Jo and Jim did not have a perfect marriage, but it was a good one, Jo thought. They had been married 26 years and had two beautiful college-student daughters still at home. Each had worked with large companies for over twenty years. They did not make huge salaries and they were not wealthy, but they had no big monetary concerns and had decent retirement funds. They were conservative in their spending, and had enough to make the payments on the home they had lived in for the last 18 years. They lived a bit too much on credit cards. It was hard not to with two college-aged girls, and all four members of the family had cars. Thankfully, two of them were paid off, but they all had to be insured. Monthly payments took planning, but they were able to maintain a good credit score.
Jim's father lived alone about thirty minutes from Jo and Jim. He was a bit emotionally removed from his only child, but Jo did her best to include Ben in the family celebration times and she prodded Jim to visit his father at least monthly. Ben seemed to know this because he was a bit warmer to Jo than even his only child. Ben and Jim's mother had divorced long ago, and she had been deceased for over ten years. Ben just seemed to like his aloofness and, Jo and Jim knew little about Ben's business affairs. He had recently retired.
It was a shock to receive the call that Ben had suffered a heart attack in his front yard. A neighbor had seen him react to the pain and tried to render assistance, calling 911. Ben slipped away.
This was followed by yet another shock: Ben had amassed quite a hefty bank account. There was almost $600,000 in various assets and life insurance benefits awaiting Jim, his only heir. Their shock at losing a family member was softened a bit by this discovery. They had no idea that Ben was worth so much. They discussed the relief it would give them to be able to pay off their house at last and have no debt as they entered the years when they, too, began to think about retirement. Being cautious, Jo and Jim consulted a financial planner who gave them good advice.
The summer months approached soon after Ben’s funeral, and the family went on a cruise that Jim had purchased as a treat for "his girls" and in celebration of his youngest having graduated from high school. "No more high schoolers--only college girls!" Jim teased. The cruise had been purchased before Ben's death, so it had been a spurge for which Jo had to be persuaded over her caution at bending the budget. She knew that it would require a good long time of credit card payments to pay it off, but it seemed important to Jim, so she capitulated. Truthfully, it was the first thing she thought of with relief after their good fortune was revealed.
The cruise came and Jo was puzzled by Jim's lack of interest in her there. Not only was there no romantic move on his part, but it became clear as the week progressed that he was actually seeking time away from her. Jo felt near to tears several times when she particularly felt his coldness. Truthfully, the cruise turned into a nightmare for Jo. She could not wait to get home, thinking that the return to normal routine would return her husband to normal as well.
They got home late on Saturday night. After sleeping in on Sunday, the day was spent with Jim going to gather some groceries for the week and Jo rifling through the ton of laundry that needed washing and put away before both returned to work on Monday morning. There was little to no conversation. Monday dawned, and they parted for the work day.
That evening Jim strolled in after work and joined Jo in the living room where she was relaxing in front of the television after the hard first day back after vacation. "Jo," Jim said, "I have decided I no longer want to be married. I have rented an apartment and am moving out. Please don’t make a scene--it won't do any good."
Jo could not believe her ears. Jim was leaving? Apartment? When did he make this decision? When did he have the time to rent an apartment? She was stunned, and then she was terrified.
The girls came home together as Jim was still packing. Jo, mercifully, had been able to hold herself together emotionally, later realizing that the shock probably was the reason why. She called Jim in and said, "Girls, your father has an announcement to make…" The girls turn with expectant looks on their faces.
Jim was visibly upset that Jo had commandeered the moment, but he said, "I am sorry but your mother and I have decided to separate. We both love you very much and this has nothing to do with you--you won't even have any changes in your life. We know that this is the best."
He scowled when he heard Jo say, "Oh no you don't. I am not taking the blame for this, Jim. " Turning to the girls, she said, "This was not a joint decision, it was his decision. I never saw it coming. I don't want a divorce, but he has told me that there is nothing I can do to change his mind."
Unlike their mother, the girls became hysterical. They clutched at their father, railed at him and screamed that he was ruining their lives and breaking up their home.
It made no difference. "Someday you will understand. I will call you both in a day or two," he said as he went out the door.
The next day Jo was served with divorce papers at work--Jim had filed on his first day back from vacation without a word to her about it. Jo had the presence of mind to hire her own attorney immediately.
Jo learned that until such time as Jim put her name on his father's inheritance (which he had not done) it was not a part of the marital estate. This was strictly Jim's money. The negotiations began. Jo's lawyer asked for alimony and an unequal division of debt based on the huge difference in assets of the parties. The lawyer also advised that the chances for gaining these were "iffy" under Jo's circumstances. Jim instructed his attorney that, not only did he despise the idea of alimony, he wanted Jo to pay half of all credit card debts, notwithstanding the fact that he had so much more money.
As the negotiations went on, Jim nickled-and-dimed Jo to death. It was particularly rankling that Jim insisted she pay a full one-half of the cruise cost since she had cautioned against it to begin with. Jim haggled with her over furniture items, demanding pieces that she knew he both had no use for and did not particularly like. He refused to pick up the rest of his personal belongings, leaving them for Jo to pack and store in the garage. Jo began to make plans to try to replace the living room furniture he seemed hell-bent to take. She worried about the girls having no sofa to sit on in their home.
In the end, Jim did not want to go to Court--Jo's attorney was able to make him feel that he would look like a huge heel under the circumstances, and he did not want to fade that heat. Jo received a settlement that allowed her to live in their home, Jim waiving his interest in the equity, but she would have to refinance it. Out of her share of his retirement, she "paid Jim back" for her one-half of all the credit card debt. He wanted to be absolutely sure that Jo paid every cent of “her share” of the “marital debt.”
He let go of the furniture items he had worried Jo about; the haggling was clearly harassment. He refused to agree on paper to continue to help the girls through school, and Jo was told that the law won't make him do so. He indicated to them that he will still help, so long as they meet all his criteria. He has shown little interest in spending time with them. Time will tell.
In short, Jo has exited this marriage with barely enough. She will make it, but it won't be fun.
Jo's attorney asked her at what point she realized that Jim was a man of such low character. Her answer: "The day he walked in and told me wanted a divorce. Before that, I never would have believed that Jim would do this to me." This is a common lament…
Jo and her attorney both theorize that Jim was reasonably happy in his marriage. Until their cruise (after he became rich), Jo never had any other inkling. The money, however, and the freedom it brought made Jim begin to think about a life he could never have had before his inheritance. He simply chose the single life. The money became so very important to him as a symbol of this fantasy life, that he haggled and fought with Jo over any cent of it she might get in the settlement.
It was the inheritance.
It's the only explanation Jo can come up with.
In case you doubt it, the story is true. Learn what you will from Jo’s story. You just never know.