Personal Finance

Is my mother’s new husband manipulating her finances?


My mother, a widow for the past three years following the death of my father, remarried this year. She was terribly lonely throughout the Covid lockdowns but her decision to remarry so quickly after meeting her partner was a surprise. They are spending an awful lot of money and my brother and I suspect her new partner encourages this. She is also increasingly reluctant to spend time with us and her grandchildren. We suspect she is being manipulated by her new husband who is deliberately isolating her from family and friends to access her money, but we are not sure. Is there anything we can do?

Vanessa Gardiner, partner in the family law team at Royds Withy King, says we may not think of it in such terms, but marriage is a legal relationship. Unlike many other legal arrangements, however, it has a very low barrier to entry. Normally, the only test would-be spouses have to pass is the “friends and family” test, but lockdown removed this threshold too.

Vanessa Gardiner, partner at Royds Withy King

When faced with your situation, it is first important to establish if there is genuinely something sinister about your mother’s new partner and the nature of the relationship or whether you simply dislike him. In most cases, when your gut instinct tells you something is wrong, it probably is, but you must be clear about your motives before you decide to become involved your mother’s marriage.

If you believe that your mother’s partner is predatory or abusive, you could be dealing with a person who has a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). 

NPD is difficult to diagnose, but individuals typically target vulnerable and lonely individuals and “love bomb” them, inundating them with limitless affection, charm and compliments often to the point of embarrassment or even discomfort.

For the new spouse, it creates a fast bond and a sense of addiction to this attention. Sadly, it is increasingly commonplace and challenging for family members.

If you approach your mother with your concerns or show negativity towards her new husband, she could be defensive, angry or even accuse you of trying to sabotage her relationship. Your mother may not see anything wrong in his behaviour and it could be damaging to your own relationship with her.

Therefore, find a gentle approach and be mindful to do so when her husband is not present. You could suggest she take advice from a solicitor about protecting her assets for her grandchildren with a nuptial agreement or reviewing her will to address some of the concerns of financial manipulation.

If she refuses to accept something is wrong, you could employ a private investigator to find out more about the new partner. You can expect a narcissist to have targeted individuals before, possibly numerous times, and you may be able to find proof of wrongdoing or evidence he is manipulating her for profit or even previous violent behaviour.

If your mother is not willing to accept the proof, you can report him to the police if you have evidence of criminal behaviour or if you require a personal welfare check to be performed.

If your mother accepts that she is in an abusive relationship, you can help her seek legal advice. She may require a non-molestation or occupation order to protect her from future abusive behaviour and remove her husband from her home, or she may want to dissolve the marriage through divorce proceedings.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 provides a broad definition of what constitutes domestic abuse. This includes physical and violent behaviour but also controlling and coercive behaviour, economic as well as psychological and emotional abuse. She will need your support when making the decision to leave the relationship and protect herself and assets.

Can I pursue financial claim after my ex-husband’s death?

I issued financial proceedings connected with my divorce, hoping to share in the significant wealth my ex-husband accumulated during our marriage. However, my ex-husband passed away and our case is ongoing. Will I still be able to pursue my claim notwithstanding the death of my ex-husband?

Sarah Jane Boon, partner at Charles Russell Speechlys, says the law is absolutely clear that a financial claim made during a marriage, or following a divorce, expires with the death of the respondent to the claim.

Sarah Jane Boon, partner at Charles Russell Speechlys

The law is also clear that a financial claim connected to a divorce cannot be commenced by a person whose ex-spouse has already died. In spite of those facts, the waters are muddier in situations like yours when a financial claim had already commenced but not yet been adjudicated at the time of an ex-spouse’s death.

As the law stands, your unadjudicated financial claim will not survive the death of your ex-husband. However, in a similar recent case, the High Court judge said that he would allow the wife permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, with a view to changing the law. This was because the judge considered that a financial claim connected to a divorce could not properly be distinguished from other (arguably more speculative) civil claims that would survive the death of the respondent to the claim.

It remains to be seen whether the wife will proceed with an appeal in this case, but if she does and the Supreme Court agrees with the High Court judge, that decision would have wide ranging ramifications — including for you. It would permit a spouse to continue a financial claim connected to a divorce against their ex-spouse’s estate, following their death.

While court procedures often take significant time, you can explore other avenues in the meantime. For example, you may be able to commence a new claim, unconnected to your divorce, under the Inheritance Act. This is provided your ex-husband was domiciled in England and Wales when he died, that you have not remarried and you bring your claim within six months of the date of the grant of probate.

However, even if you are eligible to make such a claim, it may not entitle you to share in the significant wealth your ex-husband accumulated during your marriage. An Inheritance Act claim would limit you to arguments about whether reasonable financial provision had been made for you by your ex-husband.

In your position, watching closely to see if the Supreme Court has the opportunity to set precedent for these cases will be the priority. As things stand, it’s relatively unlikely that your financial claim can be pursued.

The opinions in this column are intended for general information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice. The Financial Times Ltd and the authors are not responsible for any direct or indirect result arising from any reliance placed on replies, including any loss, and exclude liability to the full extent.

Our next question

I am currently between jobs, getting married in December and looking to start a new permanent position in January. Given my new personal circumstances, I would like the security of a full-time contract. However, most of the companies I have spoken to are looking for contractors, which would require me to establish a limited company. I am concerned about tax implications, for example are changes to IR35 rules going to cause me future issues with HM Revenue & Customs?

Do you have a financial dilemma that you’d like FT Money’s team of professional experts to look into? Email your problem in confidence to money@ft.com



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