WTF Wednesday: I stood by him all these years and now I deserve the house and my dogs

single mom advice



Dear Emma, WTF!?

My husband of 35 years wants a divorce. He dropped this bomb on me about four months ago, and since then my life has been total hell. I was so shocked — and I was already having a tough time. Five years ago our adult son was killed in an car accident, and since then his widowed wife has forbidden our 7-year-old grandson from seeing us, even though they live one town over. 

Related to this stress, I have slipped into a deep depression and suffer anxiety issues and insomnia, and have gone on disability as a result. My husband has retired and pulls social security, but I am financially dependent on him and his pension, which is minimal. I am 55. 

Over the years my husband has gone through bouts of unemployment (he was the primary breadwinner by far), alcoholism, and depressions of his own. We stuck it through the death of our son. And now he’s leaving me and I am so, so mad. 

We’ve been talking to a lawyer, but the reality is that there isn’t much money to argue about and no small children to fight over. All I want is to stay in my home, which is by far the biggest asset, and to keep my five small dogs. My ex is fighting me tooth-and-nail to sell the home, and is threatening to split up the dogs and take two of them. If he insists on leaving I feel I deserve these two things, and he won’t even give me that. 

What can I do to ensure my financial future?



Dear Marie,

You have had a tough haul indeed. It is not fair your son was killed. It is not fair you are depressed. It is not fair your husband drank too much, or that he lost jobs. It is certainly not fair that he wants to divorce you.

For better or worse, this is life.

Life is not fair.

It just isn’t.

I have to say this again: LIFE IS NOT FAIR.

You used in your note the word “deserve.” That you deserve the house and dogs. You also asked how to ensure your financial future.

The only thing you can do for sure, that is guaranteed, is to take responsibility for your future. It would be lovely if all the years you spent with your husband were like payments into a pension fund that would then spit out a return later in life. But it doesn’t work like that. You are not entitled to his devotion. And you are not entitled to a disproportionate share of your collective finances. Just because your heart broke does not mean the world owes you financially or otherwise.

But it is hard for you to see that right now for two reasons: One, you are heartbroken and in the midst of the trauma that is always divorce. Two, you have a sense of entitlement.

In my years speaking to and hearing from thousands of women post-divorce I have learned there is one differentiator between those who thrive after their marriages, and those who flounder indefinitely. Just one character difference sets these women apart:

Those who thrive take responsibility for their lives.

Those who flounder hold fast to a sense of entitlement.

You have a choice. You can fight him for the house, and likely lose. Depending on where you live and what judge presides over your case will determine how your situation will be handled. But since you don’t have money for legal fees, you will likely settle this out of court, even between the two of you. And since your income is low and savings nil, you cannot afford to buy him out of the house.

So you will sell the house, split the proceeds and go on your separate ways.

Probably, a judge would order this, so your lawyer will suggest it. And I am telling you to do this.

Take your half of the money. Buy in cash a cute condo. Maybe it is on the beach, or the mountains. Or in the city so you can walk to a darling cafe in the morning and flirt with the barista and read the paper while you drink you cappuccino while your dogs lounge in the sun by your feet.

You will decorate your new home with new furniture that was not in your old home. This is your home, in your new life. Your tastes and your books and paintings. You will invite the neighbors over for wine in the evening, and you will take little trips to see friends who you’ve lost touch with.

You’ll start to exercise again, and you will feel better. You will meet new people who will open your eyes and heart. You will see that you are not limited by your past experiences, or  the small sums of income from your husband and benefits. You will see ways to make money again. On your own. So you will not have to be dependent on an ex-husband.

You have your body. Your life. You have more energy and skills than you believe you do now. But you are trapped in memories. And you are trapped in a sense that all the goodness and life inside of you is not enough to be happy and full, and only someone else — your husband, and his money — can sustain you.

To change that, your life must change.

By moving, you will not be in the house where you raised your son or were married for so long. Those times — both good and bad— will be with you forever.

Life — your life, all life — is much bigger than what we focus on, even if we can get stuck on what is right before us. And in each step – selling your house, buying the new one, creating a life there — you are opening yourself up to growing and changing far beyond what you now know.

This is a new time– a time full of possibility that you cannot even imagine.


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Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

13 thoughts on “WTF Wednesday: I stood by him all these years and now I deserve the house and my dogs

  1. A lovely idea if the woman were 35—or even 45. But 55? And she has no work history? Who would hire her? And the way of life you describe requires $$$$$ that the poor woman may not have, or ever have. I agree, yes, she should allow the house to be sold (I had to do the same when I was divorced under similar circumstances), but she will very likely NOT have enough money by a long shot to “pay cash for a cute condo”, especially in a choice location like the beach or the mountains (unless she wants to live in an impoverished Central American country, where she would be truly rich indeed). Rather you should have advised her to find a respected and reliable financial planner to set aside some of the money as a nest egg, and use the balance to get some community-college education to get a job, preferably in health care. And tell her to stay FAR away from the for-profit “colleges”. Yes, she needs to find a small apartment, make new friends and connections, as the old ones will probably abandon her (if they haven’t already). Oh, and see if she can get some psychological help to deal with her low self-esteem. But hopefully as she rises to the rigorous challenges of starting life anew (and they WILL be rigorous), the rising self-esteem will happen by itself.

