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My husband lied about his debt, and now he's trying to divorce me

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 1/23/2020 Quentin Fottrell

Dear Moneyist:

I married a guy who lied about his debt. Now he is trying to divorce me. I did try to get an annulment after I found out, but I was denied.

He said he wanted to marry me to give me his survivor benefits. When I didn’t accept, he offered to buy me a house. So I relented.

So now I even lose the Social Security benefits from my first spouse. Can I sue my second spouse for what I lost based on his lies?

Unhappily Married

Dear Unhappy:

First the good news. You can do anything you want in life. You can marry someone you may or may not love and, if it doesn’t work out, you can stay together or get divorced. Whether or not you will be successful if you sue him is another question. If I were Judge Judy giving my verdict on this case, I’d say. “You married him because he promised to buy you a house. That was your first mistake!”

Also see: My husband wrote a secret will when our marriage was rocky

Human beings lie. It’s never pleasant when we feel like we’ve been had. Lying about, say, having a first wife who he did not divorce would be a legal issue. But not mentioning that he had a ton of debt before you got married is not. Ethically, you could call it lying by omission, which is a lie, but it doesn’t rise to any legal standard. It could, however, be a consideration in your divorce.

Related video: The 4 Most Common Reasons for Divorce (provided by Health.com)

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If and when you divorce your second spouse, you may still be eligible for the higher Social Security benefits from your first husband, according to the Social Security Administration. As always, however, you would have to have been married to your first husband for 10 years or more, be 62 years of age, and you must be divorced for two years before applying.

If you do decide to marry for a third time, do your due diligence. One-quarter of people say they’ve lied to their partner about debt, this survey released last year concluded. It may feel like you are the victim, but I believe if you look at the reasons you both had for marrying each other, there was a significant transactional nature to this marriage — at least, from the little you wrote in your letter.

I wish you peace and happiness in your future. And good luck with the divorce.

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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