Q: I just finished moving, with my husband and three kids, into an apartment, after owning our own home for more than 15 years. I have no idea how we ended up here. I’m a well-educated psychologist and my husband has worked for the same company for 20 years.
Years ago, when we divided up our household duties, he took the bills and finances and I took all the kids’ doctor appointments and arranged extracurricular activities.
A couple of years ago we took out an equity line of credit and started to do some long-needed repairs and upgrades to the house. And everything was just fine, or so I thought, until about three months ago, when I came home and found a notice of default taped to my front door! My husband completely stopped making the mortgage payments.
He hadn’t lost his job or anything, and he says he doesn’t know where all that money went. But by the time I got that notice, we were so far behind I couldn’t catch up and we lost our house. I am very confused, embarrassed and depressed. Where did this go haywire?
A: Really, this was not your fault, my dear. I’m sure you know this, and so does your husband — who really should come up with a far more compelling explanation of the disappearance of all that cash than "I don’t know."
(In fact, there might be another disaster coming down the pike if you don’t locate and staunch the money hemorrhage; I’ve had clients and acquaintances in similar situations discover that their significant other had a drug problem, a gambling addiction, and — in one particularly bizarre case — another family out of state, when large sums of dough chronically came up missing over an extended period of time.)
Trusting your husband to pay the mortgage, while not something every woman would do, certainly does not fall under the category of reckless or negligent behavior.
But the questions of whether something was your fault and whether you could have prevented it are totally different issues. …CONTINUED
Unfortunately, the only guarantee that we have in this life is that things will happen that seem to come all the way out of left field. Of course, in relationships a lot of times there are signs that an outsider would have recognized but that we just can’t see for a number of reasons. I’d hazard a guess that there might have been signs like this in your situation: letters and phone calls from the mortgage lender and strangeness in your checking account come to mind.
Understandably, if it was your hubby’s job to handle the bills, etc., you might not have opened the envelopes or picked up the phone, but attending to those items — even though they were outside of your agreed-upon role — might have positioned you to be able to address the issue before it spiraled all the way out of control.
If there was an error you made it was the error very common among those of us who’d really rather not have to deal with the nasty details of daily money management: abdicating responsibility for your finances, generally, and your mortgage payments, specifically, as opposed to delegating.
When we delegate, we might assign the heavy lifting of a project to someone we have reason to believe is qualified and responsible enough to handle it. But even when delegating, we regularly check in to make sure that they’re handling our business properly. When red flags pop up, we investigate promptly.
Abdicating, on the other hand, is more of a set-it-and-forget-it type affair. It’s the mental checking-out that’s the culprit; this is how we can get in trouble — not just financially, but in almost any area of our lives.
For your sake, and for the sake of your children, it behooves you to stay present and conscious about what’s going on with your mortgage payments and your other financial accounts — even if it’s not "your job." You’ve already learned this lesson, but fortunately your story can serve as a wake-up call to other women — and men — who are inclined to abdicate and check out of their financial lives in reliance on a spouse, parent, child, bookkeeper, financial adviser or anyone else.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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