you can take all of it. You don’t have to worry about limits or the bank freezing your account. You are only limited by access.

Ideally, any safes you have would be in locations you can access 24/7.

Safety deposit boxes limit you with the bank’s business hours (which may put a hitch in your escape plans). Check the hours and memorize them so that you can work it into your escape plan.

Most PO boxes are more accessible, as post offices will leave that part of the building unlocked later into the night. When considering that option, you’d want to check and see if your post office allowed you to come in at all hours (early morning, late at night) to remove whatever you’ve been hiding in the PO box.

A while back, I asked for peoples ideas on how to hide money from an abusive spouse/parter. I realized that my site didn’t have enough information for someone in a real predicament and wanted to remedy that. You responded wonderfully, and I’ll be doing a short series about it. I’m not an expert and this isn’t professional advice. If you are in an abusive situation, there are ways out. Every situation is different, but I don’t believe any is hopeless. At the end, I’ll include some resources I discovered. And if you can’t save money, you can still get out.



The Halton Women’s Place has a list of ideas and options for abused women who aren’t able/ready to leave just yet.

End Abuse has a Get Help page with some resources and safety-plan templates.

Recommended by a reader, this site supports people who are victims of verbal abuse and controlling, which are just as wrong as physical or sexual abuse.

From the BBC, some information about how to tell if you’re in an abusive relationship. Rule of thumb: If you wonder that you might be, you probably are.

Some ideas on eHow for finding a shelter.

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Help Me On This: How to Hide Money from an Abusive Husband or Wife
July 9, 2008 at 9:11 pm


Catherine Shaffer March 18, 2008 at 9:33 pm

[Mrs. Micah’s note: I think this commentator is completely wrong for three main reasons. First, legality of hiding money comes into question during a divorce, not during a planned escape. Only once the divorce proceedings are going on do you legally have to declare your assets. She also cites a case in which the party was hiding something in divorce proceedings (different from escaping) and not in a case of abuse (so, completely different).

As for ethics, an abusive spouse is not the sort of person who has an ethical right to know everything about your life. They forfeited that when they became abusive. Third, she seems to assume that an abused woman will be able to get her hands on legally shared money despite the abuser’s likely control of the financial assets (bank account, etc) or will feel comfortable escaping without it. I don’t think you always need cash to escape, but if that’s what’s keeping someone from escaping, then I hope my post can help them think of ways to overcome that obstacle.

I can’t let this comment stay without these qualifications because I don’t want abused women to get the idea that they’d be wrong to hide money to escape.]

Have you checked with a lawyer about this? I believe that what you are recommending is actually against the law, and it is also unethical. Marital assets are jointly shared, so an abused husband or wife does not need to save up money in secret in order to file for divorce. She has a right to access her husband’s assets, even if he is abusing her. Even if HE is hiding money from her. Even if her name is not on the accounts. (A lawyer will help with this.) Hiding money does not sound like a good idea to me, and it could get a person into real trouble. A better idea would to be to get legal help right away, and get out of the situation immediately.

Here’s an example. A lawyer we were working with a few years ago does a lot of divorces, and he told us some divorce stories. He said that people typically spend a lot of money in a divorce trying to get more than the default 50% share. He said that if they really fight it out tooth and nail, one spouse might get 55%, so it’s not worth. He also said that attempts to “cheat” or hide money can backfire. One story he told was about a couple that was getting a divorce. On the last day before the divorce was finalized, one spouse won the lottery. He didn’t tell his wife, and then cashed in the winnings after the divorce was finalized. The judge found out, and he was dragged back into court, and his wife was awarded the entire amount of the earnings, as a punishment for being greedy and not disclosing the winnings as part of the jointly held marital assets. In the case of an abusive situation like this, I think it could really compromise a legal case against the abuser if it came out that there was money hidden. It might end up looking more like a setup by a vindictive spouse than an escape from an abusive situation.

Anyway, I’m sorry to butt in here, but maybe you should think this through before collecting advice. I suspect there is a better way to go about this than trying to hide money. Beyond the legal/ethical considerations, it seems to me that concerns about saving up and hiding money could encourage a person to stay in a dangerous situation rather than leaving right away. Again, it seems like it’s a better idea to make a fast break, then let the courts sort out the finances.

Funny about Money March 18, 2008 at 9:54 pm

Actually, my ex- had at least two bank accounts — that I was able to find — with his name and only his on them. These accounts were in the same bank that held our joint account. The bank would not even tell me how much was in the two accounts he had in his name. Withdrawing funds from them was out of the question.

