Dear Penny: Should I Sue My Financially Toxic Ex-Boyfriend for $100K?

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Dear Penny,

Is it worth my time and effort to take my former boyfriend/roommate to small-claims court? 

We met in 2008. In 2010, his restaurant closed. He moved in with me, saying he could get another job anywhere. I relented. He moved into my home and had 20-plus jobs in five years. 

I told him NUMEROUS times to move out. I needed help with the mortgage and utilities, but I ended up losing my home. I sold some jewelry so we could move back to his hometown, where the cost of living was less. 

He said it was his turn to take care of me. He had many contacts and said I only needed a part-time job for personal spending money. In the first six months, he lost or quit seven different jobs. 

I got a part-time job and tried to hoard the money I had. He asked how much I had left and suggested I get a second job. He did chores around the house but didn't contribute financially. 

After two years, he finally moved out, but 14 months later, he was back. I broke my hip, so he moved himself back in (to take care of the dog). After he quit ANOTHER job, I told him to leave. He refused, due to our state laws, he had squatters’ rights. 

I couldn’t afford lawyers to get him out. Fourteen months ago, he finally moved out. I feel he still owes me over $100,000. What do you suggest? 

-Used and Abused

Dear Used,

If my scorecard is accurate, your ex-boyfriend lost or quit at least 28 jobs during your time together and has a really poor track record of financial contributions. What are the odds that he’s turned his life around and is now gainfully employed with decent savings? Or do you think he’s moved on because he found someone else he can mooch off of?

I’d love to tell you to sue the man for every cent he owes you. But I can’t imagine a scenario where it’s worth your time and energy.

Dear Penny

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For starters, if you really think he owes you $100,000, you wouldn’t be able to sue in small-claims court. The limits range from $2,500 to $25,000 depending on the state. That means you’d need to hire an attorney unless you opted to go the DIY route, which is always ill-advised.

Even if you had the most airtight case against your boyfriend — for instance, if you made him sign a contract when he moved in and have sound documentation that shows he violated it — a judgment is worthless when someone can’t pay up. If your ex-boyfriend were a responsible adult, it might be possible to get an order that allows you to garnish his wages or his bank accounts. But in his case, there’s probably little if anything to garnish.

So unless your ex has some secret source of wealth you neglected to mention, suing this leech probably isn’t worth it. You’ll save yourself time and money. You’ll avoid the need to contact him. Take comfort, if you can, in knowing that you’re not giving him any opening into your life ever again as you focus on rebuilding your savings and credit.

As you work to regain your financial footing, think about the very costly lessons you’ve learned and how you might apply them to a future relationship. For example, it’s always wise to put both names on the lease before you move in together. Signing a cohabitation agreement that spells out who’s responsible for what bills is also smart.

Moving on is the best thing you can do here. Your former boyfriend isn’t going to make you financially whole again. Only you can do that.

Here are the biggest money secrets that can help you stop wasting precious funds and get your finances back on track.

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