I didn’t want to write this post. I still don’t, but I’ve been told that I should share what’s been going on over here over the last couple of years on the basis that it might help. I guess the idea is that someone who can help, or who knows someone who can help, might see it and pass it on. I don’t know. I’m not sure I believe in miracles anymore. Not for myself or my family, anyway.
So, here we go, regardless. One painful exposé on my mother’s second marriage and its impact on her life (and mine), coming right up.
My stepdad is, to put it mildly, an arsehole. He moved out just over two years ago, a few days after I moved back in – yes, these two events are related.
I didn’t kick him out. My mother did. Because he was upset with her that she’d allowed me to move back in without consulting him. He said, “It’s me or her.” She told him to pack his bags.
Whatever else you take away from this, please be assured that my mother is a badass.
Unfortunately, she hasn’t always been.
Not because she didn’t want to be but because my stepdad literally weighs about twice what she does, maybe more, and he crushed her, verbally, sometimes physically, every day of their marriage.
Seventeen years, people.
Thank god for divorce, right?
Well, yes. And no. Divorce costs money.
We have none.
We did have a bit. I managed to make a bit from this and that and put it towards the divorce. She managed to put a bit towards it also. Unfortunately, we don’t make much and we have a house to run.
Actually, she runs it. I pay for food and car fuel. It’s what I can afford.
Anyway, divorce costs. Yay.
We don’t have a solicitor anymore. We owe her about £1200 and she won’t do any more work until we make good and then give her more money on top of that “on account”.
My stepdad is currently asking for £30,000 in the divorce settlement. This is to reimburse him for money he put into the house during the marriage.
So he should get it back, right?
We might not have a problem with that if it weren’t for the £93,000 mortgage left on our house because of him. And the thousands of pounds of his personal debt also secured on the house.
And the abuse.
And the affair.
Yeah, it’s a long story. And a messy one. I hope you’re sitting comfortably.
(If I put this all in a book or screenplay, it would get shot down as unrealistic. Gotta love life.)
Firstly, we don’t have £30,000. We don’t even have £30. My mother’s pension pays the bills. My working tax credits pay for food and fuel. That’s it. There is no other money. What comes in goes out.
Which means that, in order to pay the divorce settlement, we have to sell the house. My mother’s house. Bought by her with her money before she even met my stepdad.
The house that’s worth a minimum of £400,000.
To pay a debt of £30,000.
According to him, we can’t put a charge on the house for the £30k. A judge will just order it sold in order to tie everything up.
Which would be upsetting, to say the least. My mother has owned this house for nearly twenty years (it’ll be twenty years in June 2017). I’ve moved around a lot during that time but this is the only place I’ve ever felt at home. Just in the last two years, to be sure, since I moved back in, but it feels like home.
And we have to sell it to pay a debt less than one thirteenth of the house’s value.
Okay. Well, *deep breath*. You just soldier on, right? Because it’s only bricks and mortar and, hey, there’ll still be £370,000 left afterwards. That’s more than enough to buy another house.
It would be. It would be more than enough.
But we won’t have it.
Because there are other debts secured on the house. The largest one being a £93,000 mortgage, left over from when my stepdad’s aunt passed away and he decided he just had to have her cottage up in Cambridgeshire.
At the full asking price, asked by his cousins.
And in order to buy it, they could just mortgage my mother’s house.
She wasn’t happy with this – at this point the house was mortgage-free – but I’ve already mentioned this was an abusive marriage, right? So she went along to the solicitor’s like the good wife, just wanting to survive and not have to deal with the wrath of God for saying no. And there, in the solicitor’s office, on the new documents, she discovered her husband’s name alongside hers on the new deeds. Because they wouldn’t allow it to be used as collateral for the mortgage with only her name on the deed.
“I didn’t agree to this,” she said. “I’m not signing.”
“Just sign the bloody thing,” was his response. While she was sat between him and the wall, with a desk in front of her and a filing cabinet or something behind her. Nowhere to go. No way out except past him and we’ve already established that wasn’t an option.
The lawyer was present and did nothing.
I’ll repeat that, for those of you sitting at the back.
My mother, less than half my stepdad’s size, was in a very small office with her enormous husband, stating she did not wish to sign the documentation in front of her which put her house into his name as well as hers and the lawyer did nothing. He simply stood there and watched my mother be bullied into signing half her house over to her abusive husband.
This is where I have to take a short break because I’m so angry I’m shaking too hard to type.
So they bought the house in Cambridge. Where my mother later discovered my stepdad was having an affair. With one of the staff at the company he ran in partnership with my mother.
She left. Came back to the house in Sussex. Later on, they reconciled (yes, I know, but abusive marriage, remember?).
When they sold that house, they did so at a massive loss. In fact, it was in negative equity. Guess what happened to the difference in the sale price and the mortgage still outstanding?
If you said, “It got transferred over to your mother’s house,” give yourself a cookie.
This was a house which was mortgage-free when she married my stepdad. Ten, maybe fifteen, years later, about three quarters of its value was mortgaged.
Now, while all this Cambridge house business was going on, my grandmother (my mother’s mother) moved back to the UK and since the Sussex house was empty, she moved into it. Did a lot of work. Spent tens of thousands of pounds on it, actually, with new conservatories front and back and an addition to the roof so that it didn’t have a flat roof anymore – minimise the risk of leaks and so on.
Then my mother moved back, followed by my stepdad a year or so later (as I recall – I’m a bit fuzzy on dates).
So now my grandmother was living with her daughter and son-in-law (a man with whom she’d never got on – she hated him because she saw him coming and he hated her for her perspicacity).
In a house which was mortgage-free but now wasn’t.
Now, my grandmother was a very practical woman. She was insanely intelligent (I’ve talked about her before but can’t link you to it because that site is now defunct) and managed a career as a highly sought-after microbiologist in an era when women were secretaries, teachers or wives-and-mothers. Usually wives-and-mothers.
This all being so, she had money. She’d grown up poor so she was always very good with money, and since she then went on to a succession of very well-paid jobs, she made a lot of money.
Fast forward to her living in a house which positively groaned under the weight of all the debt secured on it. She wasn’t having that.
So she emptied most of her savings, over a hundred thousand pounds, into the house, paying off six figures of the mortgage. Bringing the total outstanding to under six figures, in fact, to where it now stands at £93,000.
And if this were the only debt secured on the house, we might still be okay.
In total, there’s about £200,000 of debt secured on the house. Several of my stepdad’s personal debts are secured on the house, and a couple from the business, too. The business my mother is no longer a partner in.
About half its value is mortgaged or charged. And we live in the south of England. With a huge dog. Buying a flat is out of the question and we need somewhere with two bedrooms.
We’ll be very lucky to stay in the area at all.
And part of me still feels like this is all just me being really whiny and stamping my foot and going, “But I don’t wanna move!”
But I don’t.
And she doesn’t either.
She’s sixty-eight years old. This house was meant to be her last move. She bought it and took out a small mortgage on it so that she could do it up. My grandmother was scandalised when she found out and promptly paid it off. This house was free and clear and then the man who would become my stepfather turned up.
I think the hardest part about all this is the feeling that the law doesn’t exist for us. We told our solicitor about the abuse and as I recall her attitude was basically that since there was no proof, there was nothing she could do about it. It didn’t even get mentioned. As far as the solicitor is concerned, the abuse is null and void. As is the pre-nup they both signed going in. My stepdad drafted it, so no big surprise there, but apparently even the intent doesn’t count, because of a full stop in the wrong place.
(I’m not even kidding.)