My husband was not abusive. But judging from what women who have been married to abusers have told me, it’s pretty typical for the man to keep all the couple’s money in an account with only his name on it. In that case, the only way the women can get access to it is to go through a divorce trial and get a judgment…by which time the money is long gone. That assumes, of course, she could survive that long.

Stealing lottery winnings is not the same as squirreling away small amounts, whatever you can get your hands on, so that you can escape from an abusive situation. I doubt if there’s anything illegal about it, and even if there is, honi soit qui mal y pense!

mrsmicah March 18, 2008 at 10:03 pm

While it is true that the husband or wife has the legal right to assets held by the abuser, many are unable to access those assets.

With all the control that abusers have, do you really think the wife can just waltz up to an ATM and get money from their checking account as she flees? Not from the stories I’ve heard. These are abusers and control freaks, not average guys. If she can do so, then she should do so instead of hiding money.

But where does the money come from to live? How will she feed the kids while tied up in court battles? How will she pay a lawyer anyway?

I think making an immediate escape is the best option, but if the spouse is afraid of not being able to find a place to sleep (or a way to feed her kids) and fears that they would have to return to the abuser, then squirreling away money may seem to be her only option.

If that’s what she chooses, I can at least provide thoughts on doing it efficiently.

Whether or not a judge would see this as a bad thing in a divorce is beyond me to say. If there was abuse involved and the woman testified that she was worried about feeding her children when she left….I think a judge should understand. I couldn’t guarantee that s/he would. But it’s quite different from the situation you mentioned where the spouse wasn’t saving money in order to escape an abusive situation.

In my opinion, an abusive spouse has broken their marital contract ethically so there’s nothing ethically wrong with hiding money from them, lying to them if necessary to protect oneself, etc. (I do think it’s wrong in non-abusive situations.) Legally, I can’t say.

But legally a woman being abused (at the moment of the act anyway) can kill her husband if she does it as an act of self-defense to protect herself and/or her child and will generally be found not guilty by a jury. Should women’s self-defense against rape classes be banned because murder or beating up people is illegal?

mrsmicah March 18, 2008 at 10:06 pm

Good points, VH/Funny. I’ve heard of many situations where the only money the wife gets her hands on is grocery money. Or checks from the husband to, say, the piano teacher that she has to pass on. She has no way of getting her hands quickly on the money that’s legally hers.

Megan March 18, 2008 at 10:09 pm

In law school, I worked on a project discussing Family Justice Centers. These are places designed to be an “all in one” stop for abused women – legal help, both in terms of police and lawyers, help finding shelters, work, food, clothing, child care, anything a woman trying to escape might need. They’re popping up in cities all across the country, and aren’t everywhere, but a quick search will tell you if there is one in your city. I have personally met the directors of the FJCs in San Diego, Nampa, St. Louis, and Tacoma, and these people are doing amazing things to help. If nothing else, check out the websites for the various FJCs (San Diego was the first). They’ve got ideas and resources for how to get help, even if you’re nowhere near an FJC.

WorkingRachel March 18, 2008 at 10:44 pm

I just wanted to thank you for tackling this topic. It’s not something I’ve ever needed to know about, but blogging about it was a brave choice. Even if your advice isn’t perfect (and I have no idea if the above commenters are correct), you’ve started up a much-needed conversation.

mrsmicah March 18, 2008 at 10:49 pm

Thanks for mentioning that resource, Megan. And thanks Rachel. It’s not a happy topic or even a clean-cut one, but it’s unfortunately common.

Bellen March 19, 2008 at 9:26 am

While not a physically abusive relationship, my best friend’s husband would routinely spend every cent not used for current bills – leaving them penniless until the next paycheck. She was allowed to pay bills by check, but have no cash. She found a book called “Hidey Holes” or something similar. She found a place within the home (behind a trim piece in the back corner of the closet) to put extra money. She got extra money by writing checks for just a few dollars more than the bill – like at the grocery. That money she put away. She sold extra stuff to friends and co-workers – her husband never noticed, he was too busy buying more stuff -especially ‘collectibles – they’ll really be worth something in the future”. She did not have a regular job, by his demand, but she did odd jobs for pay – baby-sitting, house cleaning, etc. while her husband was at work so he would not find out. This was her emergency fund because she knew sooner or later she would have to get out.
The end to their marriage came when a casino was built less than 10 miles away. He was hooked after one visit, when he lost $100 in 20 minutes on the quarter slots. Start mulitplying that by hours every day. He started selling things, took a second mortgage, cash advances, etc. She would have been left completely broke if it had not been for her ‘stash’ and responsible for a whole lot of debt.
She did not reveal her ‘stash’ to the lawyer or the judge – illegal, I’m sure – but why should she have to split it 50-50 with a guy who didn’t care about the well being of his family? I say more power to women who can take any steps, no matter how small, to care for themselves and their families.

