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Do I owe my ex-wife this money?
May 28, 2014 6:30 PM   Subscribe

3 years after a divorce, my ex-wife is asking for money she'd contributed to our shared bank account. What do I do?

We were married in early 2009 and for the following 2 years I supported both of us with a $75,000+ salary while she worked minimum wage jobs. We put everything in a single bank account, about 75% being money I'd made at my job.

Right at the end of our marriage, she received a $10,000 grant and put it in our bank account. Then moved out and started her own bank account and her own life.

No money changed hands in our divorce settlement. We both moved on, although emotionally it was a blur for awhile. But this week, she emailed to say she was hurting for money and wanted to know my thoughts on the $10,000.

My resentment for her leaving is mostly gone and I don't want to be petty about money, but I have no idea how to handle this. Do I just cut the check, or do I subtract from it the money I made that she used during our marriage for things like food, rent and travel?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Legally, you owe her nothing assuming there was no sketchy wording in the settlement that she's calling to bear on this. It seems like she's really trying to open up a discussion here and not just trying to hassle or guilt you about this. I think if it were me I'd probably take the high road and give her back the money that went into the account for "her" grant, assuming you can afford it easily and without undue hardship. That said, it's not being petty to say that the time for bringing this up for her was pre-divorce and she shouldn't be looking to you for a way to get out of her own jams. I think what would be petty is trying to do some sort of tit-for-tat accounting at this point. If she contributed 50K-ish plus the grant to your joint account and you kept it, I guess I'd figure this was equitable even though the timing isn't the greatest.

tl;dr I think you're pretty much justified in giving her the money or not giving it to her. I think if you do give it to her I'd be crystal clear that this is a on-shot deal based on $WHATEVER and not to ask again.
posted by jessamyn at 6:35 PM on May 28 [13 favorites]


She got it right at the end of your marriage. Had she gotten it a few weeks or months later it never would have gone into the bank account in the first place: ask yourself if, had she held the check for a little while instead of depositing it before you separated, would you have felt entitled to it?

Also, even if you come to the conclusion that some of it belongs to you, not all of it does, surely, right? So if you were to apportion it out you would certainly be returning almost all of it and do you really want to fight about the small left over amount that you think is "yours?"

You should cut the check.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:36 PM on May 28 [24 favorites]


cut the check, don't do any shitty accounting for food you purchased while you were married.
posted by nadawi at 6:38 PM on May 28 [55 favorites]


I don't know. I think it's really tough to say. I think reasonable people could really have different points of view here.

I think a lot of it depends on how comfortably you can part with $10,000. If you do part with it, I think you need to make it really crystal clear that this is a one shot deal, and she can't come to you in 6 months (or 6 years) and ask for more.

I think it sucks that she's in financial straights, but it's not your problem. She had a window to ask for this money, and it was 3 years ago.

If you do give her the money, I wouldn't do any kind of accounting with it. Just hand it over, wish her the best, and walk away.
posted by kbanas at 6:44 PM on May 28 [7 favorites]


Presumably when you were married, you didn't have "your" money so much as you had "our" money, right? I think that's how most marriages work. It sounds like the grant got put in with our money, but it could've (and maybe should've?) been seen as her money--especially if, as it sounds, you're the one who kept the bulk of the account balance upon the divorce.

If you have the means, I'd give her the money.
posted by MeghanC at 6:50 PM on May 28 [13 favorites]


What Nadawi said. In many states, you would have split your assets right down the middle, and she could have walked away with more than ten grand. You could tell her no, or that you can't afford the full amount, but deducting money that you spent on her is a dick move.
posted by SobaFett at 6:56 PM on May 28 [14 favorites]


We were married in early 2009 and for the following 2 years I supported both of us with a $75,000+ salary while she worked minimum wage jobs. We put everything in a single bank account, about 75% being money I'd made at my job.

Did she do more work around the house than you? Did she contribute more to the relationship in other, non-financial ways? Do you think the work she did at her 'minimum wage jobs' was necessarily worth less than the work you did at your $75,000 p/a job, just because the market values it that way?

Do I just cut the check, or do I subtract from it the money I made that she used during our marriage for things like food, rent and travel?

