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My new wife wanted to live with me for free even though she had $800,000 in the bank

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 6/15/2018 Quentin Fottrell, The Moneyist

Dear Moneyist:

My wife and I got married at 63. We are the same age. She was debt-free. Her parents bought her everything, forever. She made $30,000 per year after quitting a job as a heart nurse. Her dad gave her $28,000 a year tax-free.

She also had approximately $800,000 banked. I made $120,000 and was debt-free except for a mortgage with $150,000 remaining. I have $330,000 in a 401(k), plus a pension when I retire.

I paid for everything before we married. Everything! We ate in nice restaurants to the tune of $11,000 during the first year. We married, we discussed our finances and agreed we could split everything.

We were together for 4 years and married for 2.5 years. She moved in and promptly announced that she would live with me for nothing. We eventually started putting an equal amount in a joint account, but this just lasted a year. 

I asked her to leave. She did.

I retired with $375,000 in savings and 401(k), $2,600 per month in Social Security benefits, and $1,800 per month in a pension.

We live in North Carolina. How should the money be split?

WW

Dear WW:

This seems like a battle of wills rather than an argument over money.

Financial experts and divorce lawyers suggest having a candid conversation about money before you get married. “Split everything” could refer to daily expenses. It’s open for fudging and/or interpretation. In retrospect, you required a more detailed plan. Given that she has $800,000 and you almost had your mortgage paid off, your problems weren’t insurmountable. The problem arose when your wife’s expectations were so clearly different from your own.

If you almost had your mortgage paid off and the house was in your name, I don’t necessarily agree that you would have to charge her “rent”—especially if you were planning a life together. There may have been other ways to share costs. Either you didn’t iron out the details, you misunderstood the terms of the details or someone got sandbagged. If it was the latter, I’m not clear whether it was you or your wife who changed his/her mind.

During your courtship, you set a false expectation. You paid for everything instead of saying, “I would like us to go Dutch as otherwise our lifestyle will become very expensive …for me!” I am reminded of a friend who used to pay for every date but finally told his girlfriend that he couldn’t afford to keep doing it. I asked him what happened. “I married her,” he replied. It was also extravagant. At 63, earning $120,000 a year, your retirement fund should be at least a dozen times your income.

There is a lot of societal pressure for men to pick up the check. Some 84% of men and 58% of women say men pay for most expenses, even when they’re in a committed relationship, according to this study of 17,000 people by David Frederick, assistant psychology professor at Chapman University. Both figures can’t be correct: Men are either overstating their generosity, or women are understating how much men pay. You picking up the tab did not bode well for your married life.

There were other warning signs: Your wife was pampered by her parents: $800,000 is a lot of money to receive for just being who you are. Most people would have to work a lifetime to amass such a large amount. It either gave her a sense of entitlement or a belief that this is how it should be: Fathers and husbands should pay. I have three pieces of advice for folks who get married: (i) people don’t change, (ii) people don’t change and (iii) people don’t change.

North Carolina is an equitable distribution state. If it was a community property state, your wife may have been entitled (yes, there’s that word again) to half of your home had she contributed to the mortgage, so be thankful for that. As it stands, a judge will likely rule that you take from the marriage what you brought into it, given the relatively short length. She gets to keep her $800,000, and you get to keep your retirement and your house.

In retrospect, it sounds like your problems were far more than financial.

Related video: Money questions to ask every new love interest (provided by CNBC)

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).


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