Last week on How I Met Your Mother, Lily and Marshall considered getting a divorce “on paper” for financial reasons. Lily had bad credit, so she proposed that Marshall divorce her so he could apply for a mortgage without her. The odd thing about this scenario is that I know a couple who actually did this – and it ended in a real, bitter (and permanent) divorce.
This couple, who were close friends of my parents, started several hotel businesses. Over time one business after another collapsed, leaving them personally in financial ruin. They were facing bankruptcy, a difficult time for any married couple with two small children. They were going to lose their home and have to uproot their children. Wanting to protect his wife and children, the husband proposed that they get a divorce before he filed for bankruptcy, allowing his wife and children to retain their home. It was supposed to be “on paper” and he would still live with them. After the dust settled, he planned to remarry his wife. But his wife was so hurt by the idea that they started fighting over it – in addition to their fights about finances. Within a year, they were divorced for real. They ended up losing it all: the businesses, the house, and the marriage.
Aside from the obvious legal and ethical issues (what the husband wanted to do was obviously fraud), this was a terrible idea for their relationship. It may be tempting to try using divorce to cure your financial issues, but chances are you will only add pain to the disaster. It’s better to take advantage of credit counseling and other debt services than to try to defraud your creditors and spouse.