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

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?

Emmanuel

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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Dear Devil’s Advocate: My Boyfriend’s Parents Won’t Let Him Marry Me


A Devil’s Advocate takes the opposing side of any argument, just for the sake of debate, so that all sides of a question are discussed.

I am Launching a series Dear Devil’s Advocate to promote understanding and peaceful co-existent between people. From my experience–professional and personal–the strife and bad blood between friends, relatives, co-workers etc. stem from a lack of understanding of the other person’s perspective; if roles were reversed, people will do exactly the same thing as the other person whose actions they find intolerable.

In this series, I will take common situations and argue the unpopular position such that if you are in the position, you may begin to understand where the other person is coming from, and I hope, feel less animosity towards the person you believe have hurt you. For now, I make up the scenarios drawing inspiration from experiences of real-life people I know. With time, I hope you will send me entries about situations and people in your life that drive you crazy. Remember, the goal is not to justify the other person’s actions but to help you deal more objectively with the situation. This will help you keep your sanity and hold less grudge towards others.

The first in the series is from Tolu.

Dear Devil’s Advocate:

My name is Tolu. I have been with my boyfriend Uche for three years. He’s 30, I am 25. I met him during my National Youth Service in Anambra. He is the first man I have truly loved. He’s kind and funny and everything I want in a man.

Problem is, he’s Igbo and I’m Yoruba. His parents who are typical Igbo traders, have never met me but have stood their ground that he won’t marry me because I’m not Igbo. In fact, they insist he must marry someone not just from his State in Anambra but from his town in Ozubulu. How can people who have never met me judge me so harshly? I’m hurt that they have declined to meet me to even assess if I’m ‘worthy’ of their son. How they can be so close-minded at this age and time when people marry people from other race is beyond me.

Anyway, my boyfriend and I have decided to go on with the wedding plans and I have resolved that after the wedding, I’m going to pay his parents back for all the hurt they have caused me. They will never be welcomed in my house nor will the receive any financial help from us.

My Response:Dear Tolu,

Parents disapprove of marriages for reasons ranging from the ludicrous to the reasonable. While I am not going to tell you if going on with the wedding plans is proper in the circumstance–even I don’t know if it is–I can tell you that being mean to your future in-laws is unreasonable for at least four reasons.

First, like you said, your future in-laws have never met you so their disapproval of you is ‘Not Personal’; they would reject any girl that is not from Ozubulu. So why will you make personal something that is not. They don’t hate You as they don’t know you, so please don’t hold any ill-feelings towards them.

Second, you are educated; they are not. Probably you have had Igbo friends in the past and from your relationships with them you learned that certain stereotypes we associate with people whose cultures are different from ours aren’t true. If your future in-laws are like many Igbo parents, they have never left the Southeast and don’t know what Yoruba people are like except that Yorubas use a lot of palm oil to cook soup (Now, I don’t mean this to be derogatory). Will it be fair then to judge these people who may have never talked to a Yourba person by the same standard as you who probably have a mix of Igbos, Yoruba, and Hausas as Facebook friends. Your experience has taught you that irrespective of cultural background, we all share our humanity and cherish such values as honesty, integrity, fairness etc. Yes, your future in-laws are close-minded like you said but they have not been privileged to be otherwise.

Third, have you considered that their reluctance to accept you may stem from fear and worry and not hate; fear that their relationship with you will be awkward; worry that they cannot have conversations with you if you can’t speak Igbo and they cannot speak English. Can you make oha soup, jiakwu, ji agworogwo etc? ‘What the heck are those?’ You ask. Same question your future in-laws will ask when you marry their son and during your visit to them at Christmas you prepare ewedu and amala. The point is, no culture is better than the other but your future in-laws may be worried that you may not be open to learning how they do things. Their reluctance to accept you could be because they believe you will not fit in. Their concern is real–even if not valid. While these days, as extended family relationships weaken, you feel that you will be married to their son, not them, and that their opinion and preferences shouldn’t matter, it is hard for your future parents in laws who grew up in close-knit extended family units to understand this fact and how times have changed.

Lastly it may not be proper to cut them off from their son’s financial support. You have known your boyfriend for only three years. Your boyfriend is thirty. So for the first 27 years of his life you weren’t there when his parents provided for him, offered him emotional and financial support such that he has become the wonderful person you said he is. Parenting is the hardest job there is and robbing you future in-laws the pleasure of having their son take care of them now that they are old is morally wrong. Your boyfriend owes his parents his life and whatever your issues with them are, never prevent him from paying them back for all they did for him.

I understand how close-minded (and old-fashioned, if you like) your future in-laws are. However, were I born when they were, where they were, and had the same life experiences as they did, I would be singing their tune, not yours.

I hope my response helps you find it in your heart to forgive whatever hurt you believe they have caused you. And hey, check back with me twenty years from now when your daughter (assuming you have one by then) presents you a tattoo-sleeved, dreadlocks-rocking, motorcycle-riding white dude as her suitor. I hope you will remember then that you cannot judge a book by its cover.

Good luck Tolu as I invite my readers to comment and help you put this issue in proper perspective.

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