Good Morning Lou!

First let me tell you how much I enjoy Therapy Thursday on Smiley’s show — well, when he shuts up long enough for you to do it. Anyway, I have an issue I’m hoping you can help me with. I am engaged to a wonderful, wonderful man and everything is great except for one thing. He was married before and he has two boys (who live with us). However, his ex-wife prior to their divorce completely trashed their credit. She was paying the bills and handling the bank account because she only worked part-time. He now needs to file for bankruptcy in order to straighten everything out. We have been discussing this for about five months and he just never “gets around to it.” I am beginning to get frustrated because he needs to file to give his credit enough time to recover so that we can buy a house sometime in the near future. I don’t want to be pushy about it but we NEED his income to get a house because I simply don’t make enough money. I work full-time and I’m in school trying to finish my degree. He works for UPS, which means his hours are crazy and he doesn’t have time to contact a lawyer and he says that we just don’t have the money for it (his ex does not pay child support or help with any of the expenses of the boys). Do you happen to know of anyone we can contact to get this done without going completely broke? (Ironic, isn’t it, that lawyers charge so much to tell the court you don’t have any money?) And can you suggest a way that I can approach him about getting this done without seeming like I’m nagging?

Thanks for your help!

Dear Anon,

I’m very sorry to hear of your financial woes. Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon post-divorce. The good news is people can emerge from this tough time and still have all the things they dream of.

Obviously, money stuff is touchy. I can’t guarantee things will go smoothly but here’s the best approach. Of course, your fiancé must handle the consulting and filing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help along the way, and without feeling like you’re pestering. Tell him you want to schedule a time to discuss your finances. Make sure he knows ahead of time so he isn’t ambushed. During “the talk,” tell him you understand if he’s procrastinating on consulting an attorney. This is unpleasant and anyone would want to avoid it if they could. But the problem is, he can’t. Now, make it clear to him that you know how this must feel, and that you don’t want him going it alone. Offer to help get things started as his partner, not as someone who’s tired of waiting for him to move forward (even if that is how you feel). Tell him you love him, and want to shoulder as much of this burden as you can so you can build a life together. You’re doing this with him, not to him, that’s the theme here. Hopefully, this will quell any urge to become defensive.

Now that you’ve got the emotional stuff in check, remember that men tend to be solution-oriented. Be stocked with information that shows your willingness to help. For instance, I did a little research on the state Web site (www.in.gov) and found that bankruptcy lawyers’ fees range from $400-$1,000 and there are payment schedules to help with that. Law schools sponsor free or low-fee clinics (www.indylaw.indiana.edu). Also, check out the Indianapolis Bar Association Web site (www.indybar.org). They have a free referral service. Tell him you’d be happy to make an appointment for him after he looks at his schedule, and if he’d like you to be there, you’ll make it happen. If all goes well, this should move you toward a fresh start, and set a healthy precedent on how you as a couple handle a crisis. Best of luck to you, and congratulations on your upcoming marriage.

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