Should I Sign a Divorce Agreement With My Mother-in-Law?

My wife and I own a small house with a large backyard. My mother-in-law, 63, asked if she could use her small nest egg to build her forever home on it. (We can’t subdivide our lot, but we can build a guesthouse.) We agreed. She’s a terrific grandmother to our toddler, and the move would take financial pressure off her. She spent $5,000 on approvals and plans. Just before the excavators came, she asked me to sign a document giving the total value of the guesthouse to my wife if we divorce. She never mentioned this before! I understand her concern, but I don’t want a contract with my mother-in-law about my marriage. Now I’m getting concerned about her living so close. My wife sees both sides. What do you think?


I don’t doubt that everyone means well here, but divorce is only one of the issues you should hash out before you reschedule the excavators. What if you and your wife have more children and want to leave your “small house”? What if one of you gets a terrific job offer in another city? And how would you even value a guesthouse that’s built on land owned by you and your wife?

Multigenerational living is great if it works for every generation. Here, I worry for your mother-in-law: No one should invest her life savings without a written agreement. I also respect your (newfound) concerns about your mother-in-law living in your backyard. I worry, too, about your wife’s seeming reticence. Most of us would have strong opinions about our mothers moving within spitting distance of us, but your wife seems oddly blasé.

Here’s the thing: This family compound may be a triumph, but I would pump the brakes on it until you’ve explored all the issues with a lawyer and made an agreement in writing. If you aren’t willing to do that, scrap this plan.

I graduated from college at the height of the pandemic. I’m proud of how I managed things: I moved to a new city for work, found a place to live and created a safe social life, all while supporting myself. My biggest challenge has been some weight gain. My new size makes me sad and socially anxious, but my doctor and I are not overly concerned: I’m active, eat well and fall within a normal weight range. After my last visit home, my mother called me to express urgent concern about my weight and the portions I ate (which were no bigger than anyone else’s). My father made a similar call. How can I let them know I’m hurt by their criticism and interference with my autonomy?


Your parents’ extreme reaction to your (fairly common) pandemic weight gain makes me think this is not their first time policing your diet and appearance — even if they did so before by praising you. It’s more important, I think, to better understand your feelings than to write a script for dressing down your parents.

Talk to a counselor about the sources and meaning of your sadness and anxiety. When you understand them more fully, you will probably have a better road map for navigating your relationship with your parents, including subjects that will be off-limits to them — and why.

I bought a bedside table at a used-furniture store. When I was cleaning it out, I discovered $700 of Treasury bonds from the 1970s in a drawer. I was able to track down the registered owner, which took considerable time. I called to verify her identity and get her current address, and I mailed the bonds the next day. A week later, I received a stock thank-you card. She signed her name but didn’t bother to write a message. I think she owed me a personalized note, and a finder’s fee wouldn’t have hurt. Is it fair to feel slighted?


You are always entitled to feel your feelings. You were a good Samaritan and an impressive sleuth, and the owner of the bonds thanked you with a greeting card. I see this as a happy story. But you don’t. So, before you undertake your next (voluntary) good deed, consider that you may not feel properly acknowledged or compensated for it.

My sister quietly got engaged a few months ago. She and her fiancé have been married before, and they both have kids. She is not planning a big wedding; she thinks it would be weird for my nieces. Yesterday, she called to say they had picked a date for their small wedding (which is less than two months away). The problem: The date conflicts with a big trip my parents had planned. Still, my mother is thinking of skipping their vacation to attend the wedding. She worries that missing it would make my sister’s daughters feel bad. I say they shouldn’t cancel their vacation. You?


I get feeling protective of your parents. But if two adults want to reschedule their vacation (and possibly not even tell their daughter about the conflict), what business is it of yours? I would stay out of this.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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