The Moneyist: ‘He’s content living paycheck to paycheck’: My husband won’t work or get a driver’s license. Now things have gotten even worse.

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The Moneyist: ‘He’s content living paycheck to paycheck’: My husband won’t work or get a driver’s license. Now things have gotten even worse.
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I am married, but we are both different people, and I get the feeling my husband doesn’t even like me. He’s too tired to leave, and we don’t have anything but bills. He doesn’t have a driver’s license, and he won’t even go to court to pay his fines and get it back. He’s content with living paycheck to paycheck. 

I’d like to be able to leave my girls something. Unlike our parents, we’ve always struggled except for the beginning of our marriage when he was making $70,000 a year. Now, he doesn’t make half of that. I was working until I fell at home and started receiving unemployment, but I’ve always done side jobs. I still get ideas of ways to make money selling online.

‘Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did: he won’t file income taxes, so I guess he thinks he’s invincible.’

Meanwhile, my husband has no desire for change. We’re getting old, our bodies are breaking down, and I’d love to own a home again, but it seems like he’s trying to take me down with him: he drives without a license. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did: he won’t file income taxes, so I guess he thinks he’s invincible. 

My kids still need me. I don’t want his actions to destroy me. Do you think a legal separation and bankruptcy will help? I don’t know what else to do. He’s gotten so mean when I ask him about his plans.

Desperate for Change

Dear Desperate,

The change in your husband’s behavior may be a combination of factors. But the end result for your marriage may very well be the same. 

Your husband may have substance-misuse issues, or undiagnosed mental-health problems. There are many proven treatments for depression and other mental illnesses available. They include medication and psychotherapy, often available through work-based insurance plans, as well as meditation, getting enough sleep, eating right and being physically active. If that is the case, the person needs to want to get help and agree to accepting help. 

But there are immediate issues that need addressing: Driving without a license could result in a hefty fine and jail time. If he was in a car accident, and he was at fault, he could also face substantial damages for a first-time offense. Penalties vary by state. In Maryland, for example, he could face a fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail. In Delaware, he could face a $1,500 fine, license and registration suspension for up to six months, and up to five years in jail. 

Not filing income taxes is another, equally worrying example that your husband has given up as a net contributor to society. According to the IRS: “The failure-to-pay penalty is one-half of one percent for each month, or part of a month, up to a maximum of 25%, of the amount of tax that remains unpaid from the due date of the return until the tax is paid in full.” He is either unwilling or unable to get a job. It’s hard to give an accurate diagnosis from a letter, but this can’t go on.

Bankruptcy may be a step too far

“Although marriage counseling isn’t a topic that was covered in my financial advisor training, it seems quite clear to me that your life does need a change,” says George Gagliardi, a certified financial planner, based in Lexington, Mass. “More to the point, you are seeking to exit what seems to be an untenable situation and thus have a chance to get control of your life, financially and otherwise.”

“State laws vary considerably regarding divorce, child support and custody, and financial support,” he adds. “Bankruptcy laws are federal, but I wouldn’t even consider that option before resolving your family situation. Thus, I would strongly recommend finding a family-law attorney who could better lay out the options available to you in your situation. You don’t want your husband’s legal and financial transgressions to take you down with him.”

“It is good to hear that you have some ideas regarding ways to make money online, but that is secondary to first getting your family situation resolved,” he adds. “The safety of you and your children is something else that an attorney can discuss with you. Getting safe accommodations and the ability to feed and support your children is something with which a state or local agency or a charitable organization might be able to assist you.”

At some point, you do need to take action. That could involve two steps: an intervention by family members to implore your husband to seek help and, if that does not work, steps to protect your family’s future. A divorce lawyer will help you weigh your options regarding the practicality of a divorce vs. an official separation. If you do not have shared property and you intend to buy one in the future, the former would appear to be the most practical option.

You have a right to have a safe and financially secure home, peace of mind and a worry-free retirement, and you have the right to be happy.

“There are immediate issues that need addressing.”


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If you, or a family member, needs help with a mental or substance use disorder, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889, or text your ZIP code to 435748 (HELP4U), or use SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to get help. You can also find more resources and advice for families from SAMHSA here.

Here are other resources for people with family members who have addiction issues: The Center for Motivation and Change published this book, “Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change.” Dr. Robert Meyers, who has been working in the field of addiction for four decades, developed the CRAFT approach to encourage a family member to engage in treatment.

Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas. 

By emailing your questions, you agree to have them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

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