The Moneyist

My husband wants me to sign over 20% of my home. If not, he threatens to take half in a divorce. What should I do?

“Everyone keeps telling me he could force me to sell the house and give him half of the proceeds.”

“I won’t file for divorce and I doubt he can afford the filing fees, much less an attorney.”

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Dear Quentin,

I live in Florida. I think my husband wants a divorce. I purchased my house a short while before we got married about six years ago. The deed and the mortgage are in my name only (actually, I haven’t even changed it to my new last name).?

I have about $80,000 to $100,000 worth of equity. Everyone keeps telling me he could force me to sell the house and give him half of the proceeds. He says he wants me to sign a contract where he would get 20%. I don’t want to sell, and I don’t want to give him anything if I do.?

I don’t think he is going to even live another year due to liver failure from alcohol/drug misuse (which has not stopped even after his diagnosis). So it seems that he could divorce me and force me to sell my home and give him half the money, and squander half of the proceeds.?

He is on disability and pretty sick right now. I won’t file for divorce and I doubt he can afford the filing fees, much less an attorney. He has done physical work on the house, but I have always paid the mortgage out of my own, separate bank account that he does not contribute to.

Also I don’t feel like I owe him anything. He does have an adult daughter, who I would assume would be the one to end up with it. Is this correct or do I have other options? Thank you for any advice you can give me on this situation.

Wife & Homeowner

“It’s never a good idea to make a financial decision based on fear. It rarely leads to a positive result.”

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Dear Wife,

Here’s a rule of thumb for your marital situation and for life: Don’t listen to everyone or anyone, except your divorce lawyer, someone who knows what they are talking about. Who is everyone? A Greek chorus who have limited knowledge of your situation or the law.

This is a tragic situation. You obviously got married with high hopes and dreams of a future where you would support each other, and care for each other in sickness and in health, and grow old together. We only have one life, and this is a sad outcome for your marriage.

But that does not mean that you should sign away 20% of your home due to idle threats from your spouse or anyone else who may have an agenda of their own. It’s never a good idea to make a financial decision based on fear. It rarely leads to a positive result.

Florida is an equitable-distribution state, meaning that marital assets in a divorce are distributed equitably, if not always equally. However, you have gone to great lengths to ensure that your house remains separate property. If you were to divorce, you would likely keep it.

In some cases, the appreciation or increase in value of separate property can be deemed marital property by a court, if the spouse has significantly contributed to that. Florida courts have ruled, “premarital value and passive appreciation may be deemed non-marital.”

Your other priority?

It would be a folly to sign a postnuptial agreement or any kind of contract promising to give your husband 20% of your property. If your husband has liver failure, putting his health and life No. 1 on your list of priorities would enable you to walk away knowing you have done all you could do.

The 12-step program Al-Anon has a very simple message for family members of people who have drug and alcohol problems: “You didn’t create it, you’re not responsible for it and you can’t cure it.” But you can be there to offer your help, and support your husband’s recovery.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aims to help families dealing with addiction issues. You can also find resources and advice for families from SAMHSA here.

SAMHSA offers advice on how to start a conversation with a loved one about their substance misuse: “1. Identify an appropriate time and place. 2. Express concerns, and be direct. 3. Acknowledge their feelings and listen. 4. Offer to help. 5. Be patient.”

You want to ensure you hold onto the sole ownership of your home, but that does not mean you can’t honor your original vows to each other. If you do get divorced or your husband’s addiction worsens, at least you know you did everything in your power to get him the help he needed.

If you, or a family member, needs help with a substance use disorder, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889. Text your zip code to 435748 (HELP4U) or use SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to get help. You can also find more resources and advice for families from SAMHSA here.

Other resources for people with family members who have addiction issues: The Center for Motivation and Change published “Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change.” Dr. Robert Meyers, who has worked in this field for four decades, developed the CRAFT approach to encourage a family member to engage in treatment.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

Is it OK for my new boyfriend to ask me to split the bill? ‘I don’t want him to get used to me paying for my own meals.’

My stepdaughter is executor to her late father’s will, and believes she’s now on the deed to my home. Is that possible?

I inherited $246,000 from my late mother and used $142,000 to pay off our mortgage. If we divorce, can I claim this money?

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

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