Before I married my wife two years ago, she had huge amounts of debt to her name, including large amounts of student loans. After we married, we diligently almost paid everything off, helped by my salary being three times that of my wife.
She recently asked for a divorce, saying she was taking the house and my retirement. My question is: Does the fact we paid off her debts she held before get spread evenly? Had I not paid all of her debts our net worth would be near the same with a better outcome for me.
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We’ve only been married a few years, and frankly I can’t help feeling taken advantage of. The only advice I can find discusses whose responsibility the student loans would be, but now it just seems that she got me to pay all of her debts, and got some new stuff, while I threw away years of my life.
Please tell me there’s hope.
Squeezed in Fort Worth
I’m sorry you feel squeezed or played. But I can’t argue with that. After two years, that’s a tough break, especially given all the help you gave your wife with her student debt. That’s a particularly unusual kind of debt, in that it’s virtually impossible to discharge. So if your wife was planning to wipe out some debts with your help before she filed for divorce two years after your marriage, that was the one to wipe out first.
The good news: Texas is a community property state so, where you have not co-mingled your assets, you take out of the marriage what you brought into it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include the money you gave your wife to pay off her loans. But if you had a home before you married, for instance, you will walk away with that. Document all your financial transactions with your wife. The court has discretion to divide community property in a way it deems fair and reasonable.
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Another development in your favor: In Texas, judges don’t instruct one party to pay the other alimony if they’ve been married for fewer than 10 years. There are exceptions to this rule — if there is a minor child involved, whether there’s been domestic abuse and/or whether the partner in question has a disability — but it’s unlikely that a judge will tell you to pay your wife alimony. So whatever result you do get, from a financial perspective you will be free and clear.
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Typically, the court will divide retirement plans equally between the two soon-to-be former spouses. Given the short length of your marriage and the help you gave your wife paying off her student loans, you certainly have a good chance of fighting this particular rule. You may not be entirely successful, but a good divorce attorney will advise you on how to approach this delicate matter. Your wife is divorcing you, after all, and where there is flexibility in the law, there is opportunity.
I posted your question in the Moneyist Facebook Group and the members also cited the short period of marriage, the importance of choosing a good divorce lawyer, the perils of mediation (given that you have a relatively strong hand walking into divorce court) and a forensic accountant to examine your retirement accounts both before and during your marriage. All good advice.
The best thing you have going for you right now is your honest intentions going into this marriage and your (good) behavior throughout. Having examined all the details, the judge may not be able to say the same thing about your wife.
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