'The money you made that she used for food'? And for the roof over your heads? Really?

Look, while you were married to her, you (as a couple) mostly spend money earned by you (as an individual) because that's the money you had. It's not as if she was hiding the 10 grand under a mattress for your whole marriage and you just discovered it. She didn't have it when you were paying more for your joint living expenses. (Which presumably you did because you loved her, and didn't want to watch her eat ramen while you ate steak.)

You can't retrospectively 'bill' her for her keep because things didn't work out.

Give her the ten grand.
posted by Salamander at 6:59 PM on May 28 [31 favorites]


Presumably this money was accounted for in your divorce settlement (which was then adjudicated accordingly). I really don't see any particular obligation on your part to give her anything now, though if it means little or nothing to you it would probably be admirable to give her what you can.
posted by gerryblog at 6:59 PM on May 28 [4 favorites]


What would the accounting have looked like if you had followed the basic rules in your jurisdiction for division of property and spousal support?

My guess is that you would have owed her a hell of lot more than $10,000, but I could be wrong.

If you want to be fair, do the math, figure out how you should have split assets at the time, and use that as a guideline for what to do now.
posted by jaguar at 6:59 PM on May 28 [13 favorites]


Technically, no, you don't owe her that money. It doesn't matter how she received that 10K--a grant, a job, a gift. Once it was received it became part of your combined family assets. And then your divorce settlement defined how you would go your separate ways. What I find odd--if I am reading this situation correctly, is that she got nothing from that single bank account when you divorced? Why would she agree to such a settlement? But nonetheless, don't turn this into a re-negotiation of your settlement agreement. When you both signed on the dotted line, you both agreed to the deal and walked away. So, if you want to be generous, be generous and give her some cash to help her out. But don't try to parse it by deducting this, that, and the other thing.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:02 PM on May 28 [6 favorites]


I dunno, there's a place for being nice and then there's a place for following your settlement to the letter. I'm be inclined to ask my attorney if anything could come bite me in the ass in this situation.
posted by Justinian at 7:12 PM on May 28 [9 favorites]


I actually wonder why she walked away with nothing, on a minimum wage, after two years of marriage and left the 10k.

If you have reason to suspect she may have been in a bad place, for whatever reasons, give her the money.

I may be being hypersensitive, but it sounds to me like she's only now thinking clearly about (the end of) your marriage...I'm guessing it wasn't good for her and compassion says give it to her.

Try to imagine how she might have written this ask me, then work from there.
posted by taff at 7:15 PM on May 28 [38 favorites]


My first instinct would be to give her the money, but I'd still run it by your lawyer first, and make sure any appropriate agreements/paperwork get filed along with it.
posted by empath at 7:27 PM on May 28 [14 favorites]


If she walked away with nothing, I think giving her the 10K would be nice and indeed fair. But I think you should avoid making any admission that you think you owe her the money. Checking with a/your lawyer, as Justinian suggests, is probably a good idea.
posted by BibiRose at 7:29 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Don't let people guilt you into paying her. Pull out your divorce decree/settlement/other paper work and see what it says about the money in the joint account. If you don't understand it, ask your lawyer to spend 30 mins going over it with you. If the decree says that you keep the joint account, and she signed it, that means that she felt, for whatever reason, that you were entitled to the money at that time.

On the other hand, if things were done in a more sloppy manner and there wasn't a full accounting when the divorce happened, and you guys just went with what was "easiest", then maybe she didn't really knowingly give up the money. If that's the case, it was kind of dumb of her (why didn't she transfer the money out when she opened her new account?) but divorces suck and people don't always think straight. Maybe if that's how it went down, you might feel better if you paid her.

You're not a bad person if you don't though... it sounds like she had all the agency when she left, she doesn't get to keep shaking you down.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:33 PM on May 28 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not saying definitely don't give her that money I just think it's worth talking to your guy about it first just in case.
posted by Justinian at 7:35 PM on May 28


Contact your lawyer, get an hour of his/her time for advice, and follow it. Since you have no acrimonious feelings and don't sound like you're hurting for money yourself, you could go into the lawyer and just say, "I'd like to give my ex-wife $10,000. Anything I need to do about that, from your point of view?"
posted by juniperesque at 7:44 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Do I just cut the check, or do I subtract from it the money I made that she used during our marriage for things like food, rent and travel?

