What to do when a Parent talks about Alimony and Child Support

“I probably shouldn’t tell you what Dad said” she started, while sitting at lunch.

“Said about what?” I asked.alimony

“What he said when I asked him for money to buy Christmas presents” she replied.

My kids lived through the divorce of their parents.

I can only imagine what that was like. My parents didn’t get divorced so the only thing I know about divorce is from my perspective of going through it. I had to deal with it the only way I knew how. By navigating through the chaos, confusion and having my heart broken by a man who one day said he loved me, and the next his head was spinning around like he was possessed. There isn’t a person alive who knows how to deal with something like this. You just have to get through it.

“I’m not sure I want to know. I can only imagine” I said. Of course I wanted to know, but I knew if she told me it would get complicated and I would need to defend myself or just roll my eyes. She must have mentioned it for a reason. It would be easier to pretend this kind of stuff doesn’t happen but it does, and she must want to say it to get it out of her. My Ex often makes one sentence comments to my children making sure I am not directly spoken about but at the same time making it clear he financially supports not only me, but them, trying to manipulate them to turn against me.

“He asked me if you gave me any money to buy presents. I told him you did but I needed to get more gifts and it wasn’t enough” she paused. “Then he told me how much he gives you for child support so he shouldn’t have to give me money to buy gifts” she finished, lowering her eyes.

According to legal website of my Ex husbands law firm, child support in our state is meant to cover:

• Housing – Without going through every sub-expense included in this category, some notable items are the mortgage principal and interest payments, home equity loans, property taxes, insurance, repairs, maintenance, rent, domestic services, and furniture.  There are several other sub-expenses also included, down to incredibly narrow items such as cleaning and toilet tissues, lawn products, clocks, luggage, and light fixtures.  Needless to say, it is an incredibly broad category.

Food – This includes all food and non-alcoholic beverages purchased for home consumption or purchased away from home (i.e., restaurants, school meals, catered affairs, and even vending machines and tips).  Non-food items, including alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, are not included.

Clothing – This includes all children’s clothing, including school uniforms, footwear (but, somehow not including footwear for sports), diapers, repairs or alterations to clothes or footwear, storage, dry cleaning, laundry, and, interestingly, watches and jewelry.

Transportation – The cost of owning or leasing a motor vehicle including, but not limited to, payments towards the principal cost, lease payments, finance charges (interest), gas, motor oil, insurance, maintenance and repairs.  Related items are also included, such as public transit, parking fees, license and registration fees, towing, tolls, and auto service clubs.  Notably, this category does not include, among other things, expenses associated with a motor vehicle purchased or leased for primary use by the child subject to the child support order at issue.

Unreimbursed Health Care Up to and Including $250 Per Child Per Year (medical and dental) – These are generally considered ordinary medical expenses, such as non-prescription drugs, co-pays or health care services, equipment or products.  The cost of adding a child to a health insurance policy is not included.

Entertainment – Fees, memberships and admissions to sports, recreational, or social events, lessons or instructions, movie rentals, televisions, mobile devices, sound equipment, pets, hobbies, toys, playground equipment, photographic equipment, film processing, video games, and recreational, exercise or sports equipment.  Notably, court orders and settlement agreements tend to separate out the cost for children’s activities and enrichment programs, including lessons, classes, and the like, as a separate expense from that included in the Guidelines figure.

Miscellaneous Items – Personal care products and services (e.g., hair, shaving, cosmetics), books and magazines, school supplies, cash contributions, personal insurance, and finance charges (except those for the mortgage and vehicle purchases).

The amount I receive in child support, as most divorced women know, does not begin to cover these costs. Christmas presents are the least of my worries.

While my Ex spends his time traveling between his multiple homes (one is international) in his choice of multiple expensive cars or on his yacht, I live quite comfortably but simply in a 2 bedroom apartment in the city with an 8 year old car.

My educated guess, when telling my daughter about my child support payments, he left out the part about how much money he makes, or that he wouldn’t be paying me alimony and child support if he couldn’t afford it. Making snarky comments about the mother of his children is manipulative. Allowing your children, when you can afford it, equal rights at Mom’s house, is doing the right thing. It’s showing up and modeling respect whether you want to or not. It’s being an adult. Being stingy and selfish tells your children who you really are.

My Ex didn’t tell my children how much he profited when he sold the business that was built during our 25 year marriage and sold shortly after the divorce papers were signed. He didn’t mention his multi-6-figure salary.  He didn’t mention how both of us took the financial risk to build that business, me supporting him for the first few years so he could work to get it started. In hindsight, the sale of the business looks a lot like fraud.

Here’s the deal, telling your children you pay support and alimony isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it has to be done in context, when the children are old enough to hear it, understand it, and want to know.

Making a snarky comment to try and put the other spouse in a bad light is immature, irresponsible and in time will come back to haunt the person being so selfish.

