By the terms of our divorce settlement, my ex-husband is required to pay all of our children's college expenses. When our oldest child went off to college in another state in 2002 at age 17, my ex- insisted on setting up a checking account for them at his family's main bank here in town rather than at a bank near their school. My ex- said this was so he could more easily transfer money into the account when necessary, but our eldest quickly discovered that the bank statements from the account were only going to their dad, and he refused to forward any of them. This made keeping track of the account balance impossible, because even though my eldest kept track of all expenses, they never knew when money was deposited into their account.
Despite being very frugal with expenses, my child received several phone calls from their father saying he'd been notified that the account balance was low, and he was adding money to the account. My eldest told their father the account shouldn't have been low and that they couldn't keep track of the balance without the bank statements. They again asked their dad to either forward the statements or a copy of the statements to them at school, but their father refused to do either.
I was aware that my eldest and their father had not been getting along well for some time, but matters between the two of them reached a critical point in the fall of 2003 shortly after the start of my eldest's sophomore year. As my child explained to me in a series of phone calls (we talked on the phone nearly every night), my former in-laws had notified my eldest that they had put at least two gifts of $10,000 each into the college account. My eldest had scarcely paid for anything out of this account and yet their father had called several times to say the account was low again. My eldest was extremely upset about what was happening to their money, and it was at this point that I realized there was a serious problem.
I knew my ex-, his wife, and his parents were coming to visit my eldest soon, so I advised my child to talk to them about the problems when they came and insist on being provided with copies of the bank statements from the account. At the time I believed this was the right way to handle the situation, but in retrospect it turned out to be a serious mistake, because when my eldest tried to discuss this and some other important issues, they said their father became enraged and began kicking, throwing, and breaking things in their college apartment (which was a garage apartment off-campus). Rather than come to my child's rescue, their grandfather and step-mother left and went out to their car while my former mother-in-law went into the kitchen and started re-washing some dishes. My eldest was terrified at being left alone with their enraged father and started to call the police, but their dad said his wife and parents would all tell the police my child had trashed the apartment instead. Fortunately, my ex- and his family left soon after this.
My child called me right away, and I tried to get them to call the police anyway, but they were too frightened to do this. (My eldest did also discuss what had happened with a close friend on campus the next day and says the friend will back them up on this.) I began urging my child to contact the bank directly about having the bank statements sent to them at school, but my eldest was so shaken by what had happened with their father that they did nothing.
In discussing the situation with my child in detail when they came home for Christmas at the end of 2003 and learning about additional problems with the account regarding missing money, I explained that without the bank statements from the account, nothing could be done, but that with them, it would be possible to compare the account activity with my child's transactions as recorded in their checkbook and figure out what was going on. Accordingly, on 1/8/04, my child sent a letter to the bank formally requesting copies of back statements and instructing that future statements be mailed to them at my house (their permanent home address). My eldest received no response of any kind from the bank and still was not receiving any statements.
Although I was very concerned about the situation and urged my eldest to contact the bank again, my child continued to be very frightened of their father and reluctant to do anything more. The situation remained in a sort of uneasy truce until late in the spring of 2005 when the whole issue of their father and grandfather suddenly trying to force my eldest to sign a trust document giving their father total control of their assets as detailed under my 9/23-24/09 "Trust Issues" post below caused my eldest to decide to end all contact with their father and his family. At that point, my eldest sent the bank a certified letter demanding copies of their bank statements. Again there was no response from the bank and, although this letter was mailed on 5/19/05 in the same town, the receipt card my child received back was not signed until 6/1/05 and not received until considerably later (and shortly after my ex- called and tried to dissuade my eldest from requesting the statements).
After my eldest went back to college in the fall of 2005 still unable to obtain current and back bank statements, they decided to file a complaint with the Federal Reserve. They mailed a letter of complaint against the bank to D.C. but received no response. However, my eldest did suddenly start receiving new bank statements from the account--but these consisted of only the first (summary) page; the pages listing cancelled checks and withdrawals were missing.
When my child came home for Christmas that year, we again discussed the situation. My eldest was upset and frustrated and decided to send an additional letter to the Fed., this time by certified mail. Other than receiving the signed receipt card back (that looks like it never went through the mail?), my child once again never received any kind of response.
When my second child started college (also out-of-state) in 2005, my ex- again insisted on setting up a checking account for them at his family's bank. This child was 18 when they started, so the account was solely in their name. They did receive a mailed monthly statement from their account, but this contained only the summary page that listed the balance and deposits; the withdrawal and check information pages were missing as their sibling's had been. This child had also been very frightened when their dad repeatedly threatened to refuse to pay their college expenses during the trust episode mentioned above, and they elected to ignore the incomplete bank statements until later when they suddenly needed a local account at school and were able to close out the account here.
To this day, we have no idea what happened to the monetary gifts from my child's grandparents and other money that was in my eldest child's college checking account. We also have no idea whether funds were removed without their knowledge from my second child's college account.