Aryn March 19, 2008 at 12:49 pm

I’m not sure you can stash money in a P.O. Box. I have one, and it’s open on the other side where the postal workers have access to it. A P.O. Box should only be for mail, not for safekeeping.

mrsmicah March 19, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Good point, Aryn. One would want to put it in an envelope addressed to the PO box itself. And probably replace the envelope periodically and never allow it to reveal what’s inside (like adding the money while in the building). It’s not as safe as a safety deposit box, but it has the advantage of being more accessible and outside the home.

Jesse March 19, 2008 at 2:22 pm

If I am not mistaken, there are places that do “money hiding” as a professional service. Im not sure what their clientèle are *generally* though, heh heh.

plonkee March 19, 2008 at 3:51 pm

Hiding money from your spouse whilst you are married to them is not usually illegal, in most circumstances it is not advised, but an abusive partnership is not most circumstances.

In the event of a divorce you probably do legally need to un-hide the money, but so will the abusive spouse. When it gets to that point, you should have left, and be living somewhere safe (and as untraceable as necessary) anyway, so it’s less of an issue.

mrsmicah March 19, 2008 at 3:54 pm

Excellent point, plonkee. Until there’s a divorce, there’s nothing illegal about hiding resources. Once the divorce has been initiated it’s different.

Cath Lawson March 19, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Hi Mrs M – this is useful and helpful info, as in my experience, it’s usually the abuser who is good at hiding the money. They already know every trick. My ex certainly did – he would have been happy to leave us completely penniless.

So, it’s nice to see info giving advice to the victim.

Reading this posts reminds me a lot of that film with Julia Roberts – the one where her husband is so awful that she even has to learn to swim in secret to escape him. That was amazingly scary. The music still terrifies me now.

Funny about Money March 19, 2008 at 10:34 pm

No abused spouse (woman or, conversely, man) should think twice about the legality or ethics of saving up a stash to make an escape. Look, even in a community property state, it’s not half of THOSE stash dollars that belongs to the community (i.e., to both partners). It’s half of the TOTAL community assets.

Let’s say the net value of the community assets is $10,000 (just to give us a round number). Each partner is entitled to $5,000 of that. So if you stash $500 to make your escape, all you’ve done is take $500 of YOUR MONEY and set it in safe place.

When a spouse is abused, you can be pretty sure the abuser has control of the money and has lots, lots more cash in various accounts and hidey-holes than a few bucks scrounged from the grocery money or from daytime babysitting.

In the first place, no one is likely to ask the abused spouse where she or he got the money for a bus ticket; and in the second, even it they do, all it means is that the soon-to-be-ex-spouse owes a few bucks less in the split-up of their community assets. It’s not illegal to use your share of the community to escape an abusive relationship.

Dana March 21, 2008 at 5:51 pm

My husband wasn’t abusive, but he broke into a military building one New Year’s Eve and stole a whole lot of computer equipment with the help of one of his buddies.

Guess who got to turn him in?

On top of that, I removed money from the account when I knew I would have to walk out and go tell on him, and when I’d done it I could not go back home, so I went to my hometown in another state instead. (There was no official brig at Fort Bragg, so they let him keep going home in the evenings… presumably to his wife who’d just turned him in for two felonies. Yeah.) Once I was there I withdrew another thousand dollars.

My in-laws gave me NO END of grief over both withdrawals… poor hubby couldn’t pay his bills, yadda yadda. Oh yeah, great. If he wanted he could ask for emergency funds from the military or the Red Cross, since he was active duty. He could also go stay in the barracks if they had a spare room. I meanwhile had to be able to take care of myself until I found a job where I’d moved.

And the state we lived in was a community property state, which made my in-laws’ attitude all the more insulting. They said, “That is not YOUR money.” Um… yes, yes it was. We had a home and he had a vehicle and there is no way I took more than half the assets, and we didn’t file for divorce after that for several months.

Breakups can be so nasty. I applaud any woman facing a bad situation who does what she can to cushion the fall when she gets out of it.

