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Guest Post: Pondering the financial angle

In true crime we often don’t see the wood for the trees. It’s always useful to get some perspective on what we’re looking at, and to make sure we’re not too close to or familiar with our case, by looking elsewhere [either the real world or other analogous true crime cases].

This post by Ralph Oscar does that. It not only humanizes Shan’ann and Chris Watts financial circumstances, but personalizes how they may have responded to them:

I was pondering the financial angle, which I feel is the wild, drunken elephant in the room in this case. I was talking to a new acquaintance online, who revealed that he was twice divorced. Something he said brought to mind the Watts case, and so I’ve been quizzing him about the finances of divorce 

He and his first wife divorced in a state with *permanent* alimony. Even though his ex now has a really good tech sector job, he still must pay her alimony. He’s asked if they can change this; she says no. Who would turn down free money? He remarried, had two daughters. His financial situation has never recovered – he’s been unable to set aside anything for his two daughters’ college. He lives paycheck to paycheck, and meanwhile, there sits his first wife, who is earning good money, receiving permanent alimony. He describes the two divorces with child support/alimony leaving him with “virtually nothing”. Some of his observations:

“It’s virtually impossible to stop or modify the alimony as long as she wants it. I’d attempt to talk to her and she’d say things like ‘would you stop taking money if you didn’t have to?’”

“It can get pretty bad financially when you’re busting your ass at work and doing well but still taking home as much as if you were working for minimum wage. The wife getting alimony … lives in a paid off home with her mom.”

“Meanwhile I can’t save to retire although I can modify or stop the alimony when I’m ready to. The catch 22 is that I can’t save to retire but that’s the only way to stop it.”

“Many angry men and a few women in my shoes. Very frustrating but you need to make it work somehow.”

“I can’t honestly relate to the idea of killing someone to avoid giving them money but I do understand how another might get there. I also can’t honestly say I’d mourn her passing if that did happen. I’ve joked about loosening the lugs on her car wheels but that’s just out of frustration, etc.”

“I haven’t been able to recover financially. I’ve gotten raises at work and the dollar amount of my commissions increase but never enough to pay bills without having anxiety about next week or next month.”

“I had two daughters with my second wife and haven’t been able to save anything towards college.”

“The person making the payments becomes nothing more than a source to enable the other to be ok with no consideration regarding its affect on the payer.”

“The ex who receives the alimony seems to feel fully entitled to my money to this day. If I bring it up in any shape or form she will move away or discontinue the conversation immediately.”


While Colorado is not a permanent alimony state, in 2014 a new law went into effect that prescribed a formula for how to determine spousal maintenance payments: 40% of the higher-earning spouse’s income minus 50% of the lower-earning spouse’s income. Shan’Ann would finally have incentive to come clean about how much she was *not* making on her “business”, or at least there would finally be an accounting of just how much it was *costing* her to make that income amount (which means that’s not the actual income). If she’d been making $80K/yr in actual income, they’d have been paying their bills. That’s all there is to it.

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While my acquaintance would never countenance murder (he has two daughters from that first marriage), he is clear that the financial fallout of his two divorces, particularly that first one with the permanent alimony, has changed his life for the worse. His perspective is that the financial situation for the Watts family was likely a very important factor in Chris Watts’ deciding to do what he did.

If Chris and Shan’Ann had won the lottery the day before the murders, I’m confident there wouldn’t have been any murders.



  1. Ralph Oscar

    That picture at the bottom – look at the body language. Shan’Ann’s head is tilted toward the child she’s holding, while Chris’s head is tilted away from the child he is holding. Chris’ body seems to be kind of arched back and away from his daughter/the group. And this pic was likely taken quite a while back – maybe a year ago?

  2. Lynda Gallien Pringle

    I have no sympathy for this gentleman. At least his first wife did him the favor of not getting pregnant. What the hell was he thinking re-marrying again and producing two kids? Did he not consider that, even had he not divorced the second wife, the kids along with the alimony paid to the first wife would drain all his resources? This man is an idiot for placing himself in the same damn situation. That would be like me buying a Jaguar owing $100K in loans.

    • Ralph Oscar

      The gentleman I was talking about had two girls with each wife.

  3. CBH

    Grossly unfair to have to continue paying alimony under these circumstances. There needs to be major, major reform.

    Watts also was in an untenable situation.

