Can husband report wife for using his card to pay bills?

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Question Dear To Her Credit,
I married a guy who turned out to be a secret drug addict, and we have a child together. He tried to get clean, but he had a brief relapse and asked me to manage the bills by using his bank card to make payments and to pay for household expenses. After each transaction I sent a text message or email explaining what I did with the money with his knowledge.

Recently he got mad, changed his mind and said he notified his bank that I wrote fake checks, even though I have the text messages and everything. Is it true I can get in trouble with the law because of this? What should I do? – Marla


Dear Marla,
It seems you had some inkling that he could turn on you when you were using his cards. It’s common for husbands and wives to have separate accounts. I don’t believe it’s common for spouses to feel they need to document permission to manage household expenses.

The bank, and local law enforcement, tend to be neither interested by claims that a wife used her husband’s bank card to pay household expenses.

Even if you spent some of the money on yourself; for example, if you bought clothing for yourself and for your child, he would have a hard time persuading anyone that your actions were criminal. As you say, you have text messages and emails showing you had permission to use his card. In addition, if he gave you permission to use his debit card, he might have also provided you with the PIN.

If by saying you wrote “fake checks” he means you forged his name on paper checks, that’s more of a problem. Signing someone else’s name, even if it is your husband’s name, on a check is fraud. If he wants to file a police report, he can. That said, you’re not likely to attract too much attention from law enforcement because you took shortcuts while paying the utility bills.

In the unlikely event that criminal charges are filed against you, however, you should seek qualified legal help in your state. Criminal charges should never be ignored or taken lightly, no matter how ridiculous they seem.

While criminal action against you is unlikely for paying bills with your husband’s account, especially with documented permission, your husband could bring up his accusations in divorce court. If he argues that you spent money disproportionately on yourself, the divorce courts can count some of your expenditures against you when dividing up marital assets. On the other hand, a drug addict is far more likely to be spending money on drugs.

If you are getting a divorce, be sure to get a good lawyer. A good divorce lawyer can make sure you and your child get a fair shake, and that your husband doesn’t coerce you into settling for less because he is threatening to report you to the police.

In the future, don’t sign checks unless you are on an account. Getting permission in writing before you used the bank cards was good, but having your husband officially add you as an authorized user to the card would have been better.

If your husband was unable to take care of his separate personal finances because he was undergoing treatment, you would have been wise to get a power of attorney for him. A power of attorney is a legal document that would allow you to act in your husband’s place. It can be general, or very limited. With power of attorney in place, there would have been no question that you had authority to manage his affairs while he was unable to do that.

See related: Spousal identity theft is fraud, so fight it, Debt and divorce: 5 steps to make a clean credit split

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Updated: 02-18-2019