Dear Devil’s Advocate: My Wife Bought a House and Won’t Put My Name on the Deed

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If you are wondering what the Devil’s Advocate series is about, read the intro to this blog. This next scenario is inspired by a rift between a couple I met sometime ago.

Dear Devil’s Advocate,

I have been married to my wife for three years. We are both Igbos and we live in Onitsha. She was a widow and I, a widower when we met. I have a son from my previous marriage. She has two daughters from hers. My wife gave birth to our daughter last year and we don’t plan on having another child.

My wife and I are both hardworking professionals–she is a lawyer; I’m a lecturer in a State university. Although we have never really discussed our financial arrangement, we have an unwritten rule where she takes care of grocery and other minor expenses around the house while I take care of the house rent and other major bills. However, I pay my son’s school fees and she pays her daughters’. Her kids attend an expensive private school which I feel is unjustifiably expensive; I won’t ever send my child to such school even if I can afford it–it’s waste of money. But I don’t mind her daughters going to the private school since I don’t pick up the tabs. My son is enrolled in a federal school that offers the same quality education as private schools.

My wife is a wonderful person. But yesterday she told me that she bought a rental property last month. She never told me she was buying the house. She is now telling me after the fact. Obviously, my name is not on the deed and I’m hurt. I have real estate investments I purchased before I married her and we live on a private residence I bought more than a decade ago. So this is not about me being an opportunist. I’m self-sufficient. But I feel her action is self-serving and shows a lack of commitment to our marriage.

We have never had a major misunderstanding since we got married and I’ve never had a reason to question her loyalty. But her buying this property without my knowledge, and especially without putting my name on it has made me question how committed she is to our marriage. I know it’s hard to manage relationships in blended families but I was hoping she would come on this ride with me without any reservation.

Given what she did, is she still worthy of my trust?


My Response: Dear Emmanuel,

I’m sorry you feel the way you do about your wife’s actions. That said, there may be deep-seated issues that motivated her actions which you need to discuss with her before you lose faith in the woman you love.

First, you mentioned that she has two daughters from her previous marriage. What happened when her first husband died? Did she inherit her late husband’s property? As a patriarchal society–and I have seen this happen over and over again–when a man dies in Igbo land, his widow, if she doesn’t have a male child for him, is stripped of all she and her husband owned together. You may think it is unlikely this happened because she is a lawyer who knows her rights and would have stood up for herself if that happened but people’s professional persona often differ from their their personal lives. I have heard of a female Judge who sits on her bench every morning with a black eye from domestic abuse at home. So you may want to have a talk with your wife about this–if you two haven’t discussed it–because a proper understanding of her past will help you understand her actions in the future.

If your wife lost everything after her first husband died, then you can see why she bought the house in her name alone: if anything happened to you, she could fall back on her own investments without having squabbles with your relatives over jointly-owned properties.

Second, because female children do not inherit from their birth families, your wife may have considered that if she died before you and your name were on the deed, the house will go to you and your son and her daughters will be left with nothing. You cannot fault her for a decision she made to secure her children’s future.

Third, you mention that her children go to a top private school that you consider rather expensive and that you can’t imagine spending so much on a child’s education even if you can afford it. This shows that your priorities may differ from your wife’s. She may have doubts whether you will continue to give her children quality education if she becomes incapacitated. So having a separate investment that can take of them will make it easier to continue to provide them a top quality education without your preferences and judgment overriding her wishes for her children.

Fourth, you already have real estate investments of your own. Given that you acquired them before you married her, I assume her name is not on the properties. Have you considered putting her name on them? Are you aware that your son, not she, will inherit those properties when you die? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander so you may have to re-think your expectations in your marriage if you cannot make compromises of your own.

Fifth, I have argued that she may be paranoid based on her previous experience. However, what if she actually did inherit from her deceased husband and she bought the property from the investment. If that is the case, she may felt she has an obligation to keep the investment in her name to protect her daughters’ interest so that they will benefit from their father’s estate. Again, once she allows you to be a part-owner of the property, the primary beneficiary will be your son. So your wife concerns are valid.

More important, giving that you two pretty much seem to be handling your finances separately–she paying her daughters’ school fees and you your son’s–your expectation that she includes you in the deed may be unrealistic.

Lastly, regarding her keeping the transaction secret until she completed it, she may have been worried you would have objections, like you do now, to her having the property in her name. While openness is extremely important in marriage, it can be hindered where one party is always made to compromise her stand on important subjects. So accepting your wife’s decision on this issue will create an an enabling environment where she will feel free to tell you her intentions before embarking on a major project in the future.

To allay your wife’s concern for the future which concern I believe led to her actions, I recommend you sit down with her and assure her that she and her daughters’ future are secure with you. It is also important that you two draw up a will that will ensure each of the four children is taken care of in the event either of you dies. Estate disputes are more contentious in families such as yours where the children are not from the same parents. So drawing up a will will guarantee your kids don’t engage in ugly court battles after you are gone. In my opinion, anything short of this then your expectation that your wife leaves her financial future unsecured is not realistic.

Devils’ Advocate.

P.S : For real-life purposes, a 2014 judgment Ukeje v Ukeje held that women can now inherit from their fathers in Igbo land. See my previous post on the subject here.

Do share your insights and comments below.

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