My Husband Won’t Help Pay for My Kids’ Tuition. Should I Divorce Him?

The younger two of my three children are currently enrolled in universities. They both have jobs and support their living expenses on campus. I left their father when all three were all under the age of 5 because he physically abused them. (Their father has had his paychecks garnished because he refuses to pay child support, but because he hides his money, the garnishment typically results in only $600 to $2,000 per year.) I remarried when the children were between the ages of 8 and 10. Their stepfather is a kind man and makes more than twice as much money as I do.

Here is the query: At the Ivy League university that one of my children attends, tuition is completely free if the parents make under $100,000. I make $60,000. However, the university insists that the stepfather’s income is counted in the annual income, and my husband makes $150,000. But he refuses to pay any of the tuition or related costs (which come to $80,000 a year); he says it’s my responsibility. So now I’m working 12-to-15-hour days to try to pay for tuition. The children receive some scholarship money, but you can imagine how infuriated I am. Is this grounds for divorce? Name Withheld

To state theobvious, your husband’s response to your financial difficulties doesn’t seem to be that of a loving partner or, indeed, a kind human being. Marriage, after all, is meant to involve the sharing of life’s challenges as well as its joys. But are you contemplating a divorce because he’s being a jerk about this or because you think it will leave you better off financially? For financial guidance, you should check with a lawyer about what alimony you can expect (and, of course, the price of actually securing a divorce). Setting up a separate household is itself an expensive business. And that’s to say nothing about the psychological repercussions of a divorce, including on your children.

Assuming that this letter expresses your reflective judgment (and not just a flash of anger after a disappointing conversation), I would say that the decision you need to make isn’t centrally about money. If you think the relationship merits salvaging, you should at least ask your husband to consider couples counseling; it might be worth exploring why he’s refusing to act as a parent to his stepchildren, and whether he appreciates the emotional consequences of his tightfisted ways. In marriage, a burden spurned is a burden doubled.

I live in a comfortable apartment in a four-unit building. My landlord is great, the rent is very reasonable and I love the neighborhood. I hope to remain a tenant for years to come. Unfortunately, one of the other tenants (with whom I share a wall) can be extremely volatile. When he gets angry at home, he screams and is verbally abusive toward his wife. I have worried about his wife’s safety on multiple occasions, as this screaming and verbal abuse is usually accompanied by him causing damage to their home. I’ve overheard him pounding on the walls and throwing things on the floor; I believe he has broken several pieces of furniture over the years. After his most recent episode, I watched him carry a broken chair to the dumpster later that day.

The reason I hesitate to bring this to the attention of my landlord is that the tenant in question is my landlord’s brother. I don’t think my landlord would condone his brother’s behavior, but I don’t know if he would do anything to address it either. And I would be meddling in family affairs by bringing this up. I also worry that reporting this to my landlord or calling the police during his brother’s next major outburst might lead to some sort of retaliation against me. But I also want to live in peace, and these outbursts make me quite anxious and uncomfortable. Additionally, I feel as if someone needs to know about his behavior in the event that he escalates and one day hurts his wife or someone else. What should I do? Name Withheld

It sounds asif you have reason to worry that your neighbor poses a threat to his wife’s safety. What’s at stake here, then, is much more than your own comfort. Simply asking your neighbor directly to be more considerate seems unlikely to meet the need. The police would intervene if you notified them during an episode of violence. That might mean that he would then be dangerously angry at you, of course. Studies on police involvement in incidents of domestic violence have reached different conclusions: Some find no effect in preventing revictimization, while some researchers say that it can increase the risks to the partner, but the preponderance of the evidence supports the view that it won’t make things worse and might make things better.

The police are unlikely to be able to do anything, though, unless you call them when you can hear that this man is behaving violently. Your landlord, on the other hand, can intervene when he chooses — urging his brother to stop embarrassing the family, for example, and perhaps persuading him to take anger-management classes. (Research suggests that these actually work for many participants.) You mention that there are four apartments in the building. A united approach to the landlord, asking him to do something to stop his brother from disturbing the peace of the building, would also give him notice that his sister-in-law may be in danger.

My younger sister has not spoken to me since last Christmas, when I requested to stay in an ocean-view room in the house where our family planned to spend the holidays. I needed the room’s sitting area for pumping breast milk and feeding my 3-month-old. My sister preferred the ocean-view room, and even moved her and her partner’s things into the room for a few days before the rest of the family pressured her to leave and allow me space to pump in private. She punished us by yelling at us and by giving the family, including my infant daughter, the cold shoulder for the holiday. After that, my sister had a wedding in May, but she and her groom contracted Covid nine days before the welcome receptions were to begin. She didn’t understand why my husband and I declined to attend, and she declined to tell the rest of the guests she had Covid. (Others became sick after the event.) She has continued cold-shouldering me and my daughter, whose first birthday she ignored.

Out of the blue, I received a text message from her that she and her husband want to fund an investment account for our daughter. We are not sure this seems wise to accept. Our daughter will be very well taken care of financially, even without these funds. I don’t want to accept funds from a couple who have proved emotionally abusive and tie my daughter to a potentially harmful relationship with them. Still, I wonder if declining funds on behalf of my 1-year-old is not fully my decision to make. Should I decline? Name Withheld

Your sister’s behavior,as you describe it, is churlish and wrongheaded. But what you call emotional abuse comes across like a pretty ordinary family row. Your younger sister might insist — who knows? — that she had dibs on that oceanfront room and that, in her opinion, the other bedroom had plenty of space for you to pump and nurse. Maybe she’ll report that she and her husband tested negative for Covid on Day 4 and their doctor gave them the all-clear. (The research still indicates people are most infectious just before and just after the onset of Covid symptoms.) Claims like these don’t contradict your account or put your sister in the right. The point is simply that quarreling siblings typically have different stories to tell.

Family disagreements like these don’t have to lead to permanent rifts, even if neither party ever admits to being wrong. And the natural way to interpret this text message is that, after a year of shunning you, she’s trying to re-establish a relationship. If you accept the offer with thanks, this froideur may defrost. The real issue isn’t about whether to accept money for your daughter; it’s about whether you want to keep open the possibility of your having a relationship with your younger sister — and therefore of your daughter’s having one. As a parent, your job is to act in your child’s interests; as a person, you’ll want to be mindful of your own. Alienating your daughter from her aunt isn’t likely to advance either goal.

Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include “Cosmopolitanism,” “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.” To submit a query: Send an email to [email protected]. Want the Ethicist directly in your inbox? Subscribe to our new newsletter at

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