'My husband gaslighted me into believing we were broke'
While Karen was struggling to feed their kids, Toby was secretly shopping for wineries in the Hunter Valley.
From the start, I just accepted the fact that Toby was the main breadwinner. I raised the kids and while he didn't mind me doing a few little jobs on the side as a graphic artist, he was very against me working.
It suited me when the kids were young because I wanted to be with them but at the time, I remember friends being amazed that I never had money of my own.
I guess I made a nuisance of myself sometimes constantly asking friends to lend me money so I could buy makeup and toiletries.
Toby would give me an allowance each week but once I bought groceries and things for the kids, there was rarely anything left for me to spend on myself.
I kept telling myself that when the kids were older, I'd be able to return to work and become more financially independent.
As time went on, things got harder to live with. For example, we really needed a new sofa, so I asked Toby if we could budget for one as the sofa we had was really falling apart. But he got really angry, screaming: "What makes you think we can afford new furniture? I'm working my arse off to keep food on the table. We can hardly afford to take a holiday this year because you spend everything I earn!"
I felt dreadful after that and assumed that I was the reason we never did anything socially or bought new things. Clearly, it was my fault as he always said I wasn't good at budgeting.
Although, looking back, I was great at finding bargains in second hand stores and thrift shops and I was an expert at feeding a family of five with $20 when I had to.
One time, I noticed Toby's shoes that he always wore for work were terribly worn out. I suggested he buy a new pair and I got a lecture about how stupid I was that I thought he could afford a pair of shoes.
He also berated me if I bought anything that he considered luxurious - for example a packet of cashew nuts that I like to put with our salads.
Or he would tell me off if I splurged and bought smoked salmon. So I really believed that we were scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to money.
The thing that really made me realise we were financially struggling was when my sister was getting married in interstate and Toby said there was no way we could afford my $200 airfare. I was devastated.
One time he actually showed me a bank statement to prove to me that we were almost broke. The piece of paper said our account had less than $500 in it. So I did believe him.
Fast forward to when he ended our marriage when our eldest was 16. He told me he wasn't in love with me anymore and there was no point holding on. I actually agreed with him so our split was relatively amicable.
He told me there was no need for me to hire a lawyer as he was going to handle our financial split. Thankfully, my friends who had been through divorces urged me to see a lawyer of my own and that's when the bombshell hit me.
The lawyer looked at our joint account and saw that there was a lot of money coming in and being put into a separate account. There were transfers of $70k and some of $100k. I was shocked as I believed Toby was only making around $55k a year, which is what he told me he his yearly salary was. Why would I think otherwise?
My lawyer also said that it was important to hire a forensic accountant and it was discovered that Toby owned a house in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, he was part owner of a winery and he had a significant amount of shares.
Turns out he was extremely well-paid, and had been all along.
The good news is that after years of thinking we were absolutely broke, I was able to take him to court and I was given my share of the wealth that he had been hiding from me for so long.
And you know what? I actually have Toby to thank for something. Not only do I now have a substantial fortune at my disposal, I am also great with money. God know I had to be, feeding a family of five on so little money for so long!
QUEENSLAND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES