Pay Dirt

My Husband Has Astronomical Medical Bills—but We’ve Conjured a Scheme to Avoid Them

There’s just one sticking point.

A photo of a woman leaning on a man's shoulder, beside a cake topper of a bride and groom broken in two.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus and Spoon Graphics.

This column is part of Advice Week, Slate’s celebration of all things advice.

Sometimes, all you need is a different perspective. So this week, our columnists have swapped fields of expertise. In this edition, Doyin Richards, a Care and Feeding columnist, handles your personal finance questions.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband “Josh” and I were both widowed young and didn’t remarry until our respective kids were in their 20s. I’ve always gotten along with my stepkids well but never been super close. My husband and I try to make sure that for every shared social engagement there’s an opportunity for them to see him one-on-one.

Josh has always had a progressive illness, but it’s been well managed until recently. According to his doctors, we’re looking at approximately two years of very expensive and very painful care with a narrow chance of stabilizing—but likely hospice in the end. Josh wants us to divorce so that we can protect our assets from his soon-to-be-unpayable medical bills, with a strong written agreement about how he will continue to live in our home, etc. to protect him. Our financial advisor and lawyers agree that we can make this happen, but there’s one sticking point: He refuses to tell his kids.

They know he’s very sick, and I think they deserve to know, but he claims it’s too private. I don’t want them to find out by accident or think I somehow hurt their dad in his time of need. How do I approach this?

—Soon to Be Divorcee

Dear Soon to Be Divorcee,

First off, my heart goes out to your family, because this is an absolutely gut-wrenching decision to live with. I agree with your reasoning regarding protecting your assets from seizure, but I strongly disagree with not telling the kids about the divorce.

They will end up finding out eventually, and you will be the one left holding the bag of their resentment. Even though you know the truth, how could you sway them to believe that divorce was his idea? If I was in their shoes, there’s no way in the world I would believe you, and that could end up ruining your relationship with your stepkids forever.

I know your husband’s heart is in the right place because he’s doing this in an effort to protect his kids, but he’s not looking at the big picture. He may think this is private, but divorce isn’t really a private issue, because people can often look it up in public records to see if one occurred. You need to do everything in your power to get him to see the light, otherwise, he’s going to hurt a whole lot of people unnecessarily.


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