  4. Connifer

    Because Shan’ann broadcast hundreds of photos and videos of her Facebook-perfect family, she is portrayed by UK newspapers (i.e The Daily Mail) as the more successful partner. If you try to point out that Chris was actually the breadwinner and Shan’ann worked for a MLM scam you are massively red arrowed. You just have to view the cadaver dog search video to see the extent of Shan’ann’s spending – two walk in closets for Shan’ann stacked floor to ceiling with shoes, bags and clothes, walk in closets for the children – piled with more clothes, a playroom overflowing with toys – then down to the giant basement where hundreds of plastic boxes of ‘stuff’ were deposited.
    The financial pressure on Chris was intense: 2 children they could not afford. A 3rd child on the way. Astronomical medical bills for 3 members of the family. School fees of $25,000 per annum for the Primrose School that they could not afford. 3 months behind on their mortgage payments (next payment due 16th August). $10,000 in credit card debt (Shan’ann only paid the minimum amount each month). If Chris spent any of the money HE made Shan’ann had a go at him. Furthermore, Nichol Kessinger mentioned that Chris said Shan’ann was bossy and controlling. The children were starting to repeat Shan’ann’s nasty words.
    At the sentencing, District Attorney Michael Rourke said we are left with two questions: Why? and How? I am NOT justifying murder, but it would have helped the public to hear more about the Watts family financial situation. All The Daily Mail writes is that Chris was cheating on his “successful” wife.
    Chris was someone who had tried to do the right thing for years. He was a hard-working, introverted guy whose lifelong friends and long-term colleagues did not have a bad word to say about him. It seems that Chris bottled his implosive anger until he exploded in a devastating way.

    • Caro

      Her extensive wardrobe/shoes was from before her marriage actually.

      • Ralph Oscar

        Yeah, and they’d had a bankruptcy in 2015, *during* their marriage.

        Shan’Ann was not the successful salesperson she wanted everyone to think she was.

        And can you prove that her extensive wardrobe and shoes were from before she married Chris? Remember, she sold that house she owned in NC with all the furnishings included – they (now married) moved to Colorado (where Chris had landed a job as a mechanic for a car dealership) and basically started over. Do you really think Shan’Ann would have paid for a truck to move all her clothes and shoes when she wasn’t interested in bringing along any of the furnishings she’d so carefully picked out to make her home look just right?

        I just don’t see someone like Shan’Ann leaving everything behind in favor of buying a whole new household of stuff, and arranging for several steamer trunks full of clothes and shoes to be brought along.

        • Caro

          She has said on a fb post that she wore flip flops everyday & all the shoes were from her single days. But seriously does it matter? Her life/ her closet.

        • Caro

          Why would it need to be proved? She said on one of her fb posts that the shoes were from her previous life so I assume she was telling the truth.

      • Sheis

        In the photos on her SM, she never wears the same clothing twice. Maybe she had her favorite flip-flops, but I guarantee she wasn’t wearing her old pre-marriage clothing. And, after her weight loss, she would have had to purchase new clothing.

  5. Kaye

    I get the feeling that if Shan’ann had lived to know about the affair, I could see her moving out but taking quite a long, long time to sign divorce papers or even come to a custody/financial agreement in order to make Chris’s life a living hell. I think he knew that and in his mind he wanted to protect Nichol as well from having to deal with that situation. He wanted smooth sailing, no bumps in the road.

  6. Diana

    Ralph (Great name – that was my dad’s name!) I truly sympathize with your divorced friend. It’s very unfair that the divorce didn’t allow him to move on with his life. I’d be curious to know if the alimony stops if the first wife remarried.

    As for Shan’ann overspending. I don’t think that a closet full of shoes or purses proves anything. She had a life before Chris that didn’t include kids. Besides building the big fancy house in North Carolina, perhaps she spent her money on quality shoes and purses. Don’t forget her first husband was an attorney and maybe she could afford such things. Quality purses and shoes last a lifetime! Maybe those embezzlement accusations were true and that was the money she spent, not Chris’s. I just think it’s unfair to only point the finger at Shan’ann alone for overspending. Chris enjoyed those Thrive “life-style get-aways” too! He was at concerts for Adele and Metallica, wore those expensive team jerseys, went out clubbing i.e. dancing, drinking, ate fancy dinners, test drove a Tesla but wanted an Audi after the murders, wore name brand clothes, had an expensive I-phone and Apple watch, used the expensive Thrive products, he even talked up Thrive to NK! He was right amidst all of it! He made just as much of a decision to have a third child as Shan’ann did too! Remember his school video with him saying a baby could help repair a relationship?! And he WAS present when Niko was conceived! He went places when not at work, he drove around in that Lexus just as much as Shan’ann! The ONLY financial downfall I would say was more Shan’ann’s doings was Primrose School. And even then I blame Chris for allowing Shan’ann free rein on his paycheck to flitter it away on various MLM pyramid schemes. Maybe Shan’ann used all her Thrive earnings to pay for Primrose, but that would’ve been wrong to do since they obviously needed the money for other things. I’ve seen Shan’ann get the blame for using $10,000 from Chris’s 401k to catch up on their mortgage. Chris has to approve that, she certainly didn’t get that money on her own. You can’t put your head in the sand with money and then whine that you’re broke and blame others. Unless you were personal friends with Chris and Shan’ann, you don’t know FOR SURE who actually spent money on what! And don’t forget that Chris obviously had access to the credit cards and used them too – He took NK to dinner and put the tab on a credit card. He also got work bonuses in the form of gift cards he was spending on NK as well. Shan’ann also commented that Chris was living the bachelor life – enjoying lobster and steaks while she was in North Carolina. But whether it was Shan’ann blowing all the money or Chris, either way I do think finances played a part in the murders. Perhaps that’s why he chose to murder his kids, he didn’t like them needing his paycheck. It could’ve been that he wanted to blow his money on NK and a new Audi. I blame the sorry state of their finances on poor decisions they BOTH made, but I blame Chris alone for choosing murder.

    • Caro

      Totally agree, just silly assumptions for people to think they know about someone else’s financial decisions.

    • Maura

      Agree 100%. Chris talked her into having 3rd child and later admitted it was to fix his feelings which it didn’t. Neither of them could afford to stay in that house after bankruptcy, send kids to Primrose, have a 3rd child, etc.

    • Ralph Oscar

      “I’d be curious to know if the alimony stops if the first wife remarried.”

      That was one of the questions I had as well. I’m sure I could look it up; I didn’t want to ask too many questions, not knowing how painful the situation might be to him. I was just glad that he was willing to share what he did; I thought it would be useful background to our investigation of the Watts case here.

      Since the #1 cause of death in pregnant women is murder (per the CDC), we really want to understand everything that affects men when a partner becomes pregnant. In virtually all the cases, it’s the man who got the victim pregnant who is the murderer. There was a case very recently in the news of just this situation:

      It’s sadly too easy to find example of this kind of case. Those who drop in onto these discussions with a plaintive, “WHY could he just divorce her??” are of no help and in fact distract us from the important questions. Why couldn’t the murderer (in the case linked above) just pay child support for a child he didn’t want for 18 years? And, no, it’s not right that he shouldn’t have to pay for HIS child’s expenses just because he never wanted that child! Otherwise, the costs of raising that child fall on the rest of us, who had nothing to do with the conception. But the situation is resulting in carnage. We have to figure something out. Not us here, but we as a society. Just as the misogynists are quick to say that a woman shouldn’t have access to abortion services because she’s obviously a slutty slutbag if she has an unexpected/unwanted pregnancy and should take responsibility for the situation they’ve found themselves in (they seem to believe that terminating the pregnancy via abortion is NOT “taking responsibility”), men need to acknowledge that they, too, need to take responsibility for every time – every single time – they have intercourse and assume unprotected intercourse will result in a child to support for 18 years. We need to think hard about how many women’s lives are being saved via abortion services from their babydaddies murdering them to get rid of the pregnancy. I suspect it’s no trivial detail that Shan’Ann was murdered while pregnant with another child they could not afford, given that they couldn’t afford the two they already had.

      And here I am going off on a tangent. Sorry, folks – nothing to see here!

      • Ralph Oscar

        “Just as the misogynists are quick to say that a woman shouldn’t have access to abortion services because she’s obviously a slutty slutbag if she has an unexpected/unwanted pregnancy and should take responsibility for the situation they’ve found themselves in (they seem to believe that terminating the pregnancy via abortion is NOT “taking responsibility”)”

        Ugh. Bad grammar. Should have been:

        Just as the misogynists are quick to say that a woman shouldn’t have access to abortion services because she’s obviously a slutty slutbag if she has an unexpected/unwanted pregnancy and should take responsibility for the situation she’s found herself in (they seem to believe that terminating the pregnancy via abortion is NOT “taking responsibility”)

  7. EJ

    I looked at Shan’ann wardrobe. Plenty of cheap bags and shoes. Wouldn’t be enough a few designer bags and shoes? She “lived” in flip-flops as per her best Thrive friend; why waste her meagre funds on rubbish which you cannot even re-sell. Just to keep her wardrobe full; tacky home, clothes and credit cards maxed; not to mention being in arrears with mortgage. Total lack of money management. This is a tragedy.

    • Caro

      Well I hope when I’m dead I’m not vilified for my spending habits. Amazing the superior opinions people have which are just assumptions anyway

      • rmkenned

        Caro, to try to understand why a murder happened or in this case multiple murders you have to look at everything that happened in the household that could have led to it. The Watts finances and the stress of their growing debt has to be looked at. To ignore it would be to leave a large piece of the puzzle never analyzed. Thousands of murders since time began have involved money and sex. And that’s a fact.

        • Caro

          Oh yes I agree that many things lead to this including finance. Just find it off for people to give opinions SHE had way too many shoes, SHE overspent, SHE was irresponsible. It was their money & their decisions.

      • Ralph Oscar

        Oh, I will be. But by then I won’t care any more…

  8. Sheis

    Chris handed his paycheck over to Shanann.

    What a dope.

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