Help! My Husband Is Forcing Me To Sign a Postnup.

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 11 2012 6:00 AM

Prisoner Wife’s Dilemma

If I don’t sign a horrible postnuptial agreement, my husband will divorce me.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
After seeing several friends go through bitter and prolonged divorces, my husband has decided that he wants us to have a postnuptial agreement. He explains that our marriage is a "limited liability partnership" with no "out clause" and that he wants to put a "stop loss" in place, as if our marriage is one of his stock market trades. He says he doesn't want to go on in this "contract"—meaning our marriage—unless I sign a postnup. We have been married four years and have a toddler son. We live in a state that says assets should be divided equitably in a divorce, but the postnup he offers would give me only 20 percent of his financial assets and he’d keep the house because he owned it before we were married. We both work, though I make two-thirds of his income. I consulted an attorney who says my husband’s proposal is “total B.S.” and I shouldn’t sign. My husband says if I don’t he will serve me with divorce papers. He adds this has nothing to do with his feelings for me or our son, and would prefer to continue living together even if we do divorce. I love the life we had together and don’t want to lose it. We even had been talking about having a second child. But he is obviously more worried about protecting his growing wealth than he is about our family. I just don't know what to do.

—To Sign or Not To Sign?

Dear Sign,
In order to avoid a bitter divorce, your husband is pressuring you to sign a ruinous contract. If you refuse, that will lead directly to your bitter divorce. For a supposedly savvy investor, your husband lacks skill as a strategic thinker. I presented your situation to Kenneth Altshuler, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and his advice was simple: Don’t sign. He agrees with your attorney that your husband’s demands are ludicrous, especially given the fact that if you refuse the postnuptial and your husband becomes your ex, you will get a much larger chunk of his assets. But you are not so much dealing with a legal dilemma, as a psychological one. You say you have loved your life with your husband, without adding, “Despite his being a cold-hearted monster.” So you need to find out the underlying reasons for this apparent personality change. Maybe there’s something physical involved, maybe he’s involved physically with someone else, or maybe he’s decided to try to be the next J. Paul Getty—a rich, despised miser. Tell your husband you’re not going to discuss his legal propositions until he agrees to discuss the state of your marriage with a therapist. (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new memoir reveals that all it took for him to finally admit he fathered a child with the housekeeper was for Maria Shriver to get him to a marriage counselor.) I hope your husband can wake up and stop treating his wife and child as depreciating assets he wants to get off the books. Maybe with help, he will realize that the damage he is about to do to the two people he should love most in the world is going to be incalculable.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a senior in high school and live with my mom and dad, who are intelligent and loving people I admire greatly. My mother has an office at work and at home, but seems to feel that every available surface, including the dining room and living room, is a place for her to put her papers, print-outs, files, folders, etc. Both the second and third floor of the house are wall-to-wall messes of books, papers, magazines, clothes. The back staircase can’t be used anymore because it is overflowing with her collections of whatever. It’s hoarding, which even my father acknowledges but won’t do anything about. I value cleanliness and organization, and it makes me sick to come home every day to rooms that look like a tornado has ripped through them. My mother is adamant that I don't touch or move the piles of stuff and gets angry when I try to throw anything out. I’ve tried to call a "family meeting" to talk about it, but she says I'm the one with the problem for being "hypersensitive.” My father just says she’s always been like this and next year I’ll be in college. Is there anything I can do to make my mother see?

—Can't Stand the Clutter!

Dear Can’t,
Your mother is a junkie and her drug is junk. You’re right that she’s a hoarder and I assume you’ve done enough research to know that this is a very difficult condition to treat. You’ve experienced firsthand that often the sufferer thinks it’s everyone else who has a problem. Good for you for carving out a space of order and tranquility in your bedroom. Perhaps your mother would also agree to let you clear an area at the dining room table so you could eat a meal on a clean surface. It’s too bad that she is so deep into her illness that it doesn’t matter to her that the house is becoming unlivable and her daughter can’t invite friends over. But hoarding is a strange disorder in which the attachment to useless objects can trump even the desire to live with others. Since your mother doesn't want help, it's going to be hard for you to get her to admit she needs it, but the television show Hoarders offers these resources. Your father has decided he’d rather be your mother’s enabler than her enforcer, but his advice to you is apt. At this time next year, you’ll be in college. While everyone else may complain about their cramped, cell-like freshman dorms, you’ll find yours to be an oasis. Continue to love your parents and find the good in them, and try to accept that sometimes there's nothing we can do to save our loved ones from themselves. After you go, the condition of your family home will be an incentive for you to make sure you're not one of the college graduates who end up moving back into their childhood bedrooms. 

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a woman of biracial background, and because of my unusual looks people often ask, "Where are you from?" "Where were you born?" or worse "What are you?" I usually brush off the questions because they’re invasive and I don't want to endure the stereotypes about how I must be good with math and computers. The bigger problem is when I get asked about this at job interviews. It’s illegal for them to ask, but I don't want to say that because I'm afraid it will hurt my job prospects or they’ll think I might be litigious. But I also don't want to answer the question because I despise hearing the stereotypes and then being asked questions about how my parents met, instead of about my education and experience. When I’ve replied, "I'm a born and bred New Englander," I get more prodding until I give up the info they want and we all feel awkward. How do I tactfully skirt the question asked by people who are in the position of hiring me?

—More Than a Collection of Stereotypes

Dear More,
You are right that if you’re applying for a job, a line of questioning about your racial background is a flashing red no-no. I spoke to Philip Gordon, an employment attorney, and he said you are running into some amazingly ignorant interviewers if they are pressing you on this. But he also agrees that as a practical matter you are in a delicate situation since you’d rather get the job than lecture people on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He said it’s often a good idea to gracefully deflect such questions, illegal though they may be. You could smile and say, “My personal background is too complicated to get into. Let me tell you instead about the project I supervised with my last employer.” If you keep getting asked, “What are you?” (Wow!), feel free to respond, “I’m sorry, I’m just not comfortable getting into that.” If you get the job, all’s well. But if you don’t, and you feel awkwardness over this question might have contributed to not being hired, I think a letter to a supervisor could be worth writing. You don’t have to sound litigious, just concerned. Say you were surprised that so much of your interview was taken up with questions about your racial background that you didn’t get an opportunity to talk about your professional accomplishments. This might well prompt you to be given another, fairer, look.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
A few weeks ago, my neighbor's son, “Ollie,” and my daughter, both 5 years old, were playing in our enclosed backyard where we have a small herb garden. While I was doing laundry my daughter came in and solemnly told me that Ollie had deliberately peed on the basil. Ollie stayed for dinner, and I took the abused basil, rinsed it, and set some aside for Ollie only. At dinner I told everyone that we're having "spaghetti and meatballs with herbs from the garden." Ollie looked extremely uncomfortable and didn't want to eat his meal. I think dinner made a big impression on him. However, when I told my mother this story she was horrified and thinks I should explain everything to his parents and Ollie as well. I have considered telling Ollie, but I don't want to get his parents involved. What do you think?

—The Mean Mommy?

Dear Mean,
You sure yanked little Ollie’s little chain. It could be that Ollie didn’t like your cooking and has no interest in eating herbs no matter what they’re dressed with. It’s also possible you scared the piss out of him. But I agree with your mother that there’s no need to play mind games with a kindergartener. Once your daughter told you, you should have gone to Ollie and told him not to relieve himself in the garden, but to let you know if he needed help getting to the bathroom. Since the fateful meal has already been digested and excreted by all, offer no more explanations to anyone and just let this go.

—Prudie

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