Suing your ex-wife for cash to reverse a vasectomy.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 30 2009 6:51 AM

Should His Ex Be Our Sperm Bank?

Hubby's former wife coerced him into a vasectomy. Why can't she pay to reverse it?

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Dear Prudence:
My wonderful husband was married previously. His wife, "Leanne," tried and rejected a number of different birth control methods. She did not want children, so she required that my husband undergo a vasectomy. Then, a few years later, she left him for another man. We now want children and would like them to be ours genetically. I'm in my early 30s and very aware that the "baby clock" is ticking. We've looked into having my husband's vasectomy reversed, but the cost is prohibitive—around $15,000—and the procedure is not covered by health insurance. Would it be appropriate to approach Leanne or pursue her in civil court to recoup the cost of the procedure? My husband underwent the vasectomy willingly, but he did so to please Leanne, the woman he believed he was going to spend the rest of his life with. It's incredibly unfair that my husband is stuck without the ability to father a child because of her selfishness. If it isn't reasonable to ask Leanne to cover the cost, would we be out of line to ask my husband's parents for help? My husband is their only child, and I know they would like to have grandchildren.

—Wishing I'd Got to Him First

Dear Wishing,
If she did the procedure herself, a la Lorena Bobbitt, you might have grounds to bring a suit. But, as you acknowledge, your husband, of his own foolish free will, consented to be sterilized for his then-wife's convenience. Under your logic, people could sue former spouses to pay for plastic surgery to try to return them to the condition they were in before they spent their most attractive years in a relationship that didn't pan out. That said, there's nothing wrong with approaching your husband's parents to ask their help to restore their only child's fertility. I assume they were appalled by his too-conclusive choice of birth control. Your estimate of the cost of reversal is on the high end. You may be able to get the procedure done for about two-thirds of that or less. When you talk to urologists whose services you are considering, you can discuss with them medical loans or other financing options. During your husband's marriage to Leanne, she may have been a rat and acted as if she didn't owe her husband anything, but now that their marriage is over, she actually doesn't.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I recently moved in together. One day we had a fight about the fact that he doesn't trust me around his computer because he has things on it that are part of his past that he doesn't want me to see. One of those things is "the List" of all the girls he has slept with, including one-night stands. I have asked him the number of people he's had sex with (he knows mine is two), but he tells me that I don't want to know and gives me a number between 10 and 50. I have asked him to delete that list, but he says he won't because if he gets a weird disease in the future and has to tell everyone he's slept with, he won't remember all of them without the list. He claims I don't have anything to be worried about and that everybody has a past, but he doesn't want to hurt me, and it's best that I not know some things—just as he doesn't want to know some things about my past. Am I being too concerned about a stupid list? I know he is not cheating on me, but should I know his number?

—Concerned

Dear Concerned,
The magic number is … 37! There, do you feel better? No, I bet you don't. You actually know as much as you need to right now, and that is that your boyfriend has had tons more sexual encounters than you. You say that despite his hound-dog history, you are confident in his fidelity, so you don't have the obvious concern that "the List" is more than just an archive. That being the case, he doesn't need to invent some puritanical disease of the future that retroactively infects one's former lovers in order to justify keeping an electronic equivalent of notches on his bedpost. If you are to have a solid relationship, you both should agree that you each are entitled to privacy and a past, and that you promise not to intrude on his personal files. But given that your boyfriend has probably had sexual encounters with dozens of people, including a number of one-night stands, you need to be concerned about diseases he's already contracted. I hope he's had a complete STD screen so that you can be confident that your reformed Casanova isn't jeopardizing your health and fertility.

Dear Prudence,
I have recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Doctors have given me two years if I continue aggressive treatment, six months if I don't. My family, close friends, and fellow employees all have been told. But I also have business and casual acquaintances almost everywhere I go, as I am very outgoing and love people. It is becoming obvious that I am ill. What do I say when people ask, "How are you?" or "Is everything going to be OK?" Do I tell everyone I am dying or lie and say I'm good, and go about my day? I don't mind people knowing, but I feel as if I'm bringing people down and, being an upbeat person, I hate that. Any advice?

—Dying but Trying To Stay Upbeat

Dear Dying but Trying To Stay Upbeat,
I'm so sorry about your diagnosis. What you do is up to you on a day-by-day and person-by-person basis. As a general answer, you can just say, "I'm being treated for cancer, but I'm hanging in there." If you don't feel like getting into it and the person presses, you can respond, "I need to take a break from thinking about my health. Tell me what's going on with you." If it's someone who's clearly concerned, and you don't mind discussing things, you can tell him or her, "I'm getting treatment, but unfortunately I'm at the stage where there is no cure." Be prepared that some people will not know what to say, or will change the subject or offer stories of people who survived dire diagnoses. Since you have a big heart, you will probably be able to just let this go. But since your time is so precious, don't let yourself be tied up in conversations you don't want to have; feel free to say you've got to rush off. You might want to set up a page at one of the Web sites designed to keep people informed about patients' medical situations—Care Pages or Caring Bridge, for example—and tell people you run across that they can check online to get updates on your health and post messages to you. I'm sure there are many who would welcome the chance to tell you what you mean to them.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I'm a 20-year-old student and generally get along well with my 63-year-old dad. However he is also quite aggressive, and this has been a constant strain on our relationship. He loves to play the devil's advocate and will argue any side of any subject. Whenever I express any political, religious, or moral opinion, he will argue with me. These conversations almost always become heated and cause me a great deal of anxiety. I've told him this, but he thinks it's all in good fun. I've also tried changing the subject or walking away from the conversation, but he gets very angry and demands we finish our "philosophical debate." I'm pre-law, so I normally love to debate at school, but these arguments last for hours, and not being able to end them is stressing me out. Do I have the right to walk away? Or do I actually owe it to him to finish these debates?

—Great Debater

Dear Great,
The law does tend to attract more than its share of overbearing bullies, so your father may be doing you a favor by giving you experience with the kind of argumentative know-it-alls you will inevitably encounter. Start learning how to deal with this by dealing with him. Tell him the endless disputes are not stimulating and fun for you; they're draining and debilitating and are keeping you from enjoying your relationship with him. Explain that for the sake of father-daughter relations, and your blood pressure, you're going to start cutting things off when they get too heated. Be prepared that this will likely provoke a harangue along the lines of, "Why would someone who says she wants to be a lawyer be 'drained' when she's asked to defend a simple assertion?" Don't take the bait. Instead, smile and reply, "That's the fact, Dad." Then, in the future, when he starts in, have a few phrases that signal you're ending the discussion: "We'll have to agree to disagree." "That's been asked and answered." "Let's drop it." If he won't stop, remind your father that you came over to enjoy his company, not relive the Inquisition, and since he wants to keep going, you're going to go. Then give him a kiss and bid farewell to your man of strife and contention.

—Prudie

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