Increasingly, it is moms who pay their exes child support and alimony, and their vitriol about the matter is often far more acute than when payer and payee fall along traditional gender lines.
Vanessa was stunned to learn that after he ex left her for a much younger neighbor, she had to pay him nearly $70,000 in alimony and child support. “During all the years of marriage, I always tried to support his tech business, encouraged him to invest my income in getting it off the ground, even paid his student loan debt. I eventually realized he had a really crappy work ethic, and was taking advantage. The kids were in full-time, very expensive day care, and he didn’t do his share around the house. How is it fair that I supported him all those years and I still have to support him! Doesn’t he have any sense of being a man, and taking care of his family?”
Shortly after the separation, Vanessa was offered a promotion, and is considering turning it down. “While this would be a huge career move for me, one that I’ve been working towards for a long time, it would also mean a lot more travel, which would be hard on all of us. Plus, the more I earn, the more I’d have to pay him, and that just makes me so furious!”
If you are a single mom who pays child support or alimony, it is very important that you never, ever hold yourself back professionally or financially to spite your ex with lower payments. Never illegally hide income (because committing crime is stressful, as is jail time, no matter how flattering orange may be on you!), or stall your career goals in order to be ordered to pay him less.
In the short-term, money may be tight as you support two households, but in the long-term, focusing on the big picture of growing your career and income will pay dividends in every single facet of your life, including your relationship with your ex.
If you are a mom who pays child support or alimony, here is how to manage any resentment:
- Prioritize coming to peace with the situation. Tell yourself: “Within one year I will have accepted that I must pay him, and have adjusted my mindset, budget and career goals to make this work for me.” Then, write down actions steps how you will do this. The more you earn may be mean you pay him more, but also that you will earn more! This will not only mean more money, but also that you will achieve career goals, take on more interesting and high-profile projects, interact with more successful and high-profile colleagues and fulfill your potential, living within your power, and not mired in resentment.
- Stop talking about it. Women paying alimony to men is a controversial and compelling topic, and your friends, family, nosey neighbors and prying colleagues will be enthralled. They will have all kinds of nasty things to say about your ex, and many of them will be very sexist— if not completely satisfying to hear in the face of your own likely anger. While understandably satiating for a time, shut this cycle of complaining and validation down ASAP. Move on.
- Minimize interaction. At a very minimum, automate any payments via automatic bank transfer so that you do not have to physically write and hand him a check, and you do not have to manually sending him the monthly sum. Offer to pay future support in a lump-sum by way of equity in a home, investment accounts, or a single cash payment. One single resent-ridden payment is ultimately less painful and incites less hostility between co-parents than payments made bi-weekly. In her mediated divorce, Sasha, a music executive, and her ex, a sculptor, calculated how much she would owe him in alimony and child support payments for the 10 years, when their three kids are scheduled to graduate college. That sum totaled her approximate equity in the home they shared, which she relinquished en lieu of painful monthly payments. “Sometimes I get really angry about it, especially since my family gave us the down payment for that house,” she says. “Even though I have to start over in my retirement savings and currently live in a small apartment, I am so happy to be out of that marriage.”
- Accept that this is the price you had to pay to get out of a bad relationship. Whether the split was your ideas or his, it matters not in the eyes of the court. What does matter is that it wasn’t working for you as a couple, and now you are free to pursue a life and relationship that does work. Good things often come at a price. In your case, this is a financial price. As one divorce attorney told me: “I often have men come into my office, having saved wads of cash for years in a box in the back of the closet in order to be able to finance a divorce. It’s like saving for a boat or retirement home on the beach.”
- Ask your ex to fund the kids’ college savings plans. Part of Jessica’s agreement with her ex is that she pay him 28 percent of her annual bonus. He agreed this payment goes into their two children’s college 529 savings plan.
- If you truly cannot afford your current lifestyle while making these payments, downgrade your lifestyle. Yes, it may seem unfair, but accept that this is your situation, at least temporarily, and embrace it. Focus on the fact that that a smaller house is easier to clean, has a smaller impact on the environment, and teaches your children about materialism and your values. Replace resort vacations with road trips to spend time with family and friends, and appreciate how these relationships are deepened because of it.
- Remember that alimony and child support were huge, wonderful feminist coups. How would you feel about a situation like yours if the gender roles were reversed? While alimony reform is ripe for reform, our current laws were designed to protect women and children who really had few other financial options. As the system slowly evolves to reflect current opportunities for both genders, there is a middle, gap generation that must pay the price. Just as in any revolution. You are a revolutionary for this cause.
