Dear Penny: Can I Sue My Stepdaughter for Money I Spent on Her Wedding After She Uninvited Me?

A bridge looks like she's unhappy in this photo.
Getty Images
Dear Penny,

My stepdaughter became engaged. Her biological mom refused to help pay for the wedding, and my husband was not financially able to help contribute. (We keep our finances separate.) I paid for half of my stepdaughter’s wedding dress and sent her money in two payments to help with the dinner. After becoming friendly with her mom again, she refused me an invite to the wedding. Can I sue for my money back?

— Excluded Stepmom

Dear Excluded,

I’m sorry for your experience! This sounds like a difficult challenge for your family.

There aren’t strict guidelines for when you can bring a civil lawsuit. Whether you could likely win your money depends on the evidence you bring and what you’re asking for. Speak with an attorney to consider the viability of your case.

In a civil lawsuit, “a plaintiff must show that, given all the evidence, the defendant most likely engaged in action (or inaction) for which the plaintiff should receive a remedy,” according to Forbes.

If you didn’t have a specific (and, ideally, written and signed) agreement about what you’d get in return for giving your stepdaughter money, you might have a hard time proving you suffered an injury she has to remedy with repayment.

Of course, your circumstances involve much more than money changing hands. This is an example of why it can be tricky to give or lend money to family and friends.

Whether you recover the cash or not, this conflict is much less about money than it is about the relationships in your family. You likely offered to contribute to the wedding not to buy an invite for yourself but to help your stepdaughter have the wedding she wanted to have, right? You can celebrate giving her that, even if your relationship was in a bad place.

Before pursuing a lawsuit centered on recovering money, consider whether that is, in fact, the injury you want to remedy. We often turn to money as a proxy for emotional wounds — whether it’s shopping to soothe anxiety or focusing on splitting assets in a divorce — but, once the money is settled, the wound is still there.

Ask yourself: What is the pain you want to address with your stepdaughter (and, if relevant, with her biological mom and your husband)? Does it require a financial remedy? Is a lawsuit the best way to achieve that?

Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® and author of YOU DON’T NEED A BUDGET. She writes Healthy Rich, a newsletter about how capitalism impacts the ways we think, teach and talk about money.

Dear Penny

Ask Dear Penny!

Get practical money advice from Dana Miranda, the voice of Dear Penny and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance.

DISCLAIMER: Questions will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. We are unable to answer every letter. We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. But don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous.