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It's Over, But Stay Married?
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: I read your column faithfully and find it very helpful. I hope you can give me some answers. I was a stay-at-home mom throughout my marriage and have no job skills. I do menial jobs here and there. My husband left me after 30 years of marriage. We have been separated four years. He has been living with another woman who describes their relationship to me as "just a convenience". She is financially stable and tells me that she does not have to work. He has bought a house where they live, and he is paying the bills.

My husband, who works for a very large national company, helps me a little financially and keeps me on his company health insurance plan. I feel that I need to stay married for financial reasons...especially the health insurance. If my husband and this woman continue to stay together, will she be entitled to any of my husband's retirement, Social Security, etc.? Will she be able to make any claims on my husband's assets so long as he and I are still married? What else should I be concerned about? I know I should speak to a lawyer, but I canít afford it.

Answer: On the bright side, so long as you are married, the "other woman" will not be entitled to any assets or entitlements unless she has contributed to assets acquired during their cohabitation that may entitle her to an ownership interest based on her contributions. Also on the bright side, so long as you are married, you should be protected from being removed as a beneficiary of your husband's company pension -- if he has one -- unless you signed some type of waiver. In addition, you should be able to continue your health coverage under his company health plan.

But that's where your "protection" stops because your husband can take action when it comes to his real estate, bank accounts, annuities, life insurance, IRA's, or other like properties that could cause you heartburn. For example, he can freely sell, transfer, and place liens on any real estate or bank accounts in his name whether you are his wife or not. And he can freely change the beneficiaries of his life insurance policies, annuities, and IRA's without your permission. And, if he decides to try to "cut you out" of his will or minimize your share in favor of the other woman, he can have her name placed on his bank accounts as joint owner or pay-on-death beneficiary so that, at his death, she will be the owner of the accounts. He can also transfer assets to her as gifts.

Because your future is filled with so many "potholes" that could disrupt your life, we believe that you can't afford not to see a lawyer. Once you file an action for divorce or separation, your lawyer can generally protect your interest in all of these assets. Because your husband would be foolish to terminate your health coverage and become personally responsible for your medical bills, it is unlikely that you will be without coverage.

To our readers: Here is a readerís response to the new custody law proposals: "Anything is better than relying on 'court whores' and 'hired guns' if you can keep them out of it with objective criteria. My daughter is in a custody fight, and it has turned into a gender war over who can best raise the little one because psychologists and sociologists are used to evaluate and recommend custody. It boils down to which party has the best 'spin doctor' who can trash the other's child-raising ability."

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Suggested Reading:
Separation and Divorce Guidebook
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FS-Be Wary of Credit Issues with Ex
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FS-Becareful of Bargaining Away Alimony As Child Support
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FS-Lawyer Tells Me to Lie & Pension Double Dipped
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FS-On and Off Again Reconciles Can Create Agreement Disasters
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FS-The Dangers of Family Loans
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FS-Transference of Affection & 10 Tips of Divorce
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