My husband and I have been together for 28-plus 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 held positions in retail while our kids were in school. We never lived near family so this was our agreement to make life work. I made around $30,000 a year during that time.
We got married three years ago when my husband was having health issues. He was concerned I may have problems accessing his pension, 401(k), Social Security, etc. Well, he is going to be fine. He’s feeling so fine that he now wants a divorce. He says I’m not entitled to any of his retirement, alimony, properties or assets because we have only been married for three years.
“‘I make $55,000 a year, and he makes $180,000. I pay $2,500 of my monthly income for our mortgage, utilities, and our son’s off-campus living expenses, etc.’”
He wants to buy me out of our home, and told me I have to use my share ($100,000) to pay down our kids’ student loans ($200,000) because they are in his name. We have another $1.5 million home in California we use as rental property we bought in the early 2000s that is in 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 our son’s off-campus living expenses, etc. He told me I have to tell our kids they need to drop out of school if I can’t qualify for loans for their remaining time to finish school. (One son has a year left in college, while the other has two years left.)
I’m running the numbers and, if we divorce, I will be left with my own retirement account that is valued at 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 into our household — he has always left my name off things.
Am I the world’s biggest fool? Or is there any help for someone in my situation?
Being Cut Loose
Dear Cut Loose,
No, you are not a fool. You live your life with an open — and trusting — heart.
Your husband, from what you say in your letter, is opportunistic and self-serving. He can bully and cajole, and use emotional blackmail and downright lies to get what he wants, if you let him. Hire a divorce attorney today. They will advise you on your rights. Do not agree to anything. Do not sign anything. Do not even engage with your husband on issues pertaining to your finances and/or divorce. Your divorce attorney should direct you, and do all the talking.
If ever there was a time to stand up to your husband and his untruths and coercive control, this is it. He cannot take you off the deed to a home that you jointly own together unless you voluntarily signed a document to quit-claim the property to him. Similarly, he cannot force you to sign over your current home and/or use the proceeds 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 property should be split 50/50, but as the law firm Ayo & Iken points out, “This is not always as simple as it sounds: It is not as simple as looking at when a particular asset or piece of property was acquired. Instead, Florida statutes provide courts with guidance in determining whether a particular asset or property is marital or non-marital property.”
“‘Do not agree to anything. Do not sign anything. Do not even engage with your husband on issues pertaining to your finances and/or divorce.’”
“The word ‘guidance’ is used because courts and judges in Florida have incredible discretion to do what they believe is fair,” Ayo & Iken writes. In addition to assets that were commingled during your marriage, marital property includes: “Assets acquired during the marriage, enhancement in value and appreciation of non-marital assets, inter-spousal gifts during the marriage, real and personal property held as tenants by the entireties, 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 those eligibility rules: You must have been married for 10 years, he has to be at least 62 years old, and if he hasn’t yet claimed his benefits, you must be divorced for at least two years.
Your husband played you. He married you when he believed it was in his best interest to do so. He may or may not have tricked you or bullied you into signing over your interest in your $1.5 million rental property. He is using a menacing combination of truth, falsity and pressure to get what he wants now. It’s time to upend his bag of tricks. Gather up as much paperwork as you can now. Your attorney will be able to advise you how best to proceed.
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