    1. Marie: Fifty Five is now the new Forty! I’m 43 yrs old and have been divorced for 8 years and I went back to college earned my degree at night while working 40 hours a week and raised my son who is now 20 years old. Girl rent you a house on the lake or apt on the ocean run in the sand with your dogs and feel the sand between your toes. You are free girl and there is nothing you can’t do. I know you’re afraid Marie I was too, but now I’m super strong and my son at 12 yrs old told me one day he said Mom you’re so brave and since then I never looked back to my ex who up and left me without warning. Go get your new life Marie it’s awesome out there!

  2. I don’t disagree with your most comment, Holly, but she may very well have cash for a small condo in a decent location and has the security of her disability income and a portion of his pension. But if she simply focuses on the limits of her situation and plays victim, she will never break free into something different and better.

    I do disagree that 55 is too old to start over. She likely has another 25-30 years. She’s just getting going.

  3. 55 is most definitely NOT too old to start over. There are plenty of things she can do. She can start a home based business if she’s crafty. She can work… Dare I say it….. FAST FOOD. RETAIL. An entry level job. Is she going to get rich? No. Is she going to survive? Yes. Is she going to actually LIVE? If she’s smart about it. The bonus to all this? She will get to say she did it ON HER OWN.

  4. My mom ‘started over’ at 64. We call it Life #2. She is a nanny. First time working besides for my father’s business. She is the happiest she has ever been. She has tons of friends. In fact, I have a hard time catching her to chat. She is off to movies, dinners, etc. Is she rich? no. But she is in charge of her own finances, debt free and living her life on her own terms. She lives within her means and feels empowered by that.

  5. I work at a community college where a lot of our students are starting over in their 50s. It can be done, if she wants job training we are a great service.

  6. Hi,
    Interesting reading your comments. At just over 50 my husband decided he wanted to be free !
    He had very much been the control of our finances. The cleared all our joint money out and put £500 in an account for me and that was it. I did have the house as gave him a flat I had. I desperately wanted my children to keep their friends, school and the area they lived in. I was working part time and very quickly changed to full time. All was fine as getting an allowance from him too. Keeping head just above water when after a few months he decided I had ruined his life – he had walked out on me – so stopped any money and my boss died suddenly so I was made redundant.
    It was a terrifying time with two children and a large house to keep up. I thought I am going to lose the children if I could not support them. I went to a temping agency and did anything. I would leave at seven having woken up the children and walked the dog – I was getting up at 5 and doing two shifts at times in two different places. That first year was killing,I did not have any time to think about what was happening,luckily as it was such a messy devoice, it went on for several years. At the end of the financial year I realised I had been doing the equivalent of three jobs. I had pleurisy and several bad chest infections and even went back to work early.- no work,no money. The doctor rang up, my daughter answered and he said he wanted to see me in bed the next day ! Became quite a joke in the family,poor Doc.he had no idea.
    I just kept thinking about+ points,not got to put up with him, my freedom,controlling my own children etc. looking back I do not know how we coped but we did and it definitely made us stronger.
    You have got to concentrate on going forward,don’t look back. You have just got to look at the pluses. It is your time now. I cannot tell you how sorry I am you lost your son but you have every excuse to concentration you now. I worked a lot with people with earning difficulties. Do something where you are mixing with lots of people and if they are less fortunate than yourself there is a good feeling that you are helping them. Don’t waste your energy on trying to fight him. Think about not having to put up with his alcoholism,you are free now,make the most of it,it is your time now,enjoy it,why not. You will get a job,you will succeed. I knew I had to I had no choice. My husband disappeared,we had no contact and that was over 20 years ago. Strangely enough I had a letter come the other day for him. I moved years ago to make a new start,that was my old life. I thought about it for a while thinking it was a scam. I finally told my daughter and she decided to try and trace him after all these years. She did not tell me but called over,asked me to sit down and said she had found out he died 8 years ago ! I would have thought he would have let his children know as it was not sudden. As you can imagine, came as a bit of a shock but after I recovered it was a relief,he had been very unpleasant to the children – I will put it like that. You are free now, you do not have to feel guilty,you can just walk away. Many woman would like to do that but they cannot. I wish you every good wish. You have a lot of life to live and it is up to you now,you are responsible for what happens to you. Have a great time,start enjoying life and why not. Take care Anne.

  7. Just chiming in from the other side. I’m mid-50’s husband married since the 80’s. For several years my wife and I have lived without love. We worked hard, raised two beautiful children and had some good times. But now I know its time to move onto the next chapter of our lifes. T’will be difficult, but I have been fortunate to have a good career. My wife has never taken the effort to understand how money/investments work. And I am trying to work things out with her amicably, but she has become resentful and doesn’t understand all the realities. Uses words live what she deserves. I still have feelings for her but very worried that she will crash and burn. Of course at this juncture , I can not suggest what she should do. So hopefully, she get advice from someone who can point her in the right direction. Good luck to all the divorcing moms out there. Carl

    1. Carl, when you married your wife, you promised to stay with her and be there for her, forever. Now you have unilaterally decided that it is time to move on, in other words, you are breaking your promise, although she obviously has not released you from your promise. Why are you surprised that she is resentful? For women in their mid-50’s, the chances of finding love and security with another man, are way, way less than the man’s chances of finding another woman. If men’s and women’s earning potential and re-mating potential were equal, then she would feel differently. But they are not, and this is why the 50/50 asset split is simply not fair to the woman. Even if you leave her financially secure, she will likely have to face old age alone, as her chances of finding another suitable husband are considerably less than your chances of happily re-marrying. She does deserve more.

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