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Originally published Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 5:31 AM

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Family battles for money after car accident

Carolyn Hax tells a young driver to keep her promise and pay for car accident damage.

Syndicated columnist

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Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

DEAR CAROLYN: A lot of backstory and angst go along with this story, but I’ll keep it short:

I’m in my 20s, and I got in a car accident in my dad and stepmom’s car. I did not borrow the car for fun; I was visiting them from my home a few hours away and needed to pick up prescriptions.

The car accident happens — totally my fault, although luckily no one was hurt. I find out the car doesn’t have the relevant insurance and no damage is covered.

In the heat of the moment I offer to pay, not realizing how expensive the repairs would be.

Stepmom wants to hold me to this promise. Dad tells me he doesn’t want me to pay anything but won’t tell my stepmom this. My mom and stepdad, who have had issues with my dad and stepmom not paying them things as promised, are adamant that I should not pay, and that it was their fault for not having insurance.

I am torn. I feel I should pay something, but I’m worried that if I do, my stepmom will hound me for more. But I feel guilty.

I guess the answer you’ll probably give is to pay what I can and stop overanalyzing this. Or maybe you won’t, because sometimes your answers are surprising.

— Guilty Feeling

DEAR GUILTY FEELING: Yes, it’s their fault for under-insuring their car, but you also say the accident itself was “totally my fault.”

What also matters here: You promised to pay, your stepmom expects you to pay, your dad disagrees but won’t back you up.

What doesn’t matter one bit: backstory, angst, and what your mom and stepfather think. I get they’ve been stiffed by Camp Dad and want restitution, but don’t succumb to the temptation to let Camp Mom use you to seek their idea of justice. Camp Mom can reimburse you directly if your solvency is their main concern, and can deal with Camp Dad directly if their main concern is to settle this old account. You’re an adult and this isn’t their car, so they’re just bystanders.

Put that all together, and I think you do need to pay for the damage, in installments you can afford, unless and until your dad puts actions behind his words and calls off your stepmom.

If you’re covered by your own or Camp Mom’s auto policy, make sure you check for coverage there.

DEAR CAROLYN: I would like to take my husband’s last name after we marry. I will probably use my maiden name professionally since I’m in academia and have published with that name.

However, friends have given me a lot of grief about it. I’ve been told it is “outdated,” and why doesn’t he take my name, or hyphenate, or whatever.

I want to do this, and it is right for us. How can I explain that to friends who talk about setting women’s lib back decades or giving up my own identity?

— A Rose by Any Other Name

DEAR A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME: You can tell them to blow it out their portholes. Liberation means freedom to decide what to call yourself, versus having society dictate it — and that includes the society of friends who want you to make their political point.

Congratulations and good luck.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living

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