Q. The pandemic affected my income and although I can still afford my child support, it makes me furious that my ex is using it for her rent and a car instead of things for the kids. I give my children’s mother thousands of dollars a month and I pick up my oldest son in holey jeans and a faded sweatshirt. How do I get her to do what’s right? What’s good ex etiquette?
A. Oh my, so many RED flags. Bright red. Really red. Here’s why:
1. “How do I get …” translates to, “How do I make my ex do what I want?” You can’t. You can only control yourself and how you act. Start there. Set a kind positive example, and that’s what you will get in return. “Ask and listen” is a better philosophy than “How do I get?”
2. You can’t judge a book by its cover. If your kids are at all fashion conscious, they will tell you holey jeans and faded sweatshirts may be quite a bit more expensive than dark jeans without holes and a brightly colored sweatshirt. Depends on the label. And have you priced out tennis shoes lately?
3. Rent IS for the kids. It may be the difference between everyone crowded into a studio apartment or a three-bedroom home. Cars are also for the kids. They are used to get to work so they can contribute, get the kids to school and take them to extracurricular activities. If she’s living higher than her means, that’s a decision she will have to make, but on face value, the things you are upset about are not taking advantage. They are life.
I have to say, however, your concern is not unusual. I often hear this complaint from angry parents, particularly if they don’t talk and get most of their information about each other from their children. Kids don’t know the financial specifics and could be passing on incorrect information. If you have a question, ask mom. But be careful how you approach it. It’s really not your business to track how she spends the money you are court-ordered to give her.
The amount of child support to be paid is based on a computer program. In California the program is called DissoMaster (Disso for short). It may be called something else in other states. You feed the program your joint income and the amount of time the children spend with each of you, and it calculates a number. So unless you are a zillionaire, how much you are required to pay for child support is not determined by negotiation, but by a computer program.
Finally, I will bet when you transfer the money to your co-parent, you envision them spending the money on lavish things. In your mind, you see them in a new car or a bigger house, and that gets your blood boiling. Instead of that, envision your child smiling, possibly playing the sport they like to play. Envision them happy and enjoying life and see if you still resent paying child support. It’s for your children. That’s good ex etiquette.
dr Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.