In two years, I bet she used more than $10,000 in food, rent and travel, right?

Don't subtract anything -- give her $10,000 or nothing.
posted by zeri at 7:47 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


The term grant makes me assume that it was some sort of professional/career funding that she applied for as an individual and was awarded to her directly. That money's hers. Do the right thing and give it to her.
posted by emd3737 at 7:51 PM on May 28 [23 favorites]


>We put everything in a single bank account,
You mean joint account, not single account. The two of you owned it together.

> about 75% being money I'd made at my job.
In many states it doesn’t matter. Joint is joint.

>she received a $10,000 grant and put it in our bank account.
Also joint money.

> No money changed hands in our divorce settlement.
But what about the money remaining in the joint account, was it divided 50/50?

> how to handle this.
Either (a) ask a divorce lawyer for the legal answer or (b) cut her a check for $10k and be done with it or (c) offer a lower amount or (d) refuse to pay anything in which case see (a).
posted by mono blanco at 8:13 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


she worked minimum wage jobs
It sounds like she contributed to the marriage. The fact that she left with nothing kind of suggests there was something going on which meant she didn't feel she deserved that, or had contributed equally, and "do I subtract from it the money I made that she used during our marriage for things like food, rent and travel" kind of doesn't help that impression.
If she was working, she was contributing. Minimum wage jobs aren't really easier than the jobs I do now.
The relationship didn't work out, but if it had, it sure wouldn't have if there'd been a focus on who was contributing more, financially, to the relationship.


I think you've got a few options.
Divvy the money in the joint bank account in half, and give her half. That's what I'd suggest if the money had arrived earlier.

Give her the $10,000. It sounds like it was so near to the end of the relationship that - yeah. If you really just parted ways, and left each other with your 'own' things, it probably should never have been in there.

Divvy the $10,000 in half. The way she phrased it ('your thoughts'), suggest she might be amenable to that.


Legally, it'd be a hassle and a half, I mean, if pressed, she could have gone option 1 on everything to start with, and didn't. IANAL.


Ethically, from the context you've given, I think you should go with one of the first two options, or the third, if it really left you hurting.
posted by Elysum at 8:28 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


What do you want? Do you want ongoing contact with your ex, and quite possibly acrimony and drama? That's what you're likely to get if you choose some other course besides just giving her the money back.
posted by rtha at 8:49 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


There's "legal" and there's "ethical," and "She gave up all her legal rights at the time of the divorce, which is a mind-blowingly traumatic time for most people, which means she likely wasn't thinking straight, but I'm going to stand by my decision to take financial advantage of her at that vulnerable time" is not an ethically sound decision. Even if you were the one who was emotionally wronged.

I very much agree with other posters that you should not do anything that legally puts you on the hook forever, but I do think that hiding behind legal rights in order to justify unethical decisions is plain wrong. Screwing someone over doesn't have a statute of limitations.
posted by jaguar at 8:51 PM on May 28 [12 favorites]


or do I subtract from it the money I made that she used during our marriage for things like food, rent and travel?

What sobafett said. This is a dick move.

There are a number of factors that could relate to whether you should give her money, and how much, but you making more than her during your marriage and voluntarily pooling your resources during your marriage IS NOT one of them. You don't get to retroactively and unilaterally change the financial arrangement from during your marriage.

Assuming she didn't get any of the joint monies at the time of the separation (which is what it sounds like), it certainly seems like you owe her something, half of what the joint acct held at the time or half of the joint balance before the grant plus the grant.

I'm saying this as someone who was the primary breadwinner in my first marriage, paid off credit cards he had accrued before we were dating, and happily split our joint acct when we split. We'd been a team, but it didn't work, you can't go back and change the rules bc you lost the game.

(Also, what emd3737 said, what the grant was for seems to be kind of important.)
posted by pennypiper at 8:58 PM on May 28 [6 favorites]


The 10K, plus interest, if any.

