Ticking Time Bomb

October 23rd, 2009, by

Q: My husband’s drug and alcohol use is threatening our credit and ability to pay bills on time. He’s a ticking time bomb, and I could be paying the mortgage and bills by myself instantly. Should I forgo keeping my house, move someplace cheaper and take one hit to my credit report, or take several hits based on nonpayment to several creditors?

A Visitor, Southern Maryland

A: I’m so sorry you are going through this. But, before we get to the money stuff, I hope you don’t mind that I recommend you seek qualified counseling. What you have on your hands is far more serious than losing your home. You may be looking at losing your marriage or, worse, your spouse. How are you handling the stress of all of this? If you have children, they certainly may be suffering. Don’t assume, unless they are very small, that they don’t sense something is wrong.

So, seek help. Perhaps you can even persuade your husband to seek help with you. If your husband refuses, then go by yourself. If you belong to a church, you can start there to find help. Try contacting Al-Anon, which assists friends and families of problem drinkers. You can visit the Web site or call 1-888-425-2666, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

You can also contact The Family and Marriage Counseling Directory, which is an online state-by-state directory designed to help folks like you connect with a counselor in your area. You can even chat with a counselor by telephone or online.

I recommend you approach this situation through counseling first, because a professional can give you some ideas of your options and perhaps a way to help the situation long-term.

As for your question about handling the finances, you indeed have to take control as best you can. Typically, I advise couples to pool their money into joint accounts. But, when you find that your spouse is acting recklessly, you have to do things differently. I would suggest you talk to your husband and explain that you want to make sure the basic household expenses are covered. See if he will allow you to take control of handling the bills. This would include handling money from his paycheck as well, if he’s still working.

If he’s unwilling or unable, because of his abuse, to let you take control, then you have to do the best you can do to pay the basics–mortgage, food, utilities and transportation. Prioritize what has to be paid. If there isn’t enough money to pay everything, contact your creditors and see if you can get some relief during this trying time.

If you walk away from the home and mortgage, assuming you are on the loan too, your credit will take a hit. But, at this point, don’t worry about that. Whatever you decide to do, communicate with your lender or mortgage servicer. See if your husband will agree to put the house on the market, so that you can move someplace more affordable.

I know this is tough, and, really, there is no easy answer. But given your husband’s abuse, you have to be sure you have a safe and affordable place to lay your head.

Last modified: April 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm