In my home state of Texas, we have what’s known as a “poor man’s divorce.”Simply put, it’s when the guy flees the coop for another woman (but probably booze). Anyway, it’s easy to do and surprisingly common. And given how fast the economy’s tanked, this undercover get-out-of-jail-free card probably looks like a steal compared to the average $20,000 that most cash-strapped couples are plunking down to split ways.
But trust us, it’s not. Going the poor man’s divorce route is like getting an all-access pass to the honky tonk of horrors. You’ll lose your social standing, alienate your kids if you have any, and possibly trash what little chances you had of rebuilding your future with a new home or spouse.
“There’s no good argument for staying married to someone who has no control of your life,” says Gabrielle Clemens, an attorney at law in Boston and divorce financial planner.
Here’s why it actually pays to buy a divorce:
Health issues with kids. Going the poor man’s route could hinder your child’s health, impeding you from making important decisions such as whether you want the child to enter therapy or undergo an operation, explains Clemens.
“If major decisions have to be made, except in emergencies, your options may be limited,” she says.
Custody battles. The custody of the child would remain in question, leaving both parents to work out family matters, which, let’s be honest, isn’t happening.
It’s hard to determine who can relocate with a child, for example, or who gets the final say in the child’s education, if both parents share legal rights but aren’t speaking to one another. A divorce draws the line in the sand making it easy for everyone to see where they stand.
Getting hitched. “From a practical perspective, you can’t move on,” says Clemens of abandoned spouses who hope to remarry. As long as polygamy is illegal, say happy trails to your future.
Tax trouble. Married filing separately—the legal status for abandoned spouse-taxpayers—is the least advantageous of them all, says Clemens, as the law generally favours married couples. You could lose out on important benefits that would maximise your refund and possibly find yourself paying the Tax Man even more.
Credit problems. Let’s say your spouse goes AWOL and sticks you with the bill for your car lease, but still holds the title. Now what? The same scenario could happen with the deed to a house or any other large purchase you shared. You’ll have to work through the kinks on your own, which could take a long time.
Also, if your spouse decided to skip out on you and the credit card bill, you might be left holding the bag o’ late fees and interest. If this went on long enough, it would damage your credit rating, ruining your chances of buying a new home or the car your spouse took off with.
Getting stuck with the house. The recession has divorcing couples playing hot potato over who gets the house, and getting stuck with a mortgage you can’t afford could lead to foreclosure, which could lead to a shoddy credit rating indefinitely, warns Clemens. Your score could be tarnished for up to seven years.
If you’re desperate for a way out, don’t “get” a poor man’s divorce. Instead, check with your local bar association or visit the clerk at your courthouse for help. Oftentimes, they offer “family law” pro-bono days where you can fill out the paperwork, get legal advice, and take the steps to move on.
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