Are you outraged about the money you pay your ex for child support? Do you spend a lot of time wondering what she does with your money that doesn’t involve support of your children? Do your thoughts about your money and your ex consume a great deal of your time and energy?
Fighting over money can wreck relationships and is one of the most significant sources of post-divorce conflict too. If you find yourself caught in this trap, you can benefit from understanding painful triggers and how to decide when to fight over the money you pay your ex.
I have four tips for managing money issues successfully with your ex post-divorce. If you can set aside all of the preconceptions you bring to the table about your ex-wife and your money, and how it impacts the children, you can do this.
That’s asking a lot, but your children’s happiness is worth it. You may need to re-frame the way you have been thinking of the ex since the divorce, but you can make the shift with some hard work and determination.
The first thing you can do is to recognize that money you pay your ex through child support is intended to equalize, to a limited degree, the homes in which the child lives. This means their mother may benefit from the child support too. This concept probably wasn’t introduced to you during your divorce negotiations, but makes it clear that it’s okay for an ex-wife to have some benefit from the child support payments. The idea is that when children have less disparity between the two households where they reside, it is good for them.
Also, your views about money should be considered. Have you always been a “cup half full” person? Do you worry that there isn’t enough to go around? Or do you always expect to have enough money but sometimes come up short?
Whatever the case, take notice of what you bring to the table regarding money, perhaps based on your childhood, and acknowledge it. Although you may want to think otherwise, your ex isn’t responsible for all of your money issues. You play a role in how you manage money, and how you think about money, and it’s up to you to take responsibility for this. If you can do that, and use the four tools below, you are well on the way to creating a system for keeping money in its place in your life and with the ex!
1. Recognize It’s Good for Your Children If Your Ex Isn’t Struggling Financially.
Simply put, child support is intended to equalize income, to some limited extent, between homes. Whatever your “beef” with your ex, don’t make this one of them. You cannot control how she spends the money so let that go. Assume she, like you, is doing the best she can to take care of your children too. If you’ve spent a long time believing otherwise, this isn’t an easy task. But, it’s an important one.
When you begin to let go of the need to “punish” your ex for perceived misdeeds of the marriage, or your divorce, it will help you to allow the space for her to move forward successfully too. The expression, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” applies here as your children are surely well served by having two financially secure parents.
2. Stop Talking About Money All the Time
Start by paying what you owe on time and not commenting negatively, for one month, on any money issues. If there is a real problem, you will deal with that, as needed. But, not right now. You should create a budget for yourself, including the money paid to your ex, and make a plan to live within it. If you consider the money paid to your ex simply part of your monthly operating expenses, rather than an unnecessary burden, it may be simpler to stop thinking about it all of the time. Take the steps necessary to limit focusing on it. That will help you and your children.
Also, free yourself from the repetitive mantra of, “She’s a witch and is spending all of my money.” Instead, if it’s impossible to see her as a partner in co-parenting right now, acknowledge, if nothing else, she has the kids when you don’t. It’s good for them to be happy and secure when they are not with you. Your money helps them. Period.
3. Don’t Talk to Your Kids About The Money You Pay Your Ex
There are no exceptions to this rule. Just don’t. They won’t think better of you if you tell them the money is all yours or that you are the only one who provides for them. They love their mom too, and they should, and this only makes them uncomfortable and insecure. You must choose to prioritize your children’s emotional health over your own need to feel as though you have somehow been victorious over your ex. There are no winners when children are put between their divorced parents. Their esteem is tied to what you say about their mother too.
4. Keep Your Disagreements Civil and Simple
You are well served to have a system in place to address disagreements that arise outside of court. Perhaps you can develop a quarterly reconciliation of expenses outside of support, preferably by email, that works for you. Limit your comments to the expense itself and do not infer intent in your communication with your ex. It doesn’t solve the problem and is likely to only heighten the conflict.
Think carefully before escalating the dispute to the legal arena. It is much preferred, for the benefit of your children, to consider mediating expense conflicts outside of court. As a last resort, take your disagreement to court. Of course, if your income changes and modification of an order is necessary, you may need to use the legal process. Just remember to keep it matter-of-fact and don’t make it personal to your ex. She has her own money pressures and adding your negative energy will only hurt your children.
You are Your Kid’s Example
You can decide when to fight over money you pay your ex. Knowing when to let it go is likely the most important thing you can do for your own well-being and to take care of your kids. Recognize when you are triggered by money and your ex and always take a pause. Use the four tools above to limit your unnecessary interaction with your kids and their mother over money and make a plan to address when there is a dispute. You have a choice and can only control how you behave. Make sure you do to benefit you and your children, now and into their adulthood. Teaching them how to manage money, even when it’s difficult will help them now and long into their future. It’s really up to you!
(c) Can Stock Photo / AndreyPopov
Kids cost money, an undeniable fact. While it is impossible to know from the start just how much those little bundles of joy will cost you, experts predict a total cost of almost $250,000 on average. In the most recent estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the annual amount of spending on children ranged from $9,330 to $23,380. Costs varied, of course, depending on household income, the age of the child, and family composition.
The USDA’s Expenditures on Children by Families annual report aids family court systems and government agencies in determining child support expenses. It provides estimates for significant budget items in the cost of raising children from birth through age 17. The budgetary components include food, housing, transportation, healthcare, clothing, childcare, and education. The report also provides estimates for miscellaneous goods and services. Included are things such as non-school reading materials, haircuts, entertainment, and personal care items.
Child support and overall spending on children for that matter is an extremely sensitive topic in divorce and parent custodial matters. To begin understanding what is right or fair for child support we should start by looking at what costs typically arise when providing for a child. Listed below are some very common expenses.
Necessities Such as Food, Clothing, Shelter
- groceries, snacks, beverages, and other food items
- boots, shoes, jackets, and appropriate clothing
- housing shelter costