Dear Penny: Will My Son’s Evil Estranged Wife Get Everything in a Divorce?

A woman laughs as she sit on the kitchen floor amongst broken dishwater she broke herself.
Getty Images
Dear Penny,

My child just turned 30. He met a girl who is seven years older. She already had two boys, and their dad was killed when they were just babies. She has lived on their Social Security checks. I believe she gets $2,600 a month. She has only worked six weeks of her whole adult life. 

She and my son had two children together. Now, they’re 5 and 7. They’ve only been married seven years. Out of the blue, she wanted a divorce. She will not settle on anything and pretty much wants everything, so they are most likely going to court. 

He took money out of his 401(k) to pay her home off. Then, they turned around and bought a house out of their means. Her parents died five months apart. She got about $130,000 from life insurance and put that as a down payment for the new house. But they never sold the first house, so she’s saying she should get the $130,000 back first when they sell the new house. 

That said, she is having to move back into the house that my son paid off. My son had to move into my parents’ rental house. But he’s paying for it until he can find something else. He is in no way trying to be unfair. 

He had a job making $27 an hour, and she wanted him to change jobs so he would be home more. This was before she popped that she wanted a divorce. So he changed to a job making $22 an hour. 

OK, now this: Her dad was killed at work. So she has a lawsuit out now. I'm thinking she will probably get a pretty penny. As of right now, they are not divorced. 

I do realize courts look at every situation differently. They've been married for seven years. Can you tell me what he is entitled to? Would he get some of the lawsuit money? As of now, he's not even asking for that.

But when he disagrees with her on even the small material things, she constantly seeks more when he doesn't go her way. She said now she will go after his 401(k), which isn't much because he took most of it out to pay her house off. 

At first, she wasn't going to ask for spousal support, but now she is because she is just plain mad. But when this started, she told him she wasn't going to file for that because she knew he couldn’t afford that. What is he entitled to? Is my son screwed? 

— Worried Mom

Dear Worried,

Slow your roll, Mom. I get that you’re worried and that you want the best for your son. But has he actually asked for your help?

Your hunch that your son and his wife are headed for court sounds correct. And I think you know what I’m going to say here: Your son needs to talk to an attorney.

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.

What I can tell you is that, generally, money received from a wrongful death lawsuit would typically be treated as separate property as long as it’s not mixed with marital property, so your son shouldn’t count on receiving part of any settlement. Also, 401(k) money is usually divided up along with other assets during a divorce. Again, these are matters for your son and an attorney to discuss.

There’s a lot going on in this letter. Your son is no doubt feeling overwhelmed. I know you’re trying to help, but I’m guessing that if you’re trying to imagine every possible scenario that could unfold, you’re only making him feel more overwhelmed. “I asked an advice columnist to help you” or “Here’s what Google told me” are probably the last things your son wants to hear from you right now.

Think about what you can control in this situation. You can’t control your son’s or his estranged wife’s actions, nor can you control how a judge will rule.

The best you can do here is say to your son, “I know you’re going through a tough time. What can I do to help?”

If you have the resources, perhaps you could offer to give him money to consult with a divorce attorney. Or you could offer him a room in your home rent-free for a few months while he gets back on his feet. But if he says he doesn’t need anything from you, please respect this boundary.

You can take comfort in the fact that your son is only 30 and will have time to rebuild his finances. If you need to discuss your worries with someone, a friend or a therapist are appropriate outlets. But please don’t unload your worries on your son, who has enough stress without his mother musing about whether he’s getting screwed.

If you’re sweating making it to payday, 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].