Divorce is complicated. Emotions are complicated. Anger and resentment is built when one party is not honest with the other. Pulling the children into this misguided resentment only does harm to the children. It rarely hurts the other spouse.

I tried really hard to just listen and not reply. But c’mon, a person can only take so much.

First, I let my daughter know, in very fast English as my emotions rose, that her father has no right to tell her the amount of money he pays me unless he tells the whole story. He could have just said no to the money request.

I asked my daughter if she understood what child support pays for.

“No Mom. Why would I know that? I shouldn’t have told you what he said” she whined back at me.

“When your Dad tells you that kind of information, he is telling you because he wants you to think something about me. What do you think that is?”

“I don’t know Mom. I don’t want to talk about this. I shouldn’t have said anything.” She replied again, getting defensive. My emotions were getting the better of me. The more often these abusive comments are made, the faster I am learning to stop talking. It’s taken me a while to learn this lesson and it’s really hard to practice.

Our three children are getting to the ages they can begin to understand the complexities of divorce. As they enter and exit their 20’s they are beginning to see it isn’t as simple as it looked 10 years ago.

I try to handle these complexities by only mentioning certain situations as they arise, when I see the inequities come up. It’s really hard and it’s a fine line to walk. I often fall off the line!

There isn’t very much information available on how to handle these situations because it’s so complicated. Here are a my opinions of a few examples of why to tell and why not to tell your children about finances:

  • Children are intrinsically intelligent. They know which parent shows up to fill their needs and which parent buys their love. Be the parent who fills their needs. Be there when they need you. Hug them and tell them they are loved.  Show up. Follow through. Speak when asked, don’t lecture. But don’t be a doormat. Speak when necessary. This is good advice I often don’t follow myself. When I fall off the smart cart, I forgive myself and try harder the next time.
  • As small children, money is truly only a means to meet their basic needs. In reality, though we adults think differently, toys are irrelevant. Fancy trips aren’t really for the children, they are to show off that the parent buying the stuff has ‘more’. What is more? More time to spend with the children or on the children? Which ‘spending’ pattern matters most? Try to remember back to your childhood and what really mattered to you. Was it the fancy hotel or a walk together in a park? Do what matters.
  • If you choose to tell them at the appropriate time and at the appropriate age or maturity level, make sure you tell them both sides. Don’t mention how much you pay your spouse when you don’t mention your income. Not having all the information makes the information baseless. If you make an exorbitant amount of money and you aren’t paying the fair share it would be advisable for you to keep quiet. If you can’t pay your bills and your spouse is vacationing, you may want to revisit the divorce decree or you may not know the whole story. Credit cards go a long way and can make anyone look rich for a short period of time (years). This is complicated, think before you speak. Don’t say what you don’t know. Assumptions aren’t always fact.
  • What your children need to see modeled in behavior is mutual respect for the other parent. They can’t learn respect when it is not shown. Having said that, respect is earned, not demanded. It took me years to say kind things about my Ex in front of my children so I tried to say nothing. Now, after time and therapy has helped me heal, I can tell them how creative, kind and fun he was when we were first married. I can compliment his ability to persevere and stick with his drive to build a business. I can tell them stories of what he was like as a teenager and the fun we had together. It takes time to heal. During that time, try as hard as you can, not to speak ill of the other parent. We all fail. Failing is what makes us human. When you do fail, forgive yourself and try again.
  • Children are self-centered. When one parent buys them stuff, when young, that stuff will make them temporarily happy. Over time, they will see which parent was supporting which, and that isn’t always about money. Be patient, time does have a way to work things out.
  • If when you talk about your Ex, it brings up emotional feelings in your body, it is best to say nothing.That emotion, whatever it is, will come out in your tone fo voice. If you can’t feel emotion (think addiction) then you will say what you want without fear of consequences. That too will come out in the wash. Be patient.
  • Mediation with the other parent is suggested if both parents are willing to have an open and honest conversation. This gets complicated when the divorce wasn’t amicable or equitable. In my case, I was advised by council and my therapist to stay away from my controlling Ex. There was too much deceit during the divorce that is unresolved. If you can talk to your Ex and find a middle ground, I would highly suggest doing so.
  • Your children will one day be adults and look back at the situation and see it for what it was, not what one parent wanted it to be. Remember that.

When confronted with a complicated situation, before saying anything PAUSE. During this pause, calm your reaction down. Clear your head. Then think of what the consequences might be regarding tone of voice and what you say. Who would your response serve? If it’s you, stay quiet. If it’s in the best interest of your child, calmly start the conversation. Let the conversation be more about listening then speaking. Hear what your child is feeling. Listen to what they are saying, not to what you want to hear.

Love them first. Make the conversation about them, not you. That maturity will eventually stand out.