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Dear Chump Lady, Should I hold out for more money?

Hi Chump Lady,

I was hoping for a little advice. My very narcissistic husband and I separated back in 2008. We did the dance for years after, while living apart, with him cheating the whole time yet also continually trying to keep me there for cake. Ah, if only I had known this was a thing, I would have been one million times better off. But in my unaware little mind, he was still trying.

I finally put my foot down a little more back in 2012 and so have had very limited contact with him over the past couple years. No divorce (I signed twice, he signed zero times…he really wants to keep hope of cake alive and I, being a chump, have let that linger). In the meantime, his wealth has increased a lot. When we separated our incomes were similar. Now his income is way larger than mine. As I look at taking the final step to sever and force him to sign the papers I am wondering — should I step back into the fray and try to wrangle some money out of him?

Our current terms (the paperwork has to be refreshed but if I kept it the exact same) say that we split without money going either way. No kids, no shared assets anymore. Done. But I can’t help but think that maybe I am still being a chump and that for all the years of torture I endured, I should get something from this man who is now much better off than me financially. I still make a very good salary, he just skyrocketed.

For a while I thought I should just let it all go and do whatever it took to free myself of this last tie to him. However he has stirred my ire by contacting me more lately, trying to come on to me, and I find out that he’s living with the OW now. And of course telling me he’s not seeing a soul. He’s been pulling this same crap for 5 years+ now and now she’s in the position I was in. She probably thinks he’s divorced.

What do you think? Let it go or get what I (might) deserve under the law?

Thanks again, Lady!


Dear Jane,

Well, this is really a question for your lawyer, and I am but a chump. But you asked my opinion so… I am of two minds on this — if asking for a larger settlement is something you’re entitled to by law and would be relatively simple to obtain, then go for it. The financial balance has now tipped in his favor, and he may be inclined to pay you off now that he’s moved in with his OW, having lined up his next sucker.

But that’s assuming he is a rational player. He’s not. He’s a cake eater, and with cake eaters, the point of the whole game is to keep cake alive. All the options, none of the consequences. He didn’t sign the divorce settlement when it was very advantageous for him to do so, so why would he sign it now, when there would be greater financial costs to him?

But really, Jane, who cares what he may or may not do. What do YOU want? Aren’t you ready to be free of this idiot? As my husband the trial lawyer likes to say, “Some money is just too expensive.” If fighting for a larger settlement keeps you stuck in his orbit more years — wouldn’t you rather have your sanity sooner and just walk away? You’ve already wasted 5 years of your life on this nut. It may be you’d spend more in legal fees than a larger settlement is worth. Or maybe not. Only your lawyer can advise you on this. (But realize, they’re inclined to prefer the option that has more billable hours.)

It may be the case that you’re in for a fight either way. He’s a nut and he wants cake. If you’ve got to battle him to divorce him, then the money is leverage. I will go away for this price. Depose the OW — that ought to be a shocker if she doesn’t know he’s still married. That may get settlement talks moving.

My biggest worry for you Jane, is that you’ve spent 5 years being financially vulnerable to this idiot. You’re still married, which means any debts he runs up are yours. He may be siphoning money off. Just because he has a large salary does not mean he’s responsible with his income. He could be fucking you over 7 ways to Sunday. People who will cheat on you are perfectly capable of financial infidelity as well. You need to divorce to protect yourself. Right now he is spending marital resources on co-habitating with his mistress. Sounds like you earn a good living. Spend some of your resources on a forensic accountant and do the books for the last 5 years. You’ll need that information in your divorce proceedings. My bet is he hasn’t been a good steward to your financial well-being. Any monies spent on an affair can be asked for in a divorce. Get that number.

It might also be the case that you’ve got a lame lawyer. You’ve drawn this thing up twice. You need someone who will really fight that battle, now that you’re ready to fight for yourself at last. Good luck! Report back and let us know how you’re doing.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at [email protected]. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • I hate to say this – but the delay in your divorce may actually work against you both ways. If he has seen his salary jump that much since you separated (and do you know for fact that it is a salary jump and not him racking up the credit cards for lifestyle game?) it won’t likely make a difference in your settlement. If you live in a state where “date of separation” is the “go” point for determining who gets what portion -you are not going to gain from any salary increases he made post separation. Maybe in determining alimony – but even there – it’s unlikely. That date of separation is supposed to also work for you regarding debt – but if he has indeed run up credit on a joint card – even if it’s a card you don’t use yourself but has both of you listed – you may be responsible for that debt as well. Banks don’t really care about civil court actions. The divorce could say ‘you don’t have to pay any debt after the date of separaton” but a bank doesn’t have to listen…..and to try to force the issue is long, costly and most often futile.

