I had a pretty sad call the other day. It was from a woman who was looking for help with a divorce. She’s been married for 40 years and loves her husband dearly. He loves her too.
She doesn’t want a divorce and neither does he. Unfortunately she works and he is very ill. They applied for aid from the State of Illinois and were denied because she makes too much money. Essentially her income is being held against him.
So they are facing a choice. Get divorced and lose their best friend or stay married and watch your best friend suffer.
They were thinking about a divorce, but not a real divorce. They thought that they could get the benefits he needs, get a divorce and keep living together as they have for the last 40 blissful years.
Unfortunately, as I advised them, this would be considered a sham divorce and against the law. When you say you are getting divorced and go through with it only to obtain public aid benefits, you are essentially defrauding the Government.
This call was heart breaking because these are not criminals and they want to do the right thing. They did not realize that a divorce would mean selling the house or one spouse buying out the other. Didn’t realize they’d have to have separate bank accounts. They didn’t realize that they couldn’t live together as a husband and wife do.
Most of all they didn’t know this was a crime that theoretically could result in jail time and almost certainly, if they got caught, would require them to pay back all of the benefits plus a fine. In other words they could lose their home.
They appreciated our candor and directness which is how we talk to everyone who calls us. As we left it they were weighing their options, but the wife was leaning toward a real divorce because it pains her more than anything to see her husband suffer, even if that means being apart.
I would NEVER encourage a caller or client to break the law and didn’t here either. But it is a tragedy that they have to consider this option at all. If they stay together there is no guarantee they will get caught and if they did it would likely be from a nosy neighbor or a state aid worker who checked up on them. Either way they’d have to essentially be looking over their shoulders at all times. That’s not a way to live.
If there ever was a law or rule that needs to be changed, this is it. As lawyers we don’t make laws, we just deal with what they are and try to fight as hard as we can for our clients. There’s no fight in this case, just the hope that good people with an amazing marriage don’t get screwed over by our Government.