Reward The Positive Direction

Marie's daughter filed for divorce last year, and Marie and her husband agreed to pay the retainer. Their daughter has only paid a small portion of it back. Should they forgive the debt?

QUESTION: Marie in Portland says her daughter filed for divorce last year, and Marie and her husband agreed to pay the retainer. Now there’s $38,000 in legal fees, and their daughter has only paid a small portion of it back. She doesn’t have a job and hasn’t for 13 years. Should they forgive the debt?

ANSWER: Here’s the point: $30,000 to you is no big deal mathematically. It’s a lot of money. If you send it to me, I’ll cash the check. But mathematically, it doesn’t break your life up. Mathematically, it’s huge to your daughter. She’s not going to pay this anytime soon even if you do hold her to it. She can’t.

If I’m in your shoes, I think the girl’s been through enough. I’m going to let her off unless you sense that there’s some kind of big lesson here that she’s supposed to learn. But it sounds to me like she could go from one oppression to another if we’re not careful. My goal here would be—contingent upon her doing X, Y, and Z toward her career, things that are good for her—I’m willing to forgive the loan if I see her going in a great direction.

You’re going to have to fight through the continuing legal fees and decide what you’re going to do. But as far as your question about the $30,000 goes, if I’m in your shoes and she’s heading in a positive direction, I’m going to reward her by forgiving it because I can if I’m in the shoes you gave me that you’re in.