I often hear commentators talk about high profile, big money cases as the “difficult” ones. For those that follow this series, you will notice that we often talk about debts. That is because debts are easy to accumulate, hard to get rid of, and no one wants them. The difficult cases aren’t the ones where there is too much money, but rather, when a family is just getting by together, and we now have to figure out how they can manage two households.
The even more difficult cases are the ones where the family isn’t even getting by together, and now we need to figure out how to put them into two households. These basically fall into the category of a low income family, with few resources. However, in many low income families, services may be available such as assistance with heat; food stamps; lunch programs; subsidized housing; and other government benefits.
The families that are not low enough income to qualify for benefits, but are still not getting by, or are barely getting by, generally fall into two categories; (1) there simply is not enough money for basic living expenses or (2) there are sufficient funds to meet basic needs, but the family is living beyond those means. This article will concentrate on the second category.
Many times a client will come in with a list of debts, often bemoaning their spouse’s spending. If someone has come to see me in regard to a dissolution of the marriage, there may be some debts that are shared, and some that are attributable to the spouse that incurred them. If you can prove that there was a “wasteful dissipation” that is, the person spent money on obviously unnecessary items such as drugs, alcohol, or gambling, a court will hold that person responsible.
However, what happens when either; (1) the debt is incurred and you don’t know about it or (2) the debt is incurred and you do not consent to it?
If the debt has been concealed from you, the spouse who has secreted it can be held liable. If you knew about the debt, although did not consent to it, it is more of a grey area. That is, maybe your spouse spends more money on items for your children than you would like such as clothes, activities, vacations, but is not necessarily gambling it away, you just have different values. What do you do?
If you are dissolving the marriage, at least there will be a disposition, and after that, you will not be responsible for your spouse’s bad spending habits.
What if you want to stay in the marriage? You need to examine the underlining issues, and find a way to reach a common goal. Marriage counseling, as well as working with a financial planner, can be of great assistance. However, if your values are too far apart, you will need to make some hard decisions regarding the viability of you relationship.
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