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Is divorce the solution?

Problem submitted by T.M., Ohio

Farming with family is very hard, so it is important to get everything in writing.

Many farmers think farming is their birthright. If they lose money, they rely on their spouse to support them. I am a teacher, and I know how it goes.

My husband farmed in a three-way partnership with his dad and brother until 2000, when Grandpa retired and passed away. At that point, they put my husband's nephew in the operation as a full partner with zero investment. He owned nothing.

My brother-in-law assured us that he and his son would pay us rent on our extra 100 acres and lease the extra machinery we wound up buying because I work full time and my sister-in-law has never worked.

Every year I got the same sincere promise that next year they would come up with a payment (usually because "this year wasn't good" and they "didn't make money"). This went on for eight years, and all this while the nephew was getting profit sharing on top of an extremely generous salary ("because he needed money"). He put in a swimming pool while we qualified for welfare!

When I had enough and I put my half of our ground up for rent in the local newspaper to anyone who would pay up front, the fur flew. My husband got a divorce lawyer, and his lawyer strongly suggested I get a lawyer.

When my lawyer took the case, she said my husband was guilty of marital financial mismanagement. You cannot give away your wife's half of your family investment without her permission.

Lawyers are expensive and work very, very slowly (a phone call takes two weeks). But in Ohio, you cannot get a financial divorce. There is no way to get disconnected financially from a spouse without divorcing.

With a heavy heart, I filed for divorce to stop my husband from giving all our machinery to his brother and his nephew because he was "getting older and didn't want as much responsibility." He violated the restraining order, so I had to call the police. He was arrested.

We have two children who gave up a lot to keep the farm afloat financially, and their sacrifices would have been for nothing had I not acted. Everything I worked my whole life for would have gone to my nephew and his wife and kids, while our own children went without.

The good news is it has been almost three years since this happened. When my husband's brother found out I would get half of our farmland and all of our machinery would be auctioned as part of the divorce, he suddenly was able to come up with a payment plan and money.

My husband and I stopped the divorce proceedings, and things are slowly getting back to normal at our house. My husband's brother and nephew will be making payments until 2014.

Throughout this whole ordeal, I learned that some older farmers can't or won't deal with women, and that some people/families can't or won't handle finances and paperwork.

Sweeping issues under the rug and hoping they go away doesn't work. The longer issues go unresolved, the harder they are to solve.

Dr. Jonovic's Solution

In order to force a change in her unacceptable situation, T.M. needed the courage to accept the price her strategy would demand if it didn't work. The best negotiator is someone who is willing to walk away from a bad deal.

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