Pay Dirt

I Don’t Want My Whiny Wife to Get a Penny in Our Divorce

She’s got too many of mine already.

A woman pushes a child in a wheelchair toward a van.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Martinbowra/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Pay Dirt,

I’m in the process of divorcing my good-for-nothing, lazy, hateful wife. For years she has stayed at home, where she spent my money and had me subsidize her lifestyle while she supposedly was doing the “hard work” of raising children. Whenever I came home from a busy, hectic day, she would throw the kids at me, then sit on her phone while I did all the heavy lifting; on weekends, she would harangue me if I had the audacity to go out with friends, when she has no friends of her own and expected me to be her entertainment. She complained that she never had a day off, but what about me?

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We’re divorcing now, and she’s whining to everyone that she’s going to be penniless, that I’m throwing her out and she’s going to be homeless. She’s complaining that she gave up her career to take care of the kids. One of them is special needs but his needs aren’t that bad (just a feeding tube and wheelchair and a few weakness issues). I know she used it as an excuse to quit her job that she hated. She is lazy and spiteful and I don’t want to give her an ounce of my money, but I know my story isn’t sympathetic, and I’m afraid she’s going to take me to the cleaners. What can I do?

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—The Bad Guy

Dear the Bad Guy,

Sometimes I suspect that we at Pay Dirt get fictional over-the-top letters written for the explicit purposes of trolling Slate columnists. If this isn’t one of them, let me just go ahead and say, yes, you are the bad guy. Being the primary breadwinner isn’t an excuse for doing none of the parenting work, even on weekdays. Your soon-to-be ex won’t be penniless, because you’ll have to pay her something in alimony, but she did make choices that enabled your career while harming her own.

And if you really think having a special-needs child who is immobile without a wheelchair and needs a feeding tube is a casual, part-time job, I don’t even know what to say to you. If you genuinely can’t fathom why any of this would be heavy lifting for your wife, or why she might want to spend time with you on weekends (though, given this letter, I’m not sure why she would), maybe you should take a week off work and see what it’s like to do what she does for a week. Aside from child care, her work probably entails things like housekeeping, meal preparation, etc. I think you’d be in for a big surprise.

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At any rate, the alimony you pay goes to caring for your children. I assume you don’t hate them as much as you obviously hate your wife. So don’t deprive them of things they need, just to spite her.

Dear Pay Dirt,

My husband and I have been married for two years. We’ve always been pretty good about sharing our money: trading off who picked up the check when we were dating, etc. When we moved in together, we did what I’ve often seen you advise other couples to do: We each put a percentage (60 percent) of our take-home pay in a joint account for joint expenses. The rest we keep for ourselves.

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The problem is that while this seems fair in theory (and certainly was fair when we were first living together), the longer we’re together, the less fair it seems. My husband makes about twice as much as I do, so he contributes twice as much to the household but also has twice as much “fun” money. When I think about having kids (probably in the next few years), I find myself thinking about the fact that, should I take parental leave, I’ll have zero of my own money coming in for those months. And maybe I’m overthinking it, but why should my husband have twice as much discretionary money just because society places a higher value on his job type? Do you think, past a certain point of “partnership,” the percentage-based approach to shared finances breaks down? Am I just being selfish in thinking there’s something off with this arrangement?

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—Unequal

Dear Unequal,

Every marriage works differently in this respect. Some couples prefer to keep their own money in separate accounts and spend it on a pro-rata basis, adjusting the amount to what they make. For others, all money is shared, and can be spent by either party however they want. It sounds like you and your husband are not on the same page about the extent to which your combined money is equally yours. Not everybody uses the percentage-based approach you’re describing.

Marriage requires constantly affirming and renegotiating terms as the circumstances change. What you want at the beginning of the marriage might not be what you want at the end. You need to have a new conversation about your discomfort with the current situation.

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I wouldn’t take it for granted that having kids will permanently cap your income, even if it does change what you have coming in when you take unpaid leave. (And as the proud parent of a 6-year-old who was once a newborn, I can confidently tell you that “fun money” will be the least of your concerns those first few months—unless you can use fun money to pay for extra naps.) It’s true that the market might value your husband’s job more than they value yours, and it seems like that’s started to annoy you more than it once did, but you still have agency in this situation. If more fun money is a priority for you, and you still plan to work after you have children, you should factor that into your career decisions.

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But if the real problem here is that you want more of a what’s-mine-is-yours approach to your assets, then you need to discuss that with your husband, and also examine why you think that would be better for your relationship. Neither choice is right or wrong; it’s just a matter of how you both view your individual financial independence, and whether sharing everything makes it feel more like a partnership to you.

Dear Pay Dirt,

My wife’s grandfather just died. His estate was broken into two pieces: his wife’s (my wife’s grandmother) and his. Over the past 10 years, he had started living with a new, younger woman and decided to leave his estate to her. He didn’t have power to leave the grandmother’s share to her, so he gave it all to my wife’s brother’s wife, with the ask that she give it to her kids and to her second cousins (not closely related).