My mother got him to verbally agree to a straight swap at one point – the house for the business, the business having been valued at about £100,000, so more or less the value of his debts and the mortgage secured on the house. He said yes but it never showed up in writing. She signed over her half of the business anyway and of course the first demand from his solicitor was for half the value of the house. That wouldn’t have left us enough to buy a cow shed.
Well, maybe a cow shed.
In Northern Scotland.
Have I mentioned this was my mother’s house?
Believe it or not, £30k is the third offer – he just wants back the money he put in.
What about the money he took out?
Apparently we don’t get that back.
And now the business accountant is trying to tell HMRC that my mother received thousands of pounds from the business in the 2015-2016 tax year (when she was no longer even a partner) – apparently this is because she was overpaid for several years and he’s just trying to even things out.
I thought the whole point of tax years was that you couldn’t retrospectively ‘even things out’, even if she had been overpaid, which she hasn’t. Any accountants out there, please feel free to chime in on this point.
In many ways this is all moot anyway – the mortgage itself comes due mid-2018. It’s been on interest-only for however long it’s been and the capital is due for repayment in about eighteen months’ time.
So either way, we’re fucked.
Unless we can find a solicitor who gives a shit.
I’d take half a shit at this point. A whole one would be nice but, you know, you take what you can get.
To be clear, this isn’t a begging for money post. I don’t think I know the kind of people who can put together £30k, even clubbing in as a group, let alone the other £93k we need to keep our house.
It’s a begging for connections post – we need a solicitor who cares. We also need a solicitor who’ll work pro bono. We also, ideally, need one who’s really really fucking good but like I said, I don’t really believe in miracles anymore.
Which is sad. I’m a writer of fantasy and romance. Miracles happen in my head on a daily basis but they’ve become vanishingly rare in my real life over the last couple of years.
If I thought there was a chance in hell of me raising the money through crowdfunding, I’d do it. I’d sell you Be A Bard and every book I write for the next twenty years if I thought it would do it. But let’s face it, I’m no one. I’m someone who has great ideas and some ability in terms of execution who has never produced a complete novel. No one’s going to believe in me that much. Hence why I’m not asking for money. But if you know someone, or someone who knows someone, who might be able to help… my email is annemhairi (at) gmail [dot] com.
It’s New Year’s Eve and while 99% of the people around me are wishing for this year to end and 2017 to start, I’m dreading the year to come. I know we’re most likely going to have to move and all three of us will have to adapt to a completely different area, probably not a particularly nice one. The best case scenario is that we can find a place in a small village about ten miles away. There’s no vet, which means driving the dog places periodically (he has a heart condition and needs daily meds that we buy monthly). I very much doubt I can get sourdough bread there (yes, it matters – it doesn’t affect my gluten intolerance but costs half the price of ‘proper’ gluten-free bread and is about a million times nicer. It’s one of those little things which makes my daily life so much easier). Going anywhere will require either negotiating a very dicey junction or hitting the dual carriageway.
But we’d still be in the area. Kind of. My closest friend will still be nearby.
It probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to you. Sat here, I’m thinking, why am I being such a brat about this? We’d have a place to live, isn’t that what’s important?
I guess, the thing is, we don’t know for sure how much money we’ll get from this house. We would need about £250k, free and clear, to be sure of finding a place that isn’t in the ghetto. Bear in mind, we have a very security-conscious dog – if there’s stuff going on in neighbouring houses and/or the street outside, nobody’s getting any sleep for half a mile around.
And at the end of the day, I’m tired. I begged my mother to let me move home and she said, “Yes.” And her life promptly imploded while I was busy having a mental breakdown. And we survived.
We made it this far.
To lose our home now seems like… well… punishment. For not doing better. For not being better. For not, I don’t know, being proper little workers who just stay in their shitty marriages because the alternative is too hard to think about. Because while all this was happening, I got engaged and then chose to get un-engaged, because it was the right choice for me.
We chose the harder road. And this feels like the Universe saying, “Wrong answer!”
And I need to know if anyone can help.