Braunwyn Windham-Burke hit her breaking point last year after estranged husband Sean Burke allegedly “emptied” their joint bank accounts.
“It’s the reason I did file for divorce. When you’re still legally married, there’s not a lot to protect you,” she claims in an exclusive sit-down with Page Six from the exes’ shared home in Newport Beach, Calif.
“So Sean had emptied out our joint bank accounts unbeknownst to me,” she alleges further, adding, “Literally, one day I woke up and I had no access to any of my cards or any money. And that was why I filed for divorce.”
However, in response, Sean tells Page Six that “any funds that were moved were used to pay family bills.”
Braunwyn, 45 — who came out as a lesbian in December 2020 — finally filed for divorce in October 2022 after an extended separation from Sean.
Together, she and the businessman share Bella, 22, Rowan, 20, Jacob, 17, twins Caden and Curren, 9, Koa, 8, and Hazel, 5.
Braunwyn and Sean are hoping to finalize their divorce “soon,” they recently told us in a separate joint interview. However, a legal dissolution is incumbent on agreements reached over custody and spousal support.
In her solo chat with us, the former “Real Housewives of Orange County” star says caring for seven children as she works to establish financial independence has been difficult.
“I had a pretty cushy thing going and now it’s not,” she tells us. “My life is hard.”
In a December 2022 court filing, Braunwyn claimed that Sean had “stopped providing” financial support to their family.
She explained at the time that she had to rely on her parents to assist her in meeting “basic living expenses,” alleging that Sean’s contributions left her “unable to provide” for their kids.
According to Braunwyn, not much has changed in the passing months.
“As of right now, if he doesn’t send me money — because legally he’s not required to — then I can’t buy food or groceries and my parents have been supporting me,” she claims.
“He sends very little. I have five kids still at home that I’m taking care of and he doesn’t send enough to cover groceries.”
Braunwyn elaborates, “He’ll be like, ‘If they need food, I’ll go get it.’ Or, ‘If you need this, you can leave and I’ll do it.’ … For 28 years, he was completely in control of everything. That was 100 percent him and I allowed that.”
The reality TV alum, who departed “RHOC” in 2021, surmises that Sean allegedly withholds funds to retain authority in their dynamic after she decided to pull the plug on their 23-year marriage.
“I think once I’m in control of my own finances, I think he’s scared that he’s going to lose me. Not his romantic partner, that he’s done with — but as that person,” says the blonde beauty.
“It’s almost like he’d rather have me around asking [for money] — or in some cases, I’ve been begging for money — than to not have me at all.”
Braunwyn tells us that her girlfriend, Jennifer Spinner, has helped her cope with any financial instability.
“So much of my life was about material things. Huge parties, expensive trips, shopping. I’ve lost all of that. When I walked away from my 20-plus-year marriage, I gave all of that up. And I never would’ve thought that I would be so happy with so little,” she says.
“I look at Jen and I see this future and I see the person next to me and it’s all worth it and it’s not the life that I thought I was going to have. It’s so different but it’s so beautiful.”
The couple — who exchanged vows in a “fake” Las Vegas wedding ceremony on Valentine’s Day — are days away from moving to Franklin, Tenn., with the youngest members of Braunwyn’s brood.
The plan is for Sean to stay at the new home when Spinner, 38, and Braunwyn are away, a form of “nesting” the family has become accustomed to since the separation.
“It’s nice to know that at 45, you can completely pivot, start over and create the life you never knew you always wanted,” Braunwyn enthuses.
“I have pivoted just like many other women that are in my position. Because I know I’m not alone in this. When things get hard, you get creative. And that’s what I’ve done. I never had to work before and now I do. And that’s OK.”
For income, Braunwyn participates in paid social media campaigns and has been clocking in hours at her stepfather’s company.
“Sean and I have been together since we were teenagers. I dropped out of college. I never worked. I stayed home and I raised seven kids and I was a full-time mom,” she notes.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Get a job, get a job,’ OK, yes. And I have … My [stepdad] has actually given me a real job. I have gone back to work. But just because I’m working to help take care of the kids doesn’t mean that Sean shouldn’t have to also.”
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Braunwyn insists that she enjoys making her own money, but is hopeful the court will eventually grant her financial safeguards amid her split from Sean.
“I am very much looking forward to when the courts say, ‘OK, yes, you guys are separated but you [Sean] still have to do X, Y and Z for your kids,” she says.
No matter the outcome, Braunwyn intends to preserve her positive attitude.
“My nickname growing up was … Pollyanna. I can always find the bright side in something and I think that might be hard for [Sean],” she tells us.
“Maybe not even consciously but I think there’s a part of him that’s like, ‘You shouldn’t be able to get away with what you just did. You just walked away from our family and marriage. You should be a little unhappy. Like, you need to suffer a little.’”
But tough times are no match for Braunwyn’s resilience, she says.
“It doesn’t matter what’s happening,” she states. “I’m just one of those people where I find the joy.”