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Our read on this is that he wanted to disinherit everyone he could, but could only go so far due to trust language. He completely ignored the wishes of my wife’s grandmother, who wanted it to be split evenly. Instead, he left it all to my wife’s brother. We asked him for our fair share, and his response was that granddad wanted his kids to have it, so it’s his.

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Are we justified in cutting ties with him? This wasn’t granddad’s money, it was supposed to be left for us, and just because we haven’t had kids yet doesn’t mean our family is worth less than his.

—Sibling Selfishness

Dear Sibling Selfishness,

I don’t think you should cut ties with him. Legally and ethically, he is obligated to respect your wife’s grandfather’s stated wishes, even if you think the grandfather was ill-intentioned and ignored the wishes of the grandmother (who I assume died earlier, or he wouldn’t have control of her estate.)

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And there are grandparents who die and intentionally leave assets solely to the youngest generation of their families. Whether that’s right or wrong is an entirely separate issue, but it’s not unusual, and I think you have to explore the possibility that your grandmother may have fully intended to do this. I know you feel that this unfairly leaves you out because you don’t have children yet, but it’s pretty rare in that case that someone would leave money to potential grandchildren that don’t exist yet. (There are ways to do it, but it’s unusual.)

I’m not sure where you’re getting your understanding of her intentions in the matter, but I wouldn’t make too many assumptions about what Grandma wanted. This kind of distribution isn’t uncommon. That said, I understand why you feel it’s unfair. And I think it was reasonable to express your disappointment to your wife’s brother. But I don’t think he did anything wrong here, and you shouldn’t punish him for it, even if you quietly believe his failure to share is proof of his selfishness.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

Early this year, I picked up a great new hire. “Ted” is absolutely brilliant, is hardworking, and the only minor complaint I have is he’s aggressively proactive, often finding a problem and dropping off a message that he’s going to go deal with it instead of waiting for some kind of direction from the leadership team. Quite honestly, I have no idea why he even went looking for this job, because I am sure he can get something much higher paying than what I’m able to offer.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a few signs of dissatisfaction from Ted, mostly over communications issues, often from his nominal superiors. What I’d really like to do is sack one of the leadership team and put him on it. But I have certain workplace policies directed from Up High, and Ted, being a new guy, cannot be promoted into that role for lack of seniority. I’ve tried lobbing little perks his way, easing his hours and the like, and if he ever has a request for time off I make sure to grant it, but I’m not really sure how to make sure I keep him. I’ve had good workers before, but never anyone this indispensable. Ordinarily, I’d ask a few of my peers at the company, but that could be bad for my own career to be seen as this indecisive. So I’m hoping I can get some advice in an anonymous framework. Can you think of anything to help me keep this guy around long enough that I can promote him properly?

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—Waffling Division Head

Dear Waffling Division Head,

Since I don’t know the specifics of your workplace—its political dynamics, what your co-workers are like, what you’re like as a manager—it’s hard to say how you should approach the issue of retaining Ted specifically. But I’ve been a manager myself and have hired around 100 people over the course of my career, all of whom I hired with the intention of keeping, at least at the outset. And I’ve had some excellent Ted-like hires.

The Teds really need a path for advancement, and if they’re, as you describe, “aggressively proactive,” they’ll go looking for it elsewhere, aggressively and proactively, if they can’t find it in their own company. There are a few options, I think. If communications are an issue with his superiors, you can try to mediate and help them fix the issues. If it’s more of a personality clash, consider changing the lines of reporting. If the issue is that there’s nowhere to put Ted where he’s not outperforming his superiors, see if you can’t create a new lateral position for him where his talents are utilized and recognized.

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You should also probably have a conversation with Ted to assure him that you appreciate his work and want to make sure the company is giving him what he needs. Ask him directly what you can do to make sure that happens.

If all else fails, and Ted is going to leave no matter what, express to him that you want to work with him in the future. Relationships with people you manage are not always transient. It’s better to look at them as long-term relationships that go beyond employment at a single company. You and Ted may end up working together again someday, in a different context. (Reid Hoffman’s book, The Alliance, is very good on the topic of helping employees manage their careers long term, if you’d like some relevant reading.)

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The reality is that you may not be able to keep Ted, even if you try all of these things. But that shouldn’t stop you from cultivating a longer-term professional relationship with him. He’ll appreciate your efforts, even if he’s unhappy with the company’s.

More Advice From Slate

My husband says that he’s depressed and that he needs help, but the only help he wants is for someone to give him the perfect job that he thinks will magically make everything OK. His last job, which actually was a great job, he quit after a month. I don’t know what to do. How do I leave knowing that he very well might end up killing himself, or so he says?

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