Marriage, Money and Magic Carpet Rides: The Innocent Spouse

I had the pleasure of interviewing Carol Joynt, author of Innocent Spouse (from Crown Publishers) and Emmy-winning network news producer. The book tells the story of her surviving and surmounting a series of “life avalanches” prompted by her husband’s sudden death and “financial infidelity.” When her husband died unexpectedly Carol discovered that he owed the IRS $3 million…and she was liable for the debt. A consummate story teller, Carol gives us a great read about financial maturity and self-growth as her marriage went from what seemed like a magic carpet ride to a major wake up call.


During their 20 year marriage, Carol happily let her husband take care of the money. Coming from a loving but financially unstable background, she craved the security of being taken care of…and had no reason to doubt their situation.


From the outside, it appeared to be a charmed life. Her husband, J. Howard Joynt III, was from a well-to-do family, complete with ivy league educations and world class art collections.  Howard owned a famous restaurant in DC and enjoyed both the high life and the respect of the DC community. A cross between Cary Grant and Jack Nicholson, he swept Carol, an established journalist and free spirit, off her feet when she met him at 26. They had a son who was five when Howard died leaving her grieving a husband and a life that was a façade.


The book relates her struggles with the IRS, a myriad of lawyers, landlords and disgruntled employees – all while trying to run a bankrupt restaurant with no experience and hang on to her journalism career. One of the most pivoting moments in the book was when Princess Di died in 1997. CNN wanted Carol, then a producer for Larry King Live to go to London for the story and she declined so she could be there for her son’s first day of pre-school. It was a moment so many women experience in prioritizing career vs. motherhood. There was no choice for her but in the back of her mind hung the awareness that her relevance at CNN would never be the same.


It’s a tale of growing up that ends with her learning to stand up for herself. To get there she also had to come to terms with seeing the last patina of magic wear off her fairytale marriage. As she puts it, growing up isn’t fun all the time, but it is better.


Their marriage had its highs and lows. After moving to Virginia with her husband, she lost her sense of self as she discovered the downside to Howard’s high-flying moods. When drunk he turned moody and occasionally violent. She turned it around, re-starting her career as a producer with Charlie Rose at CBS News and working with a therapist to get in control of her happiness. Howard, envious of the new strength emerging in his wife, decided he wanted it too. He embarked on therapy, was diagnosed with clinical depression and through medication and work, their marriage found a new more level ground. Things were good. She believed she had come out the other side. Then Howard died and she discovered a web of debt and deceit.


The thing that struck me with Carol’s story is that there was no moment of looking back and saying…in my gut I knew there was something wrong. That, as it turned out was the key to her proving innocent spouse. The message, no matter how good it is…be prepared for the worst when it comes to finances.


Here are her thoughts on what she knows now:


What is the most important thing you would tell a 20-something based on what you have learned?

“Become fluent in personal finances. Look at your credit report. Maintain your own credit cards. Protect yourself. Don’t choose to be ignorant like I did.”

What do you mean that you chose to be ignorant?

“I hated dealing with numbers. That’s why I’m a writer and not an accountant. I liked that my husband handled all the numbers. I let him. That’s how I chose to be ignorant. I felt he would be around forever to take care of me that way.”

What is your advice to a 20-something who chooses to be ignorant about finances?

“You’re setting yourself up for all kinds of potential woe. You think being safe is being taken care of by a man but the best way to feel safe is to take care of yourself. Don’t let another person completely control your finances.”

You said that finances are mundane and boring, but is getting in charge of your finances complex (or as complex as you thought)?

“I was scared of it and thought it was complex and boring. But it doesn’t have to be. Get a financial advisor YOU TRUST. But don’t leave EVERYTHING to that one person. Have your own checks and balances. If you can, have a financial advisor who is separate from your accountant and a lawyer who is separate from the two of them. And then learn. Ask questions. Understand how it all works…where your money goes and why.”

What are the questions that women need to ask when they get married?

“What is my liability? Whatever you sign jointly you are liable for.  Never sign anything without reading it and understanding it. People have got to get over this joint tax return thing. You only save about $500. Do your own tax return. Talk about a pre-nup. There not just for movie stars, wealthy people. Anybody can have a pre-nup.”

You said the best thing would be to “have the money you had then and the knowledge you know now”. What would life look like if that were the case?

“I’d have all my bills paid. No collection agencies hounding me. I would own my home. I’d have a sense of calm. I’d be confident I would be prepared if a financial emergency happened. I would be freedom to take a vacation, buy a new dress, be generous to good causes and would be able to take care of myself as a senior citizen without being a burden.”

Other than being fluent and an equal when it came to personal finances…is there anything else you would have done differently knowing what you know now?

“Since I was on the will as heir to my husband’s small business, I would ask for occasional tutorials on how the business was run. Perhaps have him put a file together JUST IN CASE that would tell me what I needed to know.”

Does money buy happiness?

“Money doesn’t buy happiness. It buys ease and entrée. Money is like having famous friends. It doesn’t make you famous. But it’s nice to know them.”

Would you have been happier if you never found out?

“No. I’m all grown up now.”



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