My Broken Marriage Has Left Me in Financial Ruins

Question:

Dear Steve,

I am 50 years old. I got separated ten years ago and moved out of my house.

My one child is now in college. When I moved out, I made about $60k/Yr salary and $80K for the last few years and now, just recently, $90K.

I claim married one fed, one state, and luckily I have been filing tax returns jointly all these years.

She makes around $25K/yr, and we always got a small refund, and then a few years ago, I owed like $1K. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford an attorney to get a divorce all these years, and she is challenging. So finally, the divorce is in the works.

When I try to file my return, married filing separately, I owe $6K.

Anyway, the main issue is that I do not have a place to live for the last ten years. I am borderline homeless. I have a place only to go late at night to sleep; otherwise, I am always out somewhere or in my car when I am not at work.

My life is quite a constant nightmare.

I can not even close to affording an apartment or anything. And now it’s going to be worse because I need to change my paycheck withholdings to single, and I don’t know what? So I can file for my next year without her.

So ten years ago, for years, I paid her mortgage and most of her bills. But, as of a few years ago, I only pay her mortgage $1400/month, my car $250/month, our car insurance $265/month, gas because I do a ton of driving, car maintenance, food, clothes, a few very low-cost vacations a year, some college expenses for my son, athletic supplies, dental, high medical co-pays, and a few needed supplements for my health, I have some health issues being so miserable without a home.

I’m good at keeping my costs as low as possible, but there’s always something I have to pay.

So basically, there is not even close to enough money for me to have just a studio apartment at least.

It’s regrettable in many ways, especially that I make $90K/Yr, which is not terrible.

So, do you have any advice for me on this? on the way to finally eventually get a place to live? And also, if possible, what should I claim for my paycheck so I can change my W4 right away, or do I need to see a CPA?

Thank you very much, and can you possibly edit or arrange this into a question for your site? I wasn’t sure how to do it precisely; it’s not a straightforward story to tell – thanks again!

George

Answer:

Dear George,

I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with all this. But unfortunately, your situation is an example that debt problems are usually about the underlying issues.

Your financial stress appears to originate with your unresolved marriage issues.

It does not sound like you would owe child support given the age of your one child.

While it has been a kind gesture, I question if you have a continued responsibility to pay your soon-to-be ex-wife’s bills and mortgage.

When you divorce, you enter into an agreement between two people to end the marriage. That agreement is not binding on any joint creditors you might have. If you decide not to close joint accounts, you will remain responsible for them, regardless of the divorce agreement. You don’t want that. Sell or dispose of all joint debt because if you don’t it will not end well. At least it doesn’t in the many situations I’ve observed.

You divorce your spouse, not your creditors.

If you have come to an understanding that you are going your separate ways, then do just that.

You probably need to start taking care of yourself and your future at some point, probably now. That means you need a safe place to live, basic life care (savings, insurance), and to start saving for your future retirement.

On the taxes, I would suggest you use the IRS tax withholding online calculator to determine how many deductions you should be claiming, even if single.

There is No Easy Way to Say This

I understand how you can feel obligated to pay her bills. However, emotionally that is a concept many can feel strongly about.

When it comes to child support issues, I feel strongly about that because the money is supposed to be for the care and maintenance of the children. Your child sounds like they would not be eligible for child support anyway.

I struggle with why you are continuing to enable a lifestyle she can’t afford by paying money you can’t afford.

Nothing is getting resolved. You are both just limping along.

Nobody can judge you. I sure don’t. But from a logical point of view, I’m not sure I can embrace the concept of paying your ex-wife’s expenses while you live almost homeless.

Would she do that for you if the income was the other way around?

Be honest with yourself.

It’s time to make the break, stop paying for her life, and start taking care of yourself because if you don’t, who will?

Sincerly,

You are not alone. I’m here to help. There is no need to suffer in silence. We can get through this. Tomorrow can be better than today. Don’t give up.

Damon Day - Pro Debt Coach