    So my advice (and I wouldn’t do anything without running all by a good lawyer) is to get this done. He’s living with the OW, for God’s sake. You both made about the same money until recently, correct? Then the deal to keep your own stuff, pensions, etc is a good deal overall. If you want – you could press for alimony (but most states don’t do it long term or in big amounts anymore) or maybe ask that – since he now makes so much more – he carry your insurance for a couple years in lieu of alimony. But GET OUT – he is sucking your soul dry with all this crap. Cut the cord, go no contact and go live your new, beautiful life. Because you sound like a gal with a lot going for you.

    • Sidenote:

      Jane, most separation papers have a section that says he will “hold you harmless” in the debts he racks up after date of separation. If he has run up debts that you are on the hook for, you can file civil claim against him for failure to hold you harmless.

      Its really only worth it if the sums are large enough to be worth the aggravation, and you still have to pay the debts to make the creditors go away, but it is an option to explore if you find yourself in that situation.

  • If this man is truly a narc, divorce from him is going to be pitched battle. Narcs are compelled to WIN…and will pursue “victory” like a terrier with a bone (It’s all about control). To BE where you need to be in order to act in your own rational self-interests, you need to be scrupulously honest in answering two questions for yourself. (1) Why have I tolerated his disrespectful behavior for so long? and (2) Is a high conflict property settlement going to be worth it in terms of emotional and financial assets that can be working so much more effectively for me elsewhere? Once again, CL gives sane and practical advice. Use that advice to find out precisely what resources and strategies are available and workable for you as you take back your own life. Closure on a bad chapter is incredibly liberating.

    • I agree…I divorced a narcissistic lawyer and he let the divorce drag on, and on, and on, and on. It took me two years to even get together enough money to leave and retain my own attorney, and the divorce itself took two years. By that time he had gone through at least $12,000 in marital assets and run up $20,000 in credit card debt–and he makes three times what I do. And yes, I also discovered that the biggest thing in his life is winning (and the well being of his former wife and children is the “collateral damage”). He got the house and doesn’t have to pay alimony (after a 24 year marriage), but he still bitches (to the KIDS) that he has to pay child support. Consider carefully what you want–but as CL says, giving the divorce more time might give your STBX more time to spend marital assets, run up debt, or hide money.

      In my case, freedom was expensive, but it’s still freedom.

  • Chump Lady, just when I think I’ve learned all I need from you, to get on with my life, you casually insert some gems and the learning curve drops a few more points. This is true with your response to this chump; “Some money is too expensive.” Bless your husband’s heart, he is so right. A real decision to make. And then, “Any monies spent on an affair can be asked for in a divorce. Get that number.” This came as a huge surprise. I am again, armed with valuable information. Thank you.

    (Occasionally) patiently awaiting my opportunity to become and X Chump.

  • Walk away and forget about the money. You don’t have kids and he’s living with someone else so big deal if he has more money. You will be free – completely free – of him so grab the chance to get away from him.

  • In my state, the date of separation is used in determining divorce settlements. So it is possible whatever he has earned over the past five years you’ve been separated isn’t an issue anyway. Since you make enough money on your own, have a career already and don’t have kids, if I was you, I’d walk away and divorce as cleanly as possible ASAP to be done with it. When you poke a narc, you have to deal with the consequences. Sometimes it’s just not worth it.

    Also, just because a narc signs a settlement and that is signed by a judge doesn’t mean the narc is going to follow the agreement. My ex made six figure income for many years prior to dumping me for OW. Right after separating, he quit that job to become an actor, and hasn’t been employed since. Sure, he signed a settlement agreement. No, I’ve never received the full amount of anything agreed to, some of it I’ve received nothing and probably never will. The narc uses money as his last source of control over me and as a way to hurt me. Don’t give your narc that weapon to use against you if you can help it.

    Talk to an attorney, and if the lawyer agrees, get that divorce over with, and walk away clean and free.

    • Very true. My ex uses money as his last bit of control over me. He was furious I took him to court when he was cutting me off. Still rages about it, like it was the most horrible thing in the world…and he uses this as an excuse to keep harrassing me. Just walk away.

      • Yes. I’m with Nord – just walk away. Or maybe run.

        Nord, not just me then. Two years since first D-Day for me after 36 years; kicked him out immediately. (Second D-Day was ten months later, when he finally owned up to shacking up with his girlfriend right after he left me, but that’s another story.) I tried to be civil, negotiate a separation agreement and fair divorce. Not a chance – he hemmed, hawed, wanted me to beg him to come back, “needed time to think”, and kept saying we didn’t need a lawyers if I was reasonable (ie if I gave him what he wanted, which was pretty much everything). Every e-mail had at least one rant about lawyers worthy of Shakesepeare. I got a lawyer early on but unfortunately hadn’t realized my Chumpitude yet and kept trying to negotiate, deluding myself that he would come around. The only saving grace was that once I kicked him out, that was it for me – at least I didn’t have to agonize about reconciling, as there wasn’t a chance in hell.

