The Moneyist: I’m worth $3 million, and separating from my much wealthier partner of 33 years. What kind of financial settlement can I expect?


Dear Quentin,

I am a 63-year-old man considering separating from my domestic partner, with whom I have been for 33 years. My partner owns the apartment in which we have lived for almost 30 years. I contribute to the maintenance and utilities roughly in proportion to our respective incomes; my income has always been less than his, and my net worth is about half of his. All other expenses (groceries, travel, entertainment, etc.) are split equally.

He comes from a family of some means and has benefited from a trust fund and several inheritances over the years. My family was lower middle class, and I have been financially independent from my family since finishing college. Through hard work, frugality and consistent investing, I have acquired a net worth of approximately $3 million.

‘We both share the responsibility for the ending of our relationship, so I believe that we should both share the financial burden of my moving out and setting up my own household.’

When same-sex marriage became a possibility in New York, he declined to consider it because he did not want to take on any possible financial obligations that a future divorce might entail. My question for you is whether I have any reasonable expectation of “spousal” support or a financial settlement to help with my future (greatly) increased anticipated living expenses.

For the past three-plus decades, we have lived and been regarded by family and friends as a married couple, although we have always kept our finances separate. We both share the responsibility for the ending of our relationship, so I believe that we should both share the financial burden of my moving out and setting up my own household.

I’m hoping to remain friends with my partner, but I’m anticipating this being a contentious issue and would welcome your input. What is reasonable to expect, if anything, in terms of a financial settlement from him?

Soon to be Single in Manhattan

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Dear Soon to be Single,

New York does not recognize common-law marriage, so any financial settlement you agree upon will have to be done privately. As you say in your letter, your partner resisted marriage when it became legal in New York State and the U.S. because of exactly this eventuality. Even then, he appears to have seen the writing on the wall.

The question, therefore, changes from “Can you?” to “Should you?” Given the length of time you were together, I am sure your partner would like to know you are OK post-breakup, but he may or may not resist the idea of you remaining in the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed, if it’s on his dime.

“The phrase ‘common law’ originates with England and refers to those non-ceremonial marriages that were valid under English law. In the 1877 case Meister v. Moore, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a non-ceremonial marriage was a valid enforceable marriage, unless a state’s statute forbade it,” according to the Harris Law Firm in Colorado.

Of course, one of the reasons you have been able to save so much is because you were paying far below what you would if you were paying rent or, indeed, a mortgage. That was an attractive prospect for you then, but it was your decision not to buy your own home, and I don’t see why your partner should be on the hook for that.

This is a no-fault split, so it’s reasonable to assume that you leave the relationship with what you had when you came into it. Start on that basis. Your finances are in good health. If you enter this process with no expectations, you won’t be disappointed with the result, and you won’t start on the next chapter of your life with a hangover from the last.

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