(I was married, briefly, years ago and took care of the house/cooking/laundry and worked whenever I could between moves, but not steadily. My ex repaid me 5K, no hesitation, after things dissolved. It helped me save up a nest egg. It was the right thing for him to do, but he did it so graciously and without questioning it, and I think it helped both of us reach a sense of peace about the whole thing.)

Really, do this if you can.
posted by mochapickle at 9:00 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


My back-of-the-envelope calculations are showing that you probably owed her about $12,000 in spousal support, plus half the joint accounts/assets (so that'd be at least another $5000, with her grant money), and that's assuming she was working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year at $7.25/hr; if she was working less than full-time, you'd owe more. $10,000 is getting off very, very cheap.
posted by jaguar at 10:12 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


(And I may have actually divided by 2 one too many times and you actually owed her $24,000 in support -- in any event, your settlement totally screwed her over.)
posted by jaguar at 10:14 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I'm going to fall on the side of kindness here and say that I don't think you really mean to be that spiteful, I think you're still hurting, and I think this is something where you will ultimately feel better for erring on the side of charity than you will for trying to continue to tally in your head all the ways in which she wronged you that cannot be compensated for with cash. The end of a relationship is not, legally or ethically or in any other useful way, a time when you hit rewind and try to undo every kindness you ever did to restore yourself to the state you'd be in if you'd never known her. You don't account for who did what at every moment from then to now, you assess where you are at the time things ended, and attempt to equitably part the union into two. Then you gather yourself together and you keep moving and things heal, but, clearly, slowly.

Which is to say, if she already received an equitable sum of assets in the divorce settlement, then it's entirely right to remind her of this fact, graciously, and let it go--but that doesn't sound like what happened by your account. If she left with little or nothing, it would seem that there is unfinished business, might as well attend to it promptly. Why let what this hang over your head forever? Wind it up, if you can, on a kindness. For whatever it's worth, though, you have my sympathies for the reopened wound, I hope you're feeling better soon.
posted by Sequence at 10:20 PM on May 28 [7 favorites]


She left the marriage. She agreed to the settlement. The settlement was legal and mutual. She was and is an adult. You were married two years. It has been three years since your divorce. You do not "owe" her this money. It would be kind of you to give it to her, a decent but unnecessary thing. Not doing it would not make you an unethical or suspect guy. Doing it would make you a good guy. Consult an attorney as to how and under what arrangement you might give her this money. Do not discuss it with her; consult an attorney and your conscience/heart/gut and proceed.
posted by beanie at 10:30 PM on May 28 [11 favorites]


I've been lucky to have relationships that ended on good financial terms. Sometimes that meant I was the one giving money, and other times I was the one being paid. It's always been amicable. But it has also always been immediate. I can't imagine asking, or being asked for a significant sum three years after the fact. I've been in situations where it may have been conceivable due to changed circumstances, but still. Particularly where there was a divorce, which presumably included a separation agreement, which is explicitly the opportunity to address finances.

Part of me wishes you had included more information. For example you ask, "Do I just cut the check?" Is that easy for you to do? Moreover, what does the phrase "hurting for money" actually mean? There's a wide spectrum between (1) you have an extra $200,00 just chilling in a mutual fund, and she recently incurred emergency medical bills; versus (2) this $10,000 would come from your line of equity, and she's having gambling problems. If we're going to talk about what's right to do, that spectrum matters.

The other part of me wishes you'd included less. I'd have been curious to see what answers arose in this thread if you omitted gender.

Regarding your final question, I agree with everyone else. If those are your two options—write a check, or nitpick past expenses—then you obviously choose the first. In the scheme of options, forget about trying to play an accounting game. Comply or don't, but do not let your ex's request lead to reopening your marriage or divorce.
posted by cribcage at 11:08 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


I live in a Scandinavian country, so different laws. But someone I know got into serious financial difficulty because he had divorced years ago and his wife had left everything behind and didn't want to take a penny. Years later, she got into a tough spot- realized she had been an idiot, went back to court and he had to remortgage the house so that she got a settlement.

She wasn't being nasty...

She should have left the marriage with more.

But I also think you should cut her the check. It really puzzles me that she didn't address it when you split up... but nevertheless... I think that you should give her the money back.

- speak to an attorney though!