        I finally filed for divorce this August, thoroughly sick of the posturing and procrastination and lies. Of course he became enraged, immediately cut off the little support he was giving me and the kids, is telling everyone what a bitch I am because I filed and want everything to “go to the lawyers”, demanded I “liquidate the house” whatever that means. It’s a struggle to keep up the house until this is done and I can sell it, and it’s been hard on my boys (two in university, paying their own way, one working and barely making ends meet). It’s hard having what I thought were old friends suddenly go silent, my in-laws cutting me cold, hard not really trusting anyone now, and not expecting to. But you know – it’s all worth it.

        It’s been no contact since June, and I’m good. I’ve got my life back. I’ll get what I can in the divorce but I’m more concerned with getting him out of my life. I’m not going to spend any more time than I need to on this project, as he isn’t worth it.

        I”ve got a decent job with a pension and health care, three healthy kids, and my sanity and well-being back. If I need to give up some cash to kick his sorry sagging ass out of my life so be it. Sometimes the money really is too expensive.

        I found this site just after I started the divorce proceedings, by the way (like many others here wish I’d found it sooner!) and it has been a lifesaver. I really mean that. Some mornings I wake up and wonder how I will get through the day, but I always find something here to inform me and cheer me up. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

        • I tried to be reasonable and he took this as weakness. And tried to screw me over at every turn. This led me to making some very bad decisions that really hurt me financially. I will survive somehow but it’s pretty much a disaster for me financially. I wish I had gotten more hardcore earlier. Either way, he’s out of my life now and that’s all that matters. Thank God for my friends, who have rallied hard (other than the few who bailed early on and good riddance to them). They’ve saved me emotionally and in many other ways, including helping me put my career back together. Chump Lady deserves an honourable mention in many ways. 🙂

          • One of the things that keeps me going is the conviction that karma is at work in the world, that these jerks will get theirs in the end. My STBX is slowly killing himself with fast food and booze, and must weigh well over 300 pounds now, barely able to walk and hopped up on testoterone (I guess the girlfriend got mean about the impotence). One reason I really, really want to get on with things, as his future prognosis is not very good unless he can keep going on sheer rage and meanness. I, on the other hand, have lost 70 pounds and ran a 14k race today, training for a half-marathon. No amount of money can make me feel better than I do today.

            Thank Goddess for good friends, for Chump resiliancy and for our ability to recover!

  • For my two cents, listen to CL. Get a forensic accountant.

    I would almost bet a month’s child support there’s things you don’t know about that SHOULD have a huge impact on the decision you make.

    For my personal experience, Andy couldn’t even go six months without going on a spending spree. Five years? Not to save our daughter’s life.

    Know what kinds of things he’s got hanging over your head. It may even give you even more leverage to force him to sign, regardless of whether or not you ask for more money.

  • See, I am just evil. I would get OW’s number, meet up with the schmuck and when he starts, surreptitiously phone her. That is, IF she was the one who helped him f me over.

    It’s not very ‘meh’, is it.

    Good luck, and let us know what happens, what the lawyer recommends. This D needs to happen.

  • I have no legal background, but my personal reaction is that if his income went up when you were separated, you’re not morally entitled to it. The reason to pay spousal support is mainly, in my mind anyway, as a form of payback for ways you invested in the other partner or gave up things yourself and they therefore benefited and are now earning more than you.

    I would say that with no kids and equal incomes before you split, that just splitting things in half is fair – plus the amount he has spent on his co-cheaters. There isn’t really a payback for mental distress a spouse has caused you.

    However, I strongly suspect that one reason he hasn’t bothered with the divorce is that he thinks you would be legally able to get more and you might go for it.

    It is also possible that he has done other things that will hurt you financially like running up debts on your joint property or whatever.

  • You really need a good lawyer. In most states any time you screw or sleep in the same bed with your spouse you just reset your separation. I know this because my ex did this to me. So if you have had sex, spent nights together or otherwise been doing the married thing, even dinner dates, then you have not been legally separated for how ever long your state requires.

    The other thing that sticks out in your letter is that you signed divorce papers twice but he did not. You do realize that you can file for divorce and he either settles or you end up in court, right? He cannot stop you from divorcing him if you FILE. I think you should go over what’s equitable with an attorney (I also saw a financial person) and revise your settlement to what you think is fair. At the same time file for divorce, let him get the papers served on him at the same time you offer your settlement. This puts a limit on the bullshit, unless he wants to spend 20 to 50 thousand dollars in court to let a judge decide, he’s going to sign – I’d make the settlement unfair to him so he can get you to compromise. But that’s just me, I spent much money making sure the settlement was totally objectively fair even though I felt he deserved nothing. I ended giving him more than he deserved just to end it.

