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I filed for bankruptcy after rehabbing my husband’s home. Now he wants an open marriage and says I own nothing. I feel trapped and bamboozled

Dear Moneyist,

I have been with my partner for five years and married for one year. I left my apartment, threw away all my furniture and moved into the home he owns from an inheritance. I racked up debt from helping to rehabilitate the home so we could be comfortable. During the pandemic, my spouse and I decided to file a Chapter 7 so we could start over fresh and do things differently.

Once the bankruptcies were done, my spouse asked me for an open marriage! I was taken aback and shocked. I declined and asked for a divorce. Here is where the problem comes in: I have no savings, no furniture and no place to move. During recent arguments, he told me he had owned the house 15 years prior to marrying me and, therefore, I have no claim to it.

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I asked for the furniture and TV, which I bought on my credit card, and he told me it’s not mine, and I didn’t pay for it anyway because I filed for bankruptcy. I paid for his car and my truck. Now he says he doesn’t want the car. I can’t afford to keep paying for both.

Can I force him to pay for the car even if the loan is in my name? Do I have to file for divorce and let the courts decide on the material things versus me just moving and taking it anyway? Right now, I’m still in the home until I save enough money to get my own place, and I have to help pay the taxes on his home.

I feel trapped and bamboozled. What should I do? I don’t pay bills, which has left me pondering the idea of just staying with him out of convenience — but at what cost to me mentally?

Blindsided by love

Dear Blindsided,

I’m not sure what’s worse: to cheat or, after you say “I do,” to essentially give you notice that he intends to sleep with other people. Human beings, like the stock market, are notoriously unpredictable. They surprise you with flowers one day, and they pull the rug from under your feet the next. I’ve stopped trying to figure other people out. But I do know this: People’s actions, when you have behaved consistently and honorably, almost always have nothing, zero, zilch to do with you.

That frees you up to consider your next steps. To that end, I’m stuck on the word “rehab.” If you paid money toward the mortgage or financially helped to renovate the house itself, it’s likely that the property moved from being separate property to marital property. Similarly, paying property taxes can have the same effect. If you merely fitted out your home with “all mod cons” you will in all probability take what you brought into this marriage with you when you leave.

Ultimately, taking on debt was your decision. You, not your spouse, are personally accountable for that. If your name is on the loan for the car, you are responsible for it. The contract is between you and the lender. In the game of rock-paper-scissors, divorce decrees do not supersede loan contracts. In some states, debts acquired during the marriage are considered marital property, and a court may take that total figure into account when dividing your assets.

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I caution against moving out and taking items. Ashley Wood, an attorney at Barton Wood in Salt Lake City, Utah, said people don’t give up their legal right to a marital home by moving out. “That said, courts are generally inclined to preserve the status quo in divorce cases. So if you want to live in your marital home, but you move out during the divorce, it’s somewhat less likely that the court will turn your spouse out of the home and reinstall you there,” Wood writes.

There is obviously a trade-off between your mental and financial health. “Legally, your spouse can’t force you to move out of the house in most cases — nor can you force them to move out,” Wood adds. “This is especially true if your spouse was the one who filed for divorce in the first place. If your spouse does ask you, or try to force you to leave, you should assume things are going to deteriorate quickly.” In the meantime, seek legal aid and document everything.

Don’t make any hasty decisions. If you can save money and prepare your exit plan while remaining in your current home, do that. If there were any threat to your physical safety, that would be a horse of a different color. But from what you have told me, your husband has a clear idea of how he would like to live his life with or without you, and you should start making plans for your future too. Pandemic or no pandemic, it’s best to do that with a roof over your head.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected]

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