‘Am I the biggest fool in the world?’ I married my husband after being together for 25 years. Now he wants a divorce. I will have nothing. What can I do?

By Quentin Fottrell

“If we divorce, I will have my own retirement account left worth about $40,000, while he will have a pension of over $400,000”

Dear Quentin,

My husband and I have been together for over 28 years and married for three. We have lived in Florida for seven years. He now wants a divorce. I stayed home with our kids for six years and the other years I worked in retail jobs while our kids were in school. We never lived near family, so it was our deal to make life work. I was making about $30,000 a year during that time.

We got married three years ago when my husband had health problems. He was concerned that I would have trouble accessing his pension, 401(k), social security, etc. Well, he’ll be fine. He feels so good that he now wants a divorce. He says I am not entitled to any of his pensions, alimony, properties or assets because we have only been married for three years.

He wants to buy our house back from me and told me that I should use my share ($100,000) to pay off our children’s student loans ($200,000) because they are in his name. We have another $1.5 million home in California that we use as a rental property that we purchased in the early 2000s that bears his name. He took my name off that title deed after our first child was born.

Currently, I make $55,000 a year and he makes $180,000. I pay $2,500 of my monthly income for our mortgage, utilities, and off-campus living expenses for our son, etc. He told me that I had to tell our children that they had to drop out of school if I couldn’t qualify for loans for their remaining time to finish school. (One son still has a year left in college, while the other has two years left.)

I work out the numbers and if we get divorced I will be left with my own retirement account worth about $40,000 while he will have a pension of over $400,000, the properties and everything we built together because — even though I used my money to help pay for our household — he still omitted my name.

Am I the biggest fool in the world? Or is there help for someone in my situation?

be cut loose

Dear Cut Loose,

No, you’re not a fool. You live your life with an open and confident heart.

Your husband, from what you say in your letter, is opportunistic and interested. He can bully and cajole, and use emotional blackmail and outright lies to get what he wants, if you let him. Hire a divorce lawyer today. They will advise you on your rights. Do not accept anything. Don’t sign anything. Don’t even engage with your husband on matters relating to your finances and/or your divorce. Your divorce attorney should direct you and do all the talking.

If there was ever a time to stand up to your husband, his untruths and his coercive control, this is it. He cannot take away the deed to a home you jointly own unless you voluntarily sign a document asking him to relinquish ownership. Likewise, he cannot force you to give up your current home and/or use the profits to pay for your children’s education. If his name is on those student loans, he, not you, is responsible for paying them.

Florida is an equitable distribution state – not a community property state. There is a presumption that marital assets should be split 50/50, but as the law firm Ayo & Iken points out, “It’s not always as simple as it sounds: it’s not as simple as looking at when a particular property or room Instead, Florida laws provide guidance to courts in determining whether a particular property or property is marital or non-marital property.

“The word ‘guidance’ is used because Florida courts and judges have incredible discretion to do what they think is right,” Ayo & Iken write. In addition to property that was pooled during your marriage, marital property includes: “Property acquired during marriage, valuation and appreciation of non-marital property, gifts between spouses during marriage, movable and immovable property held as tenants by the wholes, and certain retirement benefits.

As for Social Security benefits. There are strict eligibility requirements to collect Social Security benefits as a divorced spouse, as my colleague Alessandra Malito points out, as long as you have not remarried. Among these eligibility rules: you must be married for 10 years, he must be at least 62 years old, and if he has not yet claimed his benefits, you must be divorced for at least two years.

Your husband played you. He married you when he thought it was in his best interest to do so. He may or may not have tricked or bullied you into giving up your interest in your $1.5 million rental property. He uses a menacing combination of truth, falsehood and pressure to get what he wants now. It’s time to shake up his bag of tricks. Gather as many papers as you can now. Your lawyer will be able to advise you on the best way to proceed.

Check out the private Moneyist Facebook group, where we seek answers to life’s trickiest money problems. Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Ask your questions, tell me what you want to know more or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets not being able to answer the questions individually.

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-Quentin Fottrell

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswire

11-11-22 1427ET

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