Marie March 31, 2008 at 10:18 am

I’m in my 2nd marriage. My “loving” husband had an affair that I discovered 8 months ago. (he never confessed…he was CAUGHT). He came back home. I’ve been trying to keep the marriage together.
The only thing I asked of him for his part in my healing was to not lie to me.
Oh, I’ve heard a million “I’m So Sorry” while shedding his tears. but he hasn’t been able to stop lying to me.
I even asked him to see a counselor to work on his own issues…but, he’s lying to HER too!!
He’s currently on workers comp. for a knee injury. The man hasn’t brought a penny into the house in 4 weeks. We were living off of MY 3 part time jobs so we were both really looking forward to that $742.00 check.
When it came in, he didn’t tell me. I just noticed a $400.00 deposit into our account. When I asked him how much the check was for he said $740.00. When I asked where the rest of the money was, he said…”in the house” but wouldn’t tell me where.
For some reason the $400.00 deposit was taking days to clear. I called the bank & asked why? She told me that when there’s a check THAT large, it can take 72 hours for it to clear. I said, “LARGE?” It was only $742.00 of which 400.00 was deposited.
She said, “Honey, the check amount your husband brought in was over $1300.00!!!!” 4 weeks…not one penny and he was hiding $800.00!!!
I was livid. It’s my last straw. I’m going to file for divorce. I told my boss to take me off direct deposit so hubby will have NO idea how much my checks are any longer.
It’s been 5 months of saving. I only have $1,700.00. With 3 children I need to make sure I can make it on my own without them having to suffer.
I trusted this JERK with my life. LIVE AND LEARN!
He doesn’t know that I’m filing.

There’s all types of reasons that a spouse will hide money. But, for one thing I took him back AFTER he had a 3 month long affair with this hose beast and for 8 months I’ve been putting up with his lying.
Lying about such stupid stuff like when I found out he was searching through my purse. When asked he said “no” without even hesitating. I pressed it & he finally admitted he did. I explained to him, “If you lie about this stupid stuff how the hell am I going to trust you when I ask the big questions…Are you cheating?” He just doesn’t get it. “Those are “little white lies” he says.

He’s got issues & to be honest at 42 years old…I don’t need this in my life.
Like Dr. Phil says…The only thing worse then staying in a bad marriage for 10 years is for staying for 10 years and 1 day.
As soon as I know me and my kids will be OK…he’s GONE!!
Oh…little tip…stay away from banks. The BEST way is to stash it. I have mine here at my job hidden on the top of a shelf I need a ladder to climb up on, in a box in an envelope.
Through a divorce the spouse (man or woman) is entitled to ANY money ie: bank account, IRA, Pension etc…The safest way for all of my new sister friends to protect yourself is to do like I’m doing. Tell only one person (for me it’s my sister who thought I should’ve kicked out darling husband the day I found out about his affair) You have to tell one person because what if god forbid something happens to you, no one will know about the money.
I loved him & thought I/we could work it out. We would have been married 10 years this September. It’s sad & depressing. I cry constantly but not in front of my kids.(from my first marriage) I HAVE to be strong & I know that by hiding this money from him, I’m helping MY FAMILY in the end.

JonGraham April 7, 2008 at 12:40 am

how does one go about hiding money from payroll checks from someone that is very good about tracking income/expenses in a money management application (QuickBooks)? These are checks that are deposited at a bank branch, and can be cashed. The problem is that with the tax year just ending my 1099s show my total income and if I try to hold back a certain amount of cash the accounts in QuickBooks won’t reconcile. It will take quite a while for me to save enough to leave my abusive situation, and need to start planning now.

Roy's wife July 4, 2009 at 8:29 pm

I am a wife of a Navy ETC. We have 2 sons and e just adopted my nephew. I go to college full-time and have 105 of 120 credits needed to graduate. I have recently found out that my husband has cheated on me for the entire 5 years of our marriage give or take a combined cooling period of 6-10 months total that he didn’t pay prostitutes for sex. He keeps and makes all the money in our family. He pays all bills via EZ- Pay except for our daycare bills and grocery bills. He doesn’t give me any money in hand unless he is going underway. I recently began sending myself Western Union pay outs via the internet to obtain cash for our household needs such as diapers, and things for myself. He had a pure D fit when he saw his NFCU account. I don’t know how i can start saving money for my exit with all 3 children. Where do I start? Since he doesn’t give me anything I have signed up for credit cards but have had to use them to pay for my own needs since this asshole rather pay prostitutes than give his own wife money!!!

ND May 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Keep your funds in a cashier’s check, simple to hide, you can draw or add too it from the bank, & get another one free for the balance of the amount. Check with the bank first, but I went through alot like this. Just don’t loose the check! 8)

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