Also, would it help you feel better if you re-framed this as you making a really kind, possibly life changing, gesture? One that keeps her out of poverty?

I have had 2 really special men in my life and for whatever flaws the relationships with them had, they both treated me very well after the split. They made sure that I was able to get my feet on the ground... both very generous.

The most recent has gone well above and beyond the call of duty (we weren't married, just lived together a couple of years) to make sure that I am, and will be, okay financially. He gave me all the kitchen stuff, replaced the furniture, helped me move it, paid the rent for several months, waived the deposit on my flat, made sure I was fed and could socialize.... while I transition on to my own 2 feet.

He was an awful boyfriend, but this assistance means that I will not live in poverty and my life is better for knowing him and I have a better chance at a lot of things in life.

Finally, several years ago I refused to give my ex-husband 200 bucks to fix his car because I had friends telling me that I should stop helping him financially at all- his spending was an issue during our marriage. You know what? To this DAY I still feel guilty... I know in my heart that I should have helped.

So I wholeheartedly suggest that you air on the side of kindness!
posted by misspony at 12:21 AM on May 29 [4 favorites]


Ohmygosh the only proper advice here is to consult a lawyer 100% first before checking your emotional or ethical centers. Really, lawyer now. Once you're clear on that decide if you WANT to give the money based on the reality of both your and her situations and generally what you "feel" is right. But not until a lawyer tells you it's OK to make that determination in that way without beans being released from the can.
posted by chasles at 4:10 AM on May 29 [4 favorites]


How are you going to feel if you give her the money?

Scared, wronged, put-upon, worried, short of cash, harassed?

Indulgent, superior, competent, generous?

How is she going to feel if you give her the cash?
How is she going to feel if you refuse to give her the cash?

Weigh the balance between how you will feel and how she will feel. Assume her feelings are at least as strong as yours.

If it feels unfair, it is unfair. The question is only where does it start feeling unfair?

There is a reasonably strong argument to be made that it is fair that she should have taken the $10,000 out of your community property and that she may not have gotten a fair half of the community property when she left. So I would seriously examine if the settlement was unfair to her, and if it was to try to fix it. Not only that, if she is an ex who was not abusive she has a claim on you still for old times sake, loyalty and all that stuff. I'm thinking that you believe she has a valid point or you wouldn't be asking.

Now look at the situation using these question:

Do you have a legal right to deny her according to the terms of the split?

If the answer to this is yes, then I suggest you are being influenced in a negative way by the temptation to to do it because you can get away with it.

Since she waited years to renegotiate, it is not unreasonable for you to give her the money, in installments to protect your budget. She may have a claim to a reassessment of the split, but she does not have a claim to cause you another session of financial upheaval.

Do what you can live with, what will make both of you feel happiest afterwards.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:17 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


IF you took the entirety of the joint account when you split (WTF?!) then you should give her the 10K. If you divied up the joint account upon divorcing, I think it's fair to ignore the request. When you say "no money changed hands" it's not really clear if you mean thath the joint account was not divided or that you just didn't have to pay her alimony or something.
posted by WeekendJen at 5:07 AM on May 29


She left the marriage. She agreed to the settlement. The settlement was legal and mutual. She was and is an adult. You were married two years. It has been three years since your divorce. You do not "owe" her this money.

This.

You reached an agreement with her about the terms of the divorce and who got what three years ago. There's no reason for those terms to change now.

If you want to give her $10K out of the goodness of your heart, go right ahead. You could also donate it to charity. You could also take it out of the account in 1000 $10 bills and burn it in a giant bonfire in your backyard. Whatever. It's your money.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:07 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]


It sounds like she knows you giving this would be an "extra" thing and she's just choosing $10,000 because that was the only financial contribution to the savings that stands out as significant and from her.

If so, it's an arbitrary request and you'd respond as you would if a friend or cousin asked for money. There are a lot of legitimate ways to conduct yourself there and we have no idea what you're like and what you have done in the past.

If not, and you owe this in some way, then follow the lawyer-then-give-out-of-obligation path.
posted by michaelh at 5:15 AM on May 29


IF you took the entirety of the joint account when you split (WTF?!) then you should give her the 10K.

Don't listen to the people who are trying to make you feel guilty for something they know very little about, and who can't seem to understand that saying that no money changed hands during the divorce does not mean no assets changed hands during the divorce.

You should talk to a lawyer, even if all you really want to do is give her this money. You need to make sure that whatever you do, it will not have future legal consequences in relation to your divorce settlement.

But, yeah, if you decide to give her the gift of money, don't do picayune accounting on the amount.
posted by JohnLewis at 5:16 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]


Can you afford to give her the money?

Do you want to be gracious or do you want to be "even"?

Did she leave the marriage with half of the money from the joint account?
posted by J. Wilson at 5:26 AM on May 29


I find it weird that she got the money, put it into the joint account and then immediately left (without the money). Combined with your statements minimising her contributions to the marriage (she worked - she wasn't sitting on the couch everyday!) I wonder if your attitude that she "owed" you this money gave her the freedom to leave a relationship that she felt devalued in. Not exchanging money at the time of the divorce when almost all jurisdictions that I am aware of would expect there to be a settlement makes me think she walked away from a lot of joint money that should have been hers and instead you have been using. She is only asking for the grant money and not the full amount she may be entitled to; it sounds like she is being more than fair. You have a transactional attitude to your relationship - retroactively charging her for rent and food while married? Should she be charging you for cooking, cleaning and sex? Since you weren't providing rent and food out of love; why shouldn't she also invoice you back? Relationships should be about more than finances.

Based on your provided timelines, you went from married -> she moved out (unexpectedly?) -> divorced in a very accelerated pace, probably not enough time to separate extreme emotions from mutual financial and ethical obligations. Even the statutory year of separation in many jurisdictions is not enough for a lot of couples. Considering that you still harbour resentment, maybe balancing the books and writing her a cheque for $10,000 and wishing her well will give you closure.

I know if I was dating a divorced guy and heard he treated his ex-wife with compassion and fairness, my opinion of him would only go up.
posted by saucysault at 5:51 AM on May 29 [4 favorites]


What do you want? Do you want ongoing contact with your ex, and quite possibly acrimony and drama?

I thought this comment was going to end with "That is going to be what happens if you give the money back". Are you in contact with this person? Do you want them to be a part of your life in some way in the future? If so, consider giving them the money but definitely talk to your lawyer first.

If not - if you've moved on and this person is not part of your life anymore, don't. I wouldn't even reply to the email, to be honest. I think a lot of people are getting caught up in the red herring which is the fact that you mentioned having a higher paid job and supporting your ex, that also doesn't matter. The time for asking for more money, etc. (unless kids are involved) is during the divorce. The divorce is over. At this point it sounds like your ex is shaking all of the trees in their life trying to see what might yield some fruit.

I also think it is entirely a possibility that if you cough up the $10k, or some part thereof, they may seek further assistance either through personal requests or legal means. Whatever you do, don't give them part or all of the $10k without consulting a lawyer.
posted by arnicae at 5:59 AM on May 29 [6 favorites]


I know if I was dating a divorced guy and heard he treated his ex-wife with compassion and fairness, my opinion of him would only go up.

Absolutely. But I know if I was dating a divorced guy who was out of the kindness of his own heart donating $10k to his ex-wife, I would assume he was not actually over her and would wonder what other kinds of ways she would still be present in our relationship. I have a friend who still drives three hours on weekends to help paint his ex-wife's house and do yardwork for her. They've been divorced about the same length of time you and your spouse have been divorced.
posted by arnicae at 6:02 AM on May 29 [4 favorites]


just in case you aren't aware, if you want to remain anonymous and answer some of the questions people have raisedd, you can email the mods and they'd post an update for you.
posted by nadawi at 6:47 AM on May 29


I think a lot depends on whether any assets, including the money in your joint bank account, were actually split when she left. If she left all the money, then at the end of the marriage, she should have been entitled to either her contributions (10K plus ~25%) or to 50% of the total (depending on the state etc.).

Another wrinkle: assuming that taxes were due on this money, who paid them?

