Ethical Dilemma regarding Ex-Wife

Readers: This week’s Friday Feedback will actually happen on Saturday.  Be sure to check in tomorrow as we examine both negative and positive reactions to the blog.  Today, we will focus again on advice.

Dear Robin:

I just found out that a person can collect additional social security if an ex-spouse made more money than they did during the marriage.  Now I’ve got an ethical dilemma.  My ex-wife would certainly qualify, and I’m sure she’d like to have the extra money.  We had an ugly divorce, but we both had ownership in that.  The reason I don’t feel great about her is that she spent years doing her level best to turn the children against me, with some success though not total.  It seemed she was more interested in hurting me than in the happiness of the kids.  What’s your advice?

Jerry from the Jersey Shore

Dear Jerry:

Have you ever noticed that right before someone says something that is contrary to your position, they often preface their statement with the words: “with all due respect”?

With all due respect Jerry, you do not have an ethical dilemma at all.  For an honest-to-goodness ethical dilemma, please read this blog regarding cheating temptation: I Want to Cheat

An ethical dilemma is generally a situation in which we must choose between actions with moral implications that contradict each other.  For example, a doctor may believe that a grim diagnosis and the resulting psychological stress will impede any chance at her patient’s recovery, and yet the doctor knows that the patient wants and deserves full disclosure about his medical situation.

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What you have is more of a run-of-the mill dilemma, in that you are faced with two choices, neither of which is desirable.  Are you familiar with the term “being on the horns of a dilemma?”  That expression sums up the classic dilemma: whichever way you go, you get a pointy thing in your butt.

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Or worse yet:

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As we discussed a couple days ago in I Hate My Fiance’s Ex-Wife., child alienation can be an insidious symptom of the disease of divorce.  Although my previous blog focused on young children, kids of any age can be subjected to this pathological behavior and be pressured into choosing one parent over the other, which is of course no choice at all.

Speaking from a legal perspective, although I am not giving you legal advice so don’t even think about suing me for malpractice, while your ex-wife can collect additional social security based upon your earnings, that will not impact your social security income.  In other words, as the person I share my home with says ALL THE TIME, you are going to get what you get, regardless of whether she makes a claim.

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On the one hand, you know she may need the money, is entitled to it and it won’t affect your income.  On the other hand, she behaved miserably during and post-dissolution and you don’t feel like doing her any favors.  

This is a Classic Ask DesCamp Dilemma™.  If you tell her about the money, you are benefitting someone who tried to destroy a sacred bond between you and your children.  If you don’t tell her, you live with the knowledge that she isn’t getting what she may be legally entitled to and which she may need to live comfortably.

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First of all, I know from our email conversation that you were both represented by counsel in your divorce.  Therefore, I don’t believe you really have a dilemma.  Your ex-wife is almost certainly aware of her rights and is probably already getting her piece of your social security pie, assuming you have reached retirement age.  Or her.  I can’t remember and I really don’t care because as I mentioned before, I am not your lawyer.  Please see disclaimer. About Ask DesCamp.

Sometimes the question is not “what is the right thing to do,” but rather, “what is the right thing to do for me personally?”  This is also known as “being selfish,” and though some would tell you selfishness is an inherently negative trait, I would offer that if it weren’t for selfishness our species would have died out long ago.  As Henry Ward Beecher said, “Selfishness is that detestable vice which no one will forgive in others and which no one is without in himself.”

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For more on this subject, I highly recommend Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene, despite the fact I haven’t read it.  I know I shouldn’t recommend books I haven’t read but:

1. I think it makes me look smarter and more well-read than I really am; and

2. Dawkins is AWESOME.  I have a serious intellectual crush on this man.  Here’s his picture so you can crush on him too:

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Jerry, I know from our conversation that though your divorce was ugly and the subsequent years have been chilly to say the least, I also know that you had many years of happiness with this woman, and that you don’t harbor ill will towards her.  Let’s assume for the sake of argument that her lawyer was an incompetent mess and as a result your ex-wife is not aware of the additional social security money.  Should you tell her?

It depends.

Giving advice is so easy!  

What I mean is this: if you can put all of the good stuff on one side of the scales of justice and all of the bad stuff on the other side, which way does it tip?  Does the scale lean towards forgiveness and cluing her in about the money, or do the ramifications of her bad actions outweigh the good times during the marriage?  Don’t forget to account for your own nefarious behavior as well during this exercise.

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You told me all of your children are now adults.  While you are still alienated from some of them, others have maintained a relationship with you.  Is it possible that you share the blame here, and that it wasn’t simply her actions that drove a wedge between you and your kids?  If so, now may be a good time to own your piece of that and see if it isn’t too late to repair those relationships.  In doing so, assuming you have any success, you may be able to slough off some of the resentment you have towards her and be willing to share this information.

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However, if the situation truly evolved as you described it to me in our emails, my answer to you is HELL NO.  You owe her nothing, and if she is too uninformed to avail herself of this social security income, that’s not your problem.  When one person assumes zero responsibility in the demise of a marriage and subsequently alienates the other parent from the kids, all bets are off unless and until she apologizes and takes some action to help repair the situation.

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In the end and despite what I think, all that really matters here is how either choice would make you feel.  Just assume each of the following and ask yourself which makes you feel better:

1. Tell her about the money and know it helps her financially.

2. Don’t tell her and chalk it up to Karma.

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I will say this: if you decide to tell her about the money, be prepared for the Ex-Bitch-Backfire™.  This is a phenomenon in which you do something nice for the ex-wife, and she ends up turning it against you.  For example, I can imagine you calling her up and saying,

“Hey, just wanted you to know you are entitled to collect additional social security!  Have a great day!”

And then she says:

“No shit, asshole, my attorney wasn’t as stupid as your new 13 year old girlfriend.  It’s not much – you were never as successful as you should have been, but at least I have some silver living to the black cloud of fuck that was our marriage.  Piss off and get cancer, would you?  Don’t call me ever again.”

Do a balancing analysis, ask yourself how either action will impact your emotions, and act accordingly.  Thank you for your question, and please let me know what happens!

-Robin

Finally, dear readers, I leave you with this:

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Happy Friday!

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. John Descamp

    Jerry. Bask in the good karma that will flow back to you eventually if you tell her about the money.

    1. echinachea

      I totally agree with John. The high road never fails.

  2. Elaine

    I say this IS her Karma for being such a Witch! If she doesn’t take the time to find out about it for herself, then that’s her loss. Would she return the favor if she were in your shoes? I guess that should answer your question.

  3. Linda

    Do what you feel is right. Let her take it from there, you will have done what you feel is best. I know what I would do, would my ex-spouse do the same? Eh, who the hell knows? I do however know, that he does not have a lot of integrity and is very bitter. That can always cloud judgement.

  4. Echinachea

    Thanks for the stunning picture of R. Dawkins. He was great on Jon Stewart recently. That is one smart feller.

Comments are closed.