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The Moneyist: I gave my daughter $20K to start a company with her husband. They divorced and he got the business. Can I ask for it back?

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Dear Moneyist,

In 2012, my daughter and her husband (at the time) wanted to start a business. She asked for a loan of $20,000 to start the business, but I decided to make that part of her inheritance. So I gave them $20,000. Now they are divorced, and he got the business. Can I ask him for the $20,000 back given that the money was meant for my daughter as her inheritance?

Any advice would be appreciated. They both live in Michigan.

Thanks,

The Father in Naples, Fla.

Dear Father,

You gave the money to your daughter as an advance on her inheritance. That was your gift to her, and she used it to start a business with her husband, which makes that $20,000 and the business marital or community property. It was, in legal parlance, commingled.

You can ask for it back, and appeal to your brother-in-law’s generosity of spirit, but whether or not he agrees is another issue. He is under no legal obligation to return the money. There is no money per se to return. Would it be nice? Yes. Good etiquette? Maybe. Good ethics? Depends.

Your former son-in-law, I assume, received certain assets in his divorce from your daughter in exchange for others. Perhaps she received a lump sum, alimony, or a property. I don’t know the details, but they signed a divorce agreement to divide their assets in a fair and equitable manner.

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I understand why this might stick in your craw, and you feel that the return of that money would be the right and proper course of action. I don’t, in theory, agree or disagree with that. Do have any residual feelings about this man’s character, and/or how he behaved during their marriage?

If so, this could be easier to solve than the $20,000 question. Perhaps you saw him as a son and feel personally betrayed. If you examine your feelings about your former son-in-law, and put them to rest, you may be able to vanquish your unhappiness over the money that you gave your daughter.

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com. Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

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