This Season on The Real Housewives of New Jersey

This Season on RHONJ…

It’s a simple concept but somehow it comes up over and over; the ramifications can’t be emphasized enough:

Very few women (and men) fully understand the legal and financial implications that their partners’ actions have when married. Whether it’s purposeful denial of reality or that someone lacked the capacity to understand the math involved, you are still responsible. It often feels like someone has to be truly burned in order to learn lessons of “conscious coupling.”

There’s just no explanation for my love of pop culture or “trash TV.” Maybe it’s my fascination at the incredibly private things that people feel compelled to reveal about themselves in a completely unfiltered era.

Season one of RHONJ (Real Housewives…) opened with Teresa Guidice, married to contractor Joe. She was putting the finishing touches on their multi-million-dollar dream New Jersey “McMansion.” I was immediately hooked when she explained that they had to build a home because it would be disgusting to move into a used home that had been lived in by other people: “I skeeve” were her words.

The dream came at a huge price: On March 4, 2014, Teresa and Joe entered a guilty plea to 41 counts of fraud, following a deal struck with federal prosecutors. The couple was accused of engaging in bank, mail, wire, and bankruptcy fraud, which allegedly saw them net over $5 million over a 10-year period. On October 2, 2014, Teresa was sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison, rather than probation, due to her “blatant disrespect by filing sloppy and incomplete financial disclosures.” When she was released, the IRS also liened them for back taxes including failure to file tax returns for 2004-2008 when he earned only $1 million over the course of four years.

This leads us back to our original question: How do you believe you can afford (and deserve) a multi-million dollar house while earning less than $250,000 a year?

Until Teresa went to jail, she insisted they did nothing wrong. She only “signed some papers.” She was the “housewife/mom” and that her husband instructed her to sign whatever papers the bank sent. Apparently earning $1.16 an hour in jail and a year spent with real people has taught her a few life lessons.

This season her storyline has been “I’ll never put my John Hancock on anything I don’t understand. I got in trouble because I signed some things I shouldn’t have because I didn’t understand them. But I did my time.” Concise. She also told her 4 children she was “at camp” working on a book. She doesn’t like to use the word prison because “bad people are in prison” and she knows she is a good person. But she was convicted of 41 counts of fraud!

Our camper lives in a curious mental state: But who would enlighten her about financial issues? Her friends? Dolores, who gives all of her unopened bills to her ex-husband to handle? Dolores says, “We’ve always had a deal: He takes care of the bills and I take care of the kids.” But continuing that deal post divorce is an arrangement in extremis.

She’s also a partner in a million-dollar gym. But Dolores avoids work because she doesn’t like to leave her comfort zone. She is unaware of which credit cards she owns.

While Namaste Teresa counsels Dolores on the dangers of “not being aware of your finances,” I tried to recall all of the cast members who were either under investigation for fraud or in the throes of bankruptcy.

It’s not just housewives (or husbands) from New Jersey. Unfortunately, this is typical of what I often see in my practice—male and female: Insufficient understanding of marital financial obligations under the law. Your future is the sum of your past financial decisions as a couple.

Which financial decisions or arrangements do you feel unclear about? Do you understand what you’ve signed during your marriage? You may be shocked at how those decisions you made will impact your life or your future if you divorce. Let me help you make sense of your financial picture.