By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
Two years ago, my sister called me from a divorce-settlement meeting without a lawyer. Her soon-to-be ex-spouse had a lawyer there. She was being pressured into giving up her portion of his pension that she was legally entitled to (their marriage was over 20 years). She was freaking out, in tears and realized she needed a lawyer.
I told her to leave that meeting and get a lawyer. Afterward, she asked me for money to pay for the lawyer and promised to pay me back. I testified for her regarding other marital financial issues (I was executor of our father’s estate, in which her husband had made false statements on his entitlements to some of her inheritance). She thanked me again and again in front of her lawyer and promised to repay me.
‘She borrowed another $5,000 from an aunt for a child-custody battle, which she lost.’
I am not wealthy and did not have $4,780 on hand, but I have good credit and used my line of credit. It will be two years in May and I have not received any payment. She was supposed to give me some monthly payments and lump sums at tax-refund time. Last year’s excuse for no tax-refund reimbursement was that she borrowed another $5,000 from an aunt for a child-custody battle, which she lost.
She earns $90,000 to $95,000 a year, but this year’s excuse is that she is in arrears for child-support payments. She is not destitute; she is a financial idiot and partier. I do have texts saying she will pay me back and others that say she has no money. She swore before Thanksgiving this year that she would start paying me in January. January came and went, no payment.
During a text discussion in early February, she informed me about her child-support arrears (so no lump payment from her tax-refund again) and is only planning $25 per month repayments when she could. That plan doesn’t cover the interest on the loan, and even if I was OK with covering the interest, it would be more than 20 years.
I told her that was not acceptable, and that she left me no choice. I didn’t say what action I would take. So I am planning to take her to small-claims court, and garnish her wages. The Virginia statute of limitations is two years, so I need to do this by early May. Now the financial idiot sent me a check for $25.
If I cash it, would it extend the statute of limitations? Should I cash it? What is the best approach? Also, she is a social-media junkie; on her Facebook and Instagram, there are multiple examples of vacations, drunken outings and other expenditures since May 2019 that could have helped to dig her out of the financial heap.
There is a capability to reimburse, but zero will. Any advice is appreciated.
Only gamble what you can afford to lose. Only invest what you can afford to lose. Only lend what you can afford to lose. I don’t believe you will be getting this money, so I advise you to write it off as a bad debt sooner rather than later. Sure, try the small-claims court, but failing that there will come a time when you will have to say enough is enough: “I tried to do the right thing, she didn’t repay it, and I can’t change her.” I do have questions about what you hope to achieve.
‘I see two unhealthy patterns: Your sister’s grifting and your gifting. Each serves a purpose.’
If she repaid you the principal sum, would you then start to feel similar rumblings of injustice over the interest? If she repaid you with interest, would you then suffer pangs of annoyance over the hoops of fire she made you jump through in order to be repaid? After all, you were doing her the favor, right? How dare she put you through this. And, thirdly, what is this $4,780 worth to you? It’s already been two years of self-righteous fury, stress and anxiety.
None of this should come as a surprise to you. I see two unhealthy patterns: your sister’s grifting and your gifting. But each of these serves a purpose. Yes, your sister reactivates the statute of limitations by repaying a small part of the loan and, thereby, acknowledging that she still owes you money — five years for breaching a written contract or three for an oral contract, but talk to a lawyer about that. When it does, this tortured game of cat and mouse begins anew.
How far are you willing to go to retrieve this debt? How long will you pursue it? And aside from the prospect of knowing that you are still in with a shot of getting the $4,780 back, what do you get out of feeling perpetually angry and frustrated at your sister? Does it reaffirm that you are the principled, upstanding one in the family? Or does pursuing your sister for this money remind her on a daily basis that she appears to be incapable of keeping a promise?
‘In order to truly move on, you too need to take responsibility for lending it to her in the first place.’
I ask you these questions for a reason. Of course, she’s behind on child support. You already know that your sister is a dramatic (and possibly irresponsible and/or reckless) person who has learned how to leverage her alleged victimhood to her advantage. She may see herself as a victim of a bad marriage, cruel husband, biased judicial system, and any other circumstance that does not include her own choices and actions.
Your sister may or may not accept responsibility for borrowing this money, but in order for you to truly move on, you too need to take responsibility for lending it to her in the first place. Few could fault you for wanting this money back. But in the game of life, you already win. You are the sister who endeavors to keep her word, look out for others, and be the adult in the room. Your sister loses. You get to be right. Your sister is wrong. And, for exactly $4,780, everyone else will see that.
You are not a credit company or debt collector. You are, for better or for worse, her sister. I understand that you would like this money back, but many people lead uneven, tumultuous lives. You may also ask how this unrelenting pursuit of money from such a person serves you. After you do that, ask yourself if you have done what I hope you had originally intended to do — ease some of your sister’s self-doubt and anxieties and, ultimately, help her chaotic life run a little easier.
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