"Conversations about unpaid labour caused me to end our marriage"

** What is a superannuation? AKA ‘Super’. Basically, it’s a pension, or a mandatory savings system for people to save money for their retirement. It's the most common form of retirement savings in Australia  

Could you tell me a bit about your and your life?

I’m a 33 year old mother to a toddler, who was born in NZ (where I’m from), and we moved to QLD Australia during the pandemic as I found motherhood really hard and wanted more support. My in-laws have really helped a lot. I was a stay at home mum, but picked up relief teaching and after my daughter turned 2 I pushed my husband to let me put her in daycare twice a week so I could work on my dream; starting a YouTube channel!

I love it and still want to return to that but was getting frustrated by my lack of income and very concerned about my superannuation. So I decided to go back to teaching part time instead.

Can you tell me about your relationship & when it started?

I met my husband while we were both working in pubs in London. We were both headed home and he decided to move to NZ to be with me. I had already decided to retrain as a teacher, so we eventually moved in together and he supported us financially while I worked part time. We joined our finances, got engaged and saved 10k for a wedding.

I loved how willing he was to support me financially and also to achieve my goals. We had a lot of shared values and ideas about what our life would look like together and things we both wanted.

What's the financial dynamic like in your marriage?

The financial dynamic in our marriage has been very much open, and we’ve shared everything from one pot. Nothing has ever been hidden, which I like. I’ve had time studying and as a stay at home mother, so overall I’ve earned less, but when I am working, we earn about the same (although he has lots of potential for overtime, which he usually takes). I have always had more vision and interest in managing our finances, and have opened a shares account, budgeted our weekly bills needs and managed our savings for houses/travel. I’m a bit more frugal while he likes to maintain a certain lifestyle, especially around food!

How did the marriage end?

My husband has never physically hurt me, nor has he manipulated me but he hasn’t grown or changed since we had a child.

Even though financially I felt supported, I started to realise that I had very little superannuation saved and nothing going into it. As our marriage started breaking down, partly due to inequitable household labour and childcare, I realised how much I depended on him financially and how that had trapped me in a way. He made life a zero-sum game; either he worked and I stayed home, or I worked full time while he stayed home. He did not agree to anything in between.

Ultimately his black and white thinking has controlled me in some ways, and when Sarah Brady/Jonah Hills messages came to light I really identified some elements of (unintentional) coercive control. I also had started listing things that were tense or we had argued about, and when I read some to my therapist, she said that my husband was displaying some toxic behaviours and I was in the cycle of abuse. So while I didn’t experience explicit financial abuse, my choices about how much I worked were controlled.

Once I realised all that, I told him we were over, and he won’t move out until we have a plan in place to separate our assets.

What happened then?

We’ve discussed finances and agreed to maintain our shared account for household bills which we both will deposit a set amount into while he still lives here, and that we would set up individual accounts for our own money.  When I mentioned that I would be entitled to some of his super he got very angry and refused to talk about it, so now we’re using lawyers.

I realised today that when he works overtime and weekends while I look after our daughter, I’m essentially contributing to his ability to pay for his lawyers fees against me. But again, I feel trapped because we live together and if I said I wouldn’t look after her then I wouldn’t look like a very good mother if he chose to use that against me.

So I’ve gone back to work and upped to full time (luckily teachers are in demand!), and withdrew the money I had earned from our joint account. He retaliated and withdrew everything and changed the password so I couldn’t access some accounts that were in his name. I only had a few hundred dollars and he kept a few thousand for himself. Be wary of opening new accounts from a joint account! If you don’t open it using your log-in details, it won’t be in your name!

Any advice or thoughts on this dynamic?

We live in a patriarchal society where it is the norm for women to be primary caregivers and household managers, performing emotional labour, while men can progress their careers regardless of whether they have children (and evidence suggests they earn more if they have kids!). Women are penalised for having families. And marriage traps women in this dynamic. I have heard it said that men will never be better than they are now, and evidence suggests that they get worse over time in relationships (domestic violence, financial abuse, unequal labour etc), unless they are actively committed to growth. The man you marry may be wonderful but if he’s not trying to dismantle patriarchy, he will benefit from it while you suffer. And I agree with this and it has been my experience.

Marriage would be ok if the woman was independently financially secure and there was financial equity. And the man would have to be a feminist who was committed to dismantling patriarchy and calling out misogyny. Otherwise he is complicit in his wife’s oppression. Men claim to love women, yet love to mock “chick flicks” as a subpar genre; see makeup and shopping as frivolous and stupid. Do they love women? Or do they love the services women can provide?

Men are loathe to part with a cent during separation. Just look at the statistics around unpaid child support; the debt is in the billions in Australia. They don’t see how their partners have enabled them to work by caring for their child(ren). So even when they have separated and are meant to pay to support their children, they don’t do it because they feel ripped off, as if their ex is living the high life on their money!