And the moral of the story is …. (a family law cautionary tale)
In the not too distant past, a pretty and vivacious 60 year old woman, Patricia, met a widower, Paul, who was 15 years her senior but outgoing and active.
Patricia was single and worked for minimum wage. Paul was retired with a good pension, investments and his own home. However, Paul was lonely and quickly became smitten by Patricia. They decided to marry.
Paul’s adult children urged him to have an agreement to protect the assets he had worked hard all his life to accumulate. Paul was old school and refused to see a lawyer because he trusted Patricia and was sure everything would be fine.
The marriage took place and they lived in Paul’s home for the next 15 years. Paul paid for everything except for some basic purchases that Patricia made for herself out of her salary and then her basic pension.
When Paul was 90 years old, his health began to decline and Patricia decided that she did not want to continue living with an “old man”. She moved out and started a divorce proceeding. Patricia asked for half of everything.
All of what Paul believed were his separate assets (worth over $3 million) were included in the “family property”.
Paul thought it would be fair to give Patricia $250,000 because she had contributed nothing toward his original acquisition of the home or its upkeep (nor indeed to his investments which were all made prior to the marriage). Patricia thought otherwise and had her lawyer pursue her claim aggressively.
Because of his health issues, Paul did not want to fight in court. Patricia played hardball because she knew Paul would not go to court.
Patricia walked away with a $1 million settlement. Paul’s children were incensed but could do nothing about it.
Paul had to get a reverse mortgage to pay Patricia out so he could keep his home and live out the rest of his days there.
This unfortunate fictional tale is based on actual events.
The moral of the story is: if you wish to be able to control what happens to your property in a divorce situation, you need a written, signed agreement that has been reviewed with you by a lawyer.
A marriage agreement can be made either before marriage or even during the marriage relationship itself if necessary.
Do you find yourself in this situation or do you have a parent or relative who is?
For more information and advice on marriage agreements, contact us. We can help.