There are always unintended consequences to everything…especially to addiction. And more often than not, it is to the family of the addict – not the addict himself. A separation or divorce from an addict is especially painful and draining, financially speaking . I debated about sharing this part of my life with you because it is so personal and private. In the end, there is nothing personal and private about addiction. It impacts all of us, profoundly, and in so many ways. So if my intention in writing this blog is to help others who are going through what I have been through, then this is a critical piece of the puzzle that you need to know. Most women do not know how to protect themselves financially. I didn’t. My lawyer did. But even she didn’t think of everything. That is what this blog post is about – thinking of everything. Life is not fair. It is especially not fair in a divorce from an addict.
Let me start at the beginning.
When I first separated from my ex-husband he was in a space of sadness and contrition. He seemed willing to “take care of me” until we could find our way back together. Or so it seemed. He said things to me like, “I will always take care of you. You will not have to worry about money. I did this, it’s my responsibility to “take care of you.” Initially, he asked me to take less money so that it would not be a financial burden on him while he “worked out his recovery.” Of course I wanted him to spend every spare dime he had on recovery! So I, always being willing to be manipulated, agreed to take half of what I needed to survive on. My thinking was that I could put the rest on my credit cards until we got back together. After all, it was only going to be a few months, right? He is going to work so hard on recovery! Well a few months turned into a few years and after it was all said and done, I was left with a little over $50,000 of debt, before the divorce.
The longer the separation lasted the more I worried about the debt I was creating because of his choices and he seemed less and less interested in helping me out. I was stuck. AND worse, I was at his mercy! When I would tell him I needed more money to survive his response was, “well, you agreed to this amount. You even gave me a budget that YOU came up with.” All true! I did come up with a budget and I did agree to the amount. But in the beginning I did not know what I did not know. And he used my trusting nature against me. Please learn from my lessons. If you are going to separate from your husband, even for what you think is a short period of time, get professional help, hire a lawyer! Have a lawyer or trusted advisor draw up a legal agreement, that can be amended for things that are unforeseen.
NO ONE IS EVER PREPARED FOR A DIVORCE! It is one of those life experiences you don’t pay attention to and that you don’t fully understand until you are faced with it. Even then, the learning curve is steep and dangerous. ESPECIALLY if you are divorcing an addict!
If I were to do it all over again, I would have had a legal separation from the beginning. It would have allowed me to learn during the separation to ask for what I really needed in case there was a divorce, and I would have been protected by someone who had my best interest at heart from the beginning. If I had done that, I would not be where I am, financially speaking, right now. But I wasn’t really thinking like that, I was thinking I was going to get him back! I was going at all of this from the perspective of having “good faith” in him. With an addict, you cannot afford to think in terms of “good faith.” There is no “good faith” with an addict. They are selfish, self-centered, conceited, and totally unpredictable. AND THEY LIE! Protect yourself until you actually SEE evidence of recovery. All of this is counterintuitive to how you have lived with your husband in the past. This is the person you have always relied on to take care of you and protect you. Suddenly, he is the enemy. It doesn’t feel right to treat him like the enemy, but that is exactly what he has become. Until he is fully in recovery, he is the enemy. I wish someone would had told me this! I would be a lot better off today if they had.
Also, remember that if you unwittingly take less in the separation, that could be used against you in a divorce. Just keep that in mind. Luckily, I live in Utah and that means I am entitled to half of everything he has. I am also entitled to alimony that equals the lifestyle I enjoyed while in the marriage. Not all states are so generous. Know what you are entitled to and ask for everything. You won’t get it. So just start out by ASKING FOR EVERYHING! Don’t take less to just “be nice.” We women want to be liked and get along. Don’t! They will use that against you. My ex-husband wanted me to agree to the same amount he gave me for the separation, which was far below what was reasonable or required by law. Luckily my attorney knew this and she had my back. But she didn’t catch everything.
The debt was one of those things. Insurance was another. And then there are the taxes on alimony. These three things buried me financially.
I paid off a lot of the debt I had in the divorce, between the sale of the house and the half of his retirement I got, which wasn’t much, but I still ended up with $30k in debt! That is no bueno. I could barely keep up with the payments. It was not good at all. And guess what? He DID NOT CARE! After all, I was the one who ran up the debt – not his problem. Right? That is the problem with him, he always evades accountability on a technicality. It happens every time. Technically, he is right. But is he morally right? After all, I was married to him for 38 years, that should count for some modicum of responsibility and respect, not to mention his choices. Who knows? It doesn’t to him and, at the moment, his is the only opinion that matters. He thinks he is “taking care” of me.