- Focus on how your kids benefit from this payment — and how you benefit by default. Anne, who owns a seven-figure-per-year public relations firm, today successfully co-parents the father of their two-small children, whom her ex had stayed home with fulltime for four years. Before that, he worked in restaurants as a chef, earning barely above minimum wage. Anne happily pays rent on her ex’s two-bedroom apartment, as well as monthly maintenance to him directly. “I see it as an investment in my children’s quality of life, as well as my own,” she says. “If I didn’t pay him, he’d be making $20,000 per year as a line cook, and my kids would be staying in squalor when they’re with him. This way, he continues to be very involved in their lives, which is great for them, and helps me enormously as I run my demanding business.”
- Peel away the layers of the resentment, which are rooted in what happened during the relationship. Jessica recognizes that her ex had little motivation to build his writing career because she never demanded he be financially responsible to the family, including take over child care duties when he was between jobs. Resentment towards others is nearly always rooted in resentment for ourselves, and the role you played in co-creating the situation. If are bitter about paying your ex, explore why and how the situation came to be, and own any part you played in it. Did you enable your ex’s lack of motivation? Did you co-create a situation in which you felt more powerful because you earned the money, or had the higher-profile career? Did you dream of saving your low-earning spouse from a flailing business? These are all common and very normal scenarios. Aim to understand the root of what happened. Forgive yourself. And aim to forgive him, too.
- To be part of the solution for other families, find the advocates for alimony reform in your state, and get involved.
- If you truly believe you are paying too much, weigh carefully the costs of revisiting the issue legally, and do your best to approach this as a practical process, and not an emotional one. Ask yourself: Am I seeking reduced payments because I believe legally that is the right thing to do? Or am I really trying to punish him for being such a dickhead?
If it is a matter of returning to family court to amend child support payments because your ex’s income has increased, or yours has decreased, or one of your kids has aged out of your agreement, make hasty work of the process, and calculate the time, energy, likely conflict with your ex and other negatives before launching a campaign for revisions. Likewise, if you are seeking to reduce alimony, consider the likely large legal fees and related time and stress in your future against the likelihood that payments will be reduced. In other words, apply the time / money / energy equation with a level head.
- Never tie time with your children to payments. In some states, child support payments are calculated based on how much time the kids spend with one or the other payment. That system is rife with issues, including that paying parents often fight for more time with their kids in order to owe less in support, but then fail to see their kids as ordered by the court agreement. The result is not only disappointed kids, the frustrated other parent, and a clogged family court. This system reduces kids to collateral. Do not be part of the problem.
- Hard as it, do not threatened to stop paying your ex. As you co-parent, there will be lots of reasons to fight. You may never completely rid yourself of resentment about paying him, and that is very human. But try your very, very hardest not to threaten not to pay him. There are likely serious legal ramifications if you do not. And there are definitely negative consequences to your relationships. In otherwise: Try your damnedest not to threaten.
- Refocus your rage into fuel for earning more. In most states, child support and alimony payments are capped. When it comes to how much you can earn, the sky is the limit. I have seen so many fabulous cases of people who harnessed financial stress after becoming single moms to gloriously successful professional lives. Make this your story. After all, you likely have little control over how much you have to pay. But you have 100 percent control over how much you can earn.
- Remember: Everything is temporary. You could lose your job or ability to earn, and the financial tables could turn at any time. Kids age out of child support, and exes become far more successful than you’d though he was capable of. Acceptance tempered with hope and kindness are your BFFs.
Rachel for a time received child support from her ex, but when she started earning more, and he lost his job, she was obliged by the courts to pay him support. She choses to pay him more than required, even though the years when he paid were riddled with skipped payments, and snide comments about how he his obligation was too much:
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I pay more than what the state has mandated, and wrote it as such in my modified custody order. I also buy more things on top of that because that is my child, and I want her to have a certain quality of life. I can say without a doubt that going through this modification has set aside a lot of the resentment between my daughter’s dad and me. He understands how expensive it is to raise a child, and that support doesn’t go far. I have no issues about it at all and I am very happy to give more when I can. I think my ex also appreciates what it was like for me when I was struggling financially. Now that we traded places we have a much better and very flexible co-parenting relationship. And my daughter is so much happier because there is less hostility between us.
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What do you think? Are you a mom who pays child support or alimony? How do you come to peace with it? Share in the comments.
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