Divorce Story: How divorcing a wealthy woman spelt years of trouble

Sitting across from the loan officer, trying to buy a new car. That’s the moment I first began to realize the troubles I would be facing. I was scrambling because I had only a few days to find one. Just a few weeks before I had my choice of not one but three high end cars. Now, unsure of my financial future, I was dealing down on a decades old banger with a trailer hitch attached to the front bumper, and having difficulty even doing that. Just a few weeks before I could have walked into this office and bought the best car on the lot with my Amex Black card, or the Platinum, or any number of the other pieces of plastic that stuffed my wallet. Just a few weeks before I was living every young man’s dream.

It wasn’t the dream of becoming a successful businessman, or a professional athlete, or the American Dream of a suburban house and the highschool sweetheart and the 2.5 kids. Mine was more the kind of dream that all young men don’t openly talk about but instead keep hidden deep in back of their minds: I married a rich older woman and faced the prospect of never having to work another day of my life.

I met her one night when she was slumming in a club in Chicago. She took me home that night and things developed from there. Though I had already fallen for her by the time I found out that she was rich, I won’t deny that the revelation definitely sweetened the situation. We bought a new-construction house in downtown Chicago, took trips to the Bahamas and Hawaii, got a decade of old bills of mine paid off and got a whole lot of credit cards in my name. I learned a lot about money during that period, but I didn’t earn a lot of it.

I worked a few shifts a week at a local bookstore, and received a rather generous allowance from my wife. Not that I’d have needed it for anything   She paid for everything out of the bank account she had set up for us. She controlled all the financial aspects of our marriage, and I was so blinded by the financial windfall in which I found myself that I failed to see that by controlling the purse-strings she essentially controlled the entire marriage.

I had a momentary glimpse of that reality when she abruptly announced that she was moving us from my beloved hometown of Chicago down to northeast Florida. Any anguish I felt of the uprooting was quickly quashed, however, by the opulence of the move. We designed and built a giant mansion on the water, started buying cars, travelled to every corner of our new homestate. Cradled in the comfort of knowing money issues were a relative non-entity to me I settled comfortably into my Florida lifestyle

Knowing from the very start that this was a marriage based on issues of money and power rather than true feelings, to say the union was destined to fail would have been a   fool’s bet. She told me it was over while we were on a cruise in Alaska’s Glacier Bay. On the plane ride home she paid extra to switch seats so she wouldn’t have to be next to me. Since the marriage had first started to decay I had suffered through anger and disappointment, some alleged infidelity on her part, some definite alcoholism on mine. Still through this turmoil I pressed on, no longer for love but for maintaining the dream lifestyle I was living. When we arrived home from the cruise she told me that she was going to her mother’s for two weeks and that she wanted me out by the time she got back. She was taking the Jeep, said I could use the Saturn until I found a vehicle of my own. I had two weeks to find a place to live, a sustainable job and a car.

So I found myself sitting across from the loan officer who was telling me that there would be considerable additional fees and an increased interest rate because I was a first time car buyer. Other than a few beaters in my teen years, I had never owned a car in Chicago. You didn’t need one in the city. But after I got married we bought two cars together up there and another three cars in Florida. The loan officer could find no record of the purchases. On a whim I asked him to look for the cars under her name, and he found them all. Turns out that although I signed all kinds of forms and my name was all over the paperwork, she was actually the one who purchased those cars   I left that day in a beat-up egg-colored used station wagon.

Finding a place to live was next on the agenda. Should it have been a surprise when the property management did a background check on me and found that there was no record of any residence for me for the previous seven years? Not only were their no records of me buying the two houses, but there were no official records of me living in either one. Once again my signatures on all that paperwork officially meant nothing. She owned those houses outright.

My credit cards were lost in a similar limbo.  Although my name was emblazoned across the bottom of each one, they were actually under her account and I was classified as just an “authorized user”. Same with our matrimonial bank account, a fact I learned when I tried to withdraw enough to put down a deposit on the one-room apartment I had found.

Trying to find a job was met with equal revelations. For the previous seven years I had worked primarily under the table if I had worked at all. Only when a potential employer’s background check on me revealed a gaping seven-year hole in my life did I fully realize the scope of what I was up against.  For seven years, with no viable records of any income, or residence, or credit history, or job history I had disappeared off the grid.  Here I was abandoned in a strange land with no money, a crappy car and a tiny apartment, and no way at all to prove how I had gotten there.

When I relate this story it is usually at this point when people ask why I didn’t just go back to Chicago. And I was asking myself the same thing. I would have had enough money to get myself home. I hadn’t been in Florida long enough to have set down any roots, I had no emotional ties. But at that point in time there was one particular thing that was keeping me in the Sunshine State and that was my pride. I had always suspected that my family and friends, seeing the marriage from an objective point of view, supported neither it nor the move to Florida. Has I immediately gone crawling back to Chicago I felt like it would have been nothing but a sign of defeat. Perhaps someday I would move back north, but my pride demanded that I would return to my hometown as a successful and happy person.

It was that pride that set me on the road to recover from my fiscal crisis. I accepted that job that had generated the background check, albeit at a lower station and pay rate because of the circumstances.  I was able to work my way up in the ranks until I could get myself a car that I wasn’t embarrassed to be seen in. A more spacious apartment came soon after. Following the experts’ advice on establishing a credit record, I began by getting a few store cards, eventually creating a history which allowed me to expand my credit portfolio.

Today I am fully back on my feet. There’s an even nicer car parked outside, and I now have a fairly respectable credit score. That period after my divorce is something I never want to go through again, and the fiscal lessons I learned during that time assure that I never will. I realized only a while after that my grid strife did provide me with one advantage over the whole situation. I was so overwhelmed by the issues of car and housing and job and credit that I guess I just didn’t have time to worry about the emotional strife of a broken marriage. By the time I had fended off the last creditors and started rebuilding my nest egg and paid off the last of my bills I had pretty much gotten over the emotional and spiritual losses that one feels when a marriage dissolves. I don’t have any anger or sorrow anymore, no sense of failure, just a feeling of recovery, and of success and of pride.

Maybe now’s the time to move back to Chicago.

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