  • Almost forgot, in VA if you file for adultery you can get a divorce with no separation/waiting period. This pisses me off because domestic abuse doesn’t give you that option, fucked up laws.

    Also, even if you are separated if your state recognizes adultery, his living with the OW is considered adultery until you have a final divorce. So if you think that will give you leverage have a PI document it for you. My ex was horrified at the “humiliation” when I filed on the basis of abuse, adultery and desertion and included the many horrible things he did to me. I had a hard time with that cos it’s public record and I didn’t want people to know my shit, but I did it. He emailed after he was served saying “how can you do this to me? it will ruin me and it’s humiliating”. I responded with a simple “you won’t sign a settlement agreement, I’m done waiting”

  • sometimes for piece of mind its just best to walk away. get a good lawyer who will protect your rights. then walk away. justice sometimes takes time and isn’t always measured in money.

  • Just had to share a friend’s experience divorcing her narcissistic, alcoholic husband (this one not a cheater).

    The nearly-ex was a lawyer, so really got into the fight over the money, proposing settlements then withdrawing them, proposing absolutely ridiculous, one-sided agreements, rejecting anything at all my friend and her lawyer proposed. My friend, young still, good career, no kids, decided this money was too expensive (and there wasn’t even a lot of it!). So she agreed to the next ridiculous proposal the ex made, got her lawyer to draw up the papers, and all met, w/respective lawyers, to sign.

    Her lawyer cautioned her, nice and loud, just before my friend signed; ‘I just want to make clear to you that if you sign this, you are consenting to being robbed.’ My friend replied; ‘I consent, it’s worth every penny.’ Her ex-husband nearly had a heart attack right there!! She told me later that it WAS worth every penny, not just to have the peace of getting him out of her life, but to see his face when he understood what she was saying!

    Nothing a narc hates more than your not caring enough even to fight w/them any more.

  • “No divorce (I signed twice, he signed zero times…” are you describing signing the documents to file for divorce or actually finalizing the divorce itself? Because he cannot hold you hostage indefinitely. I think you need a new lawyer. But also to the topic at hand, while it’s tempting to take more money – I agree with Diana L – I don’t think you are entitled to anything that’s been earned during a separation if both parties are in complete agreement that you are in fact separated. But also, if you have the opportunity to have a clean break…do it!!! You are so fortunate to have that choice. If I could not have any ties financially to my STBX, I would do it in a second. I don’t look at any settlements I’ll get as payment for what he did to me, I see it as a tether to someone I want as little contact with as possible (but we have a child so…..). If I could afford it I would keep what’s mine and not take anything from him. Get that divorce finalized and good luck!

  • My situation is somewhat similar.

    My Ex knew he was getting a divorce at the same time his brother was divorcing his wife. They owned a business together and manufactured in China. I believe they started hiding money thinking they could leave us and go about their lives without much ado. He tried to get me to a mediator to settle and my gut and friends told me to hire a lawyer. I went to a lawyer and was fortunate that she told me to go hire a large firm, I would need a forensic accountant.

    I hired the biggest firm I could find (I’m in a kind of rural area) and between me and my sister-in-law, both our lawyers knew they were dealing with 2 narcissists who would do anything to hide their money. We had 2 forensic accountants, 2 lawyers and a gamut of back-up. I fought hard for the money I got while they cried poor through the entire process. Their offers were embarrassing and they thought they could hide their money in expensive toys. If I hadn’t had the lawyers I had, I would be living at home with my parents while he is living waterfront.

    I found a good Jewish female bitch (I say that in a very loving way!) of a lawyer who told me to stop all contact and let her handle it. Best advice I ever received and I followed it. She was right on top of his personality and handled him like a snake charmer. He was scared of her. He has gone through 3 lawyers and I still use her when necessary. The stress almost killed me but I got out with my sanity and I live comfortably.

    Fast forward 2 years, his brother died, then he sold his business for millions. My friends are telling me to sue and I won’t. Just too much negative energy. I am in a good place. I struggle with the same decision you face. Do I go in for my fair share of my money that I helped him earn or do I get on with my life? For me, I would rather go forward with peace of mind. No one understands the stress unless they have been through it. Follow your heart, literally.

    Good luck with your decision.

    • Mel, you are quite a heroine. I laud your intestinal fortitude. So proud of how you handled everything. Hope I can be as strong.

  • I would so talk to your lawyer and see what he/she says…you could get more…but I am not sure and the laws vary state-by-state.

    Good luck with that and let us know how it goes!

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