Insurance coverage was in my divorce budget to begin with, but because of all of this debt, I could not afford to actually buy the insurance. I still can’t. I have been without insurance for the past two and half years. Hopefully, I will be insured again before the end of this year.
The last thing that she did not catch or explain to me very well is the taxes on alimony. Ladies, this is a BIG ONE. Make sure your lawyer includes this in the separation and divorce papers. Even though he pays taxes on his salary, you must also pay taxes on the alimony he pays you on that already taxed income. Yes! Alimony is taxed twice! And you do not get to claim it as a deduction. He does. So the impact to your budget is that you must save back 25% of what you get in alimony and child support to pay to the government at the end of the year, or they will come after YOU! So you will automatically lose 25% of what you thought was your budget to live on. Make arrangements for this. I should have been getting half of whatever he gets back on his tax returns to offset my tax burden. I don’t. That was a mistake.
The good news is that I get half of his social security retirement for the rest of his life. I wasn’t going to go after that, but I probably will now, just because. (It will help offset the taxes on the alimony.) Don’t forget this either. If you were married for more than 10 years, you are entitled to apply for HALF of his Social Security benefits as soon as he turns 62. You do not have to wait for him to retire or claim his benefits. You can do it for yourself, when he turns 62. The government requires that you receive this benefit even if you are divorced or if he is remarried. So there is that.
Now we come to my sad tale to tell. The short version of a very long story is that in one year I went through the trauma of betrayal, the trauma of divorce, and now, the trauma of a bankruptcy. Yep, bankruptcy. I am furious at my ex husband! He caused this, and takes none of the responsibility for it! But he will tell you that he is “taking care” of me. After all, he pays his alimony payments on time twice a month. Isn’t that enough? But he will also tell you that he is “repenting.” The last time I checked, when someone repents they also are required to restore the person they harmed back to wholeness. It’s funny because when he was a Bishop he wasn’t too happy with men who treated their ex-wives the way he now treats me. I think he used the term “jerks” to describe them. But now that it is me, it’s perfectly acceptable for him to behave the same way. He is within the letter of the law.
I would go out and get a job to supplement my alimony payment, but there is a “catch” to that too. According to the divorce papers, (and he had this part put in so that I couldn’t “get away” with sticking him with the alimony forever should I become financially stable on my own) he can deduct anything I make from his alimony payments up to $2,000 a month. So I cannot even go out and get a job to supplement my income because he will just take it. So I am stuck. He made sure of that. I cannot get ahead. Period. Yep, he is “taking care” of me alright.
And the icing on the cake is that because of the bankruptcy I am now being evicted from my apartment. Yep. So nice. Even though I never missed a payment, never bounced a check, and was never late for almost 3 years, I got an eviction notice on my door just because I had to file for bankruptcy. Luckily for me, I have a nice friend who has a super nice condo that I can rent. But holy crap! What a pain. Now I have to move too. Just for kicks and giggles.
All of this happened because my ex-husband thought it would be so fun to have multiple affairs. So why is it that I am the one suffering all these consequences for his poor choices? Addiction is the gift that keeps on giving!
Ladies, please don’t think that you are an exception. Don’t believe that your husband will take care of you. He won’t. I used to think that my ex-husband was one of the most responsible people to ever walk the earth. He isn’t. His addiction changed him. He is all about himself. Do not think that you will be taken care of. You won’t. An addict brain is a selfish brain. Always. NO EXCEPTIONS.
If you are contemplating a separation or a divorce from an addict, please get professional help! It is worth the cost. Don’t let him talk you out of it with lovely words of, “we can work this out between us” or “I will do all I can to get get you back.” It’s Bullshit. Don’t believe it. Think of everything you will need and cover all your bases. Write everything down. Keep a daily journal, it holds up in court. Record every conversation you have, keep every email, and take screen shots of every text. Get an attorney who is well versed in dealing with addiction and/or narcissism. Take care of yourself, because in the end, nobody else will!
I am not telling you all of this to make you feel sorry for me. Don’t. I will be ok. I waited to tell this cautionary tale until the problems were solved, and it was finally over, and I knew I was going to be ok. The best feeling in the world is that I solved all the problems he created for me! Me! I did that, all on my own! Because of the bankruptcy, I can now live fully within my budget, my debt is managable, I get to keep my very cool car, pay my taxes, I am moving to a nicer place, have all of my needs met, and can even save some money for trips and other fun things. I will be just fine! But it is no thanks to the addict. Or maybe it is, who knows?
One thing I know is this – no matter what the addict throws at me, the Lord ALWAYS has me covered by His Grace. It is because of Him that I will be more than ok, no matter what! We have to do our part too though. Don’t be dumb like me. Know what you need, ask for it, and take care of yourself first.
Be Sweet, Stay Strong
The Cupcake Warrior