Dear Penny: Should I Divorce My Husband Over His Spiraling Mountain of Debt?

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Dear Penny,

Many years ago, my husband fell in love with the strategy of using credit for everything. He has been getting a lot of credit and loans. But I had no idea it had ballooned to an outrageous amount due to building a retirement home for us in his home country. 

I want to get the debt paid off, but he wants to continue taking out debt. His idea is to sell what we own here to pay it off.  We are preparing to sell a home that is too big and to do so next year. The debt is so high, I will probably not get much for myself. Just enough to cover the remainder of the mortgage and a good portion of the debt. 

I believe his friends are telling him I am trying to control him, but that is what he has been doing to me. He is belligerent when I don't go along. He is now telling me that he will do what he wants and I can’t control him. I only want to stop the debt. 

He is 68, and I am 60. I want to retire next year. This means no income. We would need to live off of rent from our properties. All of that money now goes toward paying creditors every month. 

I feel he is hiding more and more of what he is doing and with whom. All of his transactions are in cash, so they can’t really be documented. I have threatened to take the rent money and place it in an account I control to pay off these debts. I want to ensure that he can’t use the money for anything else and that it goes toward the debt and something else.  

Again, I am trying to control him in his mind. I suppose that’s true, but mostly, I want to stop this chinstrap borrowing. If he has no way to pay off new debt, he won't be able to take on more of it.

I know he will start getting into more debt for the retirement home. I have extreme panic and anxiety attacks over it. He just sees this as more control issues on my part.  

I don't want to divorce. We have been married for 42 years, but this is bringing me to despair and I feel it may be my only choice. 


Dear R.,

I think you’re pretty clear-eyed about this situation. You know your husband will continue to amass more debt as long as he can.

You could try putting the rental income in an account you control, as you suggest. But it will be a Band-Aid solution at most. He’ll find a way to keep borrowing if he’s truly determined. Since your husband gets angry when you don’t do what he wants, I’m afraid that putting the rent money in a separate account will add tension to what’s already an enormously stressful dynamic.

Dear Penny

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So the question for you is: Do you want to stay married if the cost is your financial security and mental health? Or would you rather get a fresh start where you’re in control, even if the idea of divorce is terrifying after 42 years of marriage?

I’d vote for the latter option. Or at the very least, I’d meet with a divorce attorney, just to get a sense of what ending this marriage would entail. You want to find out how much of this debt you’d be responsible for, along with how much of this property you could be entitled to.

But it isn’t just how your debts and property would be divided in a divorce that worries me. I’m concerned about how much you don’t know. You say you think your husband is hiding things from you. Trust your gut. If you suspect he’s hiding assets or debt from you or you think he could be doing something illegal, it’s essential to talk to an attorney about your rights.

Should you decide to divorce, you need to expect that life may look a lot different than you anticipated, particularly in the short term. Retiring next year probably won’t be on the table. You may need to downsize to a lifestyle that’s much different from what you’re accustomed to. But if your husband is dismissive of your frequent panic attacks, it sounds like the trade-off is worth it. When you don’t have control over your finances, it’s nearly impossible to be in control of your life.

Your husband has been clear: He values acquiring more stuff over your well-being. If you can’t stomach the idea of divorce, you’ll need to make peace with the fact that this situation isn’t changing.

Trying to climb out of debt? Here are 50 ways to bring in extra money this month.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].