Smart Money: Should I Divorce My Shopaholic Wife?

Bruce Wiliams
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Posted: Aug 11, 2009 12:01 AM

DEAR BRUCE: My wife is constantly getting credit cards and maxing them out. I always end up bailing her out. I took a loan out to remodel the house and did use the full amount of the loan. I never went to the bank to close that account. In the meantime, she managed to take out $20,000 from that loan. She also racked up $5,000 in credit card debt. I had an account set up in another bank in my name only, and she found the checkbook and wrote checks for $2,000. I then closed both accounts. If she gets credit cards in the mail again, is there any way I can get out of paying for them? I kicked her out and now she is now living with our daughter. She is still sneaking around using credit cards. My daughter works two jobs and attends college. (I pay those bills.) I would let her have all that money if she would just pay off the cards, but that did not work. I don't think I am ready for a divorce yet, but do I need a lawyer? -- S.P., via e-mail

DEAR S.P.: You have a wife with a serious sickness. She is clearly totally irresponsible and will do whatever is necessary to satisfy her spending habits. Your school-age daughter may be helping her with this disease rather than helping her to get cured. If you're not ready for a divorce, so be it. She is not legally incompetent. The only way that you could begin to untangle yourself from her legally is to see a divorce attorney. I know that's not something that you're anxious to do, but what makes you believe this is not going to continue? Sit down with your daughter and tell her that your wife, her mother, is sick. Ask if she's going to continue to enable her sickness. Unfortunately, unless you want to bring charges against her for forging checks, etc., which I doubt you do, the initiation of a divorce may be your only way out.

DEAR BRUCE: My last child will be starting college in the fall, and I would like to know the best way to finance his education (pre-med). Unfortunately, with a $12,000 academic scholarship, tuition is still $28,000. I have money in the bank, but my husband's job is not secure, so I don't want to spend all of our money on college. I paid off my mortgage a few years back. I don't have any major bills. The only financial problem is that we have very little retirement money in our 401(k). We lost most of our retirement money the first time in junk bonds back in 1987 and now with mutual funds since the market is down. We do not have a pension, only a 401(k). Ideally, we would like the loans in his name and we will help him as much as we can to pay it off. Would it be beneficial for us to take an equity loan so we can get a write off on our taxes? Or have him take out regular loans that we have to co-sign? -- E.N., via e-mail

DEAR E.N.: You're not going to like what I have to say. It's nice that he got a $12,000 academic scholarship but he was attending a school apparently where the cost of a year's education is $40,000. The fact that he's pre-med has nothing to do with it. You have very little money, your husband's job is not secure, and you have no pensions. I can see no reason in the world for you to dip into your savings to pay for your kid's college. I would sit down and have a very frank discussion with the financial aid office at your kid's school and explain that your husband's job is not secure and that you have very limited resources. Unfortunately, the likelihood is they're going to insist on a lot of money or he'll have to go elsewhere. I know that's going to go down hard. I think he should be going to a state school or possibly a community college. He can get all the courses he will need, and, if he performs well, when he enters his junior year, he can get into a state school taking the appropriate pre-med courses.

DEAR BRUCE: My parents are in their late 70s and early 80s and are still in relatively good health. Just recently, they pulled out all of their money from of an investment company because they were afraid of losing it with the way the economy is right now. Last month, they were shocked that they had already lost $5,000. That's a lot of money to them, as they have about $88,000 between the two of them. They also receive Social Security but it is quite minimal. They are currently living with me but seem to have expressed some interest in possibly renting an apartment on their own. They are wondering how they should best keep their money. Right now, the money is in a checking account, but they are looking into putting a portion of it in a CD account. They are worried that they will outlive their finances and are looking for the best possible way to stretch out their money for as long as they can. If you have any suggestions on what would work out best for them, I would appreciate it. -- M.A., via e-mail

DEAR M.A.: You may as well face it. I don't see any way your parents can afford an apartment of their own. It just isn't in the cards. I know this is a burden for you, but I don't see any way that anything else can be done unless you are in a position to subsidize substantially them.