I think talking to a lawyer would be the best place to start, because the legal situation would depend on a lot of factors we can't know about. However, from an ethical standpoint, I feel that -- assuming the joint account wasn't split, and it sounds like it wasn't -- at least $10K is hers. It's grant money that she earned, and as other people have noted, if the check had arrived a little later, it would have gone into her personal account. Y'all's expenses during the marriage were common expenses, and I'd find it pretty reprehensible to agree that the money is hers but deduct the money that was spent on her food.

I really wonder what all of this looks like from her point of view.

I don't want to be petty about money

10K is a lot of money, and it's a HUGE amount of money to someone who's making minimum wage or even a lower middle class wage. For a lot of people that would be six-months-emergency-fund kind of money. It's buy-a-reliable-car kind of money. It's first-last-and-security kind of money. If she is hurting for money, this kind of money could potentially make a huge difference to her life.

If I were dating someone who told me that they kept sole custody of a joint account, and that the funds had included a 10K grant awarded solely to their soon-to-be-ex-wife just before their separation, I would seriously wonder about their ability to be fair and evenhanded with people in money matters. I think making a one-time payment to make that right is a very different thing from remaining enmeshed in your ex's life.
posted by pie ninja at 7:40 AM on May 29 [5 favorites]


Legally, your divorce settlement dictates what, if anything you paid at the end of your marriage. So you don't HAVE to give her any money.

Ethically, if you know that her grant was for something specific, and it was close to the end of your marriage, I'd be inclined to say that the money should have gone to her at that time.

Karma-wise, If you can afford to give it, and you wouldn't be hurting after doing it, if you gifted her that money, it would be a good thing. (Unless she's an addict, in which case...no.)

Reality, "Lisa, I'm rather surprised that you're contacting me about this, our finances ended with our divorce degree. We pooled all of our money together when we were married, and we split things per our settlement at the end of our marriage.

Option 1: "While I can't afford to gift you $10,000, I can afford to gift you $$$. Understand that I don't acknowledge that I owe you any money pursuant to your grant, but that I am freeling sending you some money because I want to."

Option 2: "I am sending you the $10,000 not because I owe it to you, but because you seem to need it, and I don't want anything hanging over my head from our previous relationship. This is a gift, from me to you, not payment of a debt."

Option 3: "We were partners in finances throughout our marriage and based on that, I am not obligated to send any money to you."

"I wish you well in your future endeavors."


So be guided by what you feel comfortable with. There's no wrong answer. Just be SURE that you indicate, in writing that whatever you're giving her is a gift, not a settlement or an acknowledgement of money that is owed to her.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:45 AM on May 29


All the talk about what you owe, what you got away with, and so on is pure fantasy on the part of the responders. No one here knows what happened in your divorce. You do not owe your ex-wife anything except what your settelement says you owe. You may decide to give her the money, you may not. It's up to how you weigh things. As for paying interest mentioned above, give me a break.

There are a ton of factors that go in to the "fairness" of the disposition of this $10K. The share of money spent on daily living expenses isn't one of them. What the money was "supposed to" be for also isn't something I would worry about. It's mostly fungible.* But if you kept the $10K and also got $50K in debts, that's something to consider. Did you have any equity in the home? Who got that? Cars? Those are things that would go in to my decision-making if I were in your shoes.

If she didn't take anything with her when she left (or if she didn't take as much as she would have been entitled to), maybe it's fair to give her the $10K. Especially if you can afford it.

If you decide to give her the money, run it past a lawyer to make sure you're not re-opening your settlement and possibly subjecting yourself to further claims. And definately make it clear that this is a one-time gift and stand by it. You don't want to end up a soft touch.

Good luck.

*I understand having a $10,000 debt paid off may not be as usful as being given $10,000 cash at a given time, but over the span of 3 years, it's fungible.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 8:10 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


When I got divorced, my ex-wife told me she was hurting for money and I gave her money for her old computer which she left behind (more than I thought it was worth, but it was a useful pretext). It wasn't nearly as much money as you're talking about, but we were both pretty broke (and terrified of the financial aspect of suddenly living on our own). Almost two decades later, I still cringe when I think about some of the shitty things I said during that period, but I feel pretty damn good about giving her that money.
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on May 29 [8 favorites]


I am surprised by the number of people jumping on you in this thread. Your ex-wife left and apparently didn't ask for this money as part of a divorce settlement, then asks for it three years later for reasons having to do with her own separate life, and people are telling you that you are ethically obliged to give it to her? This is a much harder question than that.

People are picking up on the fact that your question makes it sound as if your divorce did not really involve any consideration of who owed what to whom. If that's true, it's unfortunate that you and your ex-wife did not think it through then. I'd suggest you speak to a lawyer about what you might have expected to pay in the divorce if your wife had asked for money, which might at least give you a framework for thinking about whether you might owe her money in any moral sense.

Then weigh whatever you learn against the fact that it's been three years and it's not really fair of her to ask for the money back now. She let you save and spend and invest assuming this money was yours. If you buy a jacket at Macy's, realize it doesn't fit, but miss the 30-day return window because your life is crazy, do you feel ethically entitled to a refund six months later? I don't--there's some reasonable time limit so that the store can have certainty that it's made the sale, buy other inventory, etc. The same sort of logic is reasonable in a divorce--at some point whether the settlement was 100% fair/correct is less important than the fact that you reached an agreement and you both need to move on.

If after thinking this through you want to give her the money and can afford to give her the money, by all means give her the money. Personally, if I were you and I clearly would have owed it had she asked, I'd probably pay now, despite the three year gap, if I had $10,000 available without a huge hardship to get it. But things might look different to me with more information about your specific situation.

Also, did I mention speaking to a lawyer, however you proceed? I can imagine a lot of drama and follow-up askme questions that you want to make sure to avoid (you don't give her money, she sues; you give her money, she decides she is also entitled to some of your income from during the marriage; etc.).
posted by _Silky_ at 8:55 AM on May 29 [3 favorites]


"No money changed hands during the divorce" -- were there assets to divide, or had you both spent everything? Were there support payments established? A settlement?

Generally your assets are shared during the marriage, and are divided and become separate after. But also generally there are support obligations after a marriage based on salary differences. And also-also generally, men often make a lot more money than women.

In your shoes I would send her the money, but there are a few question marks hanging over the way you've described this.
posted by ead at 10:12 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


IAAL, IANYL, TINLA, etc., ad nauseam. Marital settlement agreements drafted by lawyers and court judgments dividing assets are typically crafted to be all-inclusive. Money is just personal property that happens to be easier to value than most things. A judgment that leaves an unequal assignment of non-money goods to one person usually makes up for it with an equalizing payment of cash.

By giving her money now, especially when it's a sum she specifically knew about (and you presumably disclosed if required by law to do so) she's basically reneging on her part of the deal. Her plea for money and claim of debt sounds manipulative to me.

I would consult with your lawyer. If you didn't have one, you should bring your agreement and/or judgment paperwork to a lawyer. If you're thinking of giving her $10k, the consultation fee will be well worth it. Your lawyer can not only tell you your rights (and your ex-wife's), but can tell you whether after this length of time your wife is timed out.

Just because you've gotten over whatever hard feelings there were is no reason to give someone $10k just so you can feel "not petty" about money. There's nothing wrong with magnanimity, but your ex-wife sounds like a chiseler to me.
posted by Hylas at 3:37 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Some people have focused on where the money came from (a grant) and how close to dissolution. But after taxes you were dropping about 10 grand into your joint account every couple of months. Money is fungible, it doesn't have little notes attached saying where it came from. Also just because you didn't give your ex cash at dissolution doesn't mean your assets weren't divided as what was perceived as equally at the time.

At any rate as long as you feel the divorce was fair (IE you didn't somehow coerce her into signing the agreement or take advantage of her in a no lawyers, DIY divorce) then I don't see why you should consider this anything but a request for charity from someone you haven't talked to in years. How you feel about giving friends/family this kind of money would be the relevant factor. At no point should you try and deduct "expenses" or think of it as anything other than a gift.

If you each didn't have representation during the divorce I'd hire a lawyer now. How property is divided and how much can be done post divorce to re-negotiate the divorce agreement varies wildly from place to place and without knowing even what country you are in no one can give specific legal advice on your exposure on AskMe. All the comments about how much you legally should owe your ex is just speculation from insufficient information.
posted by Mitheral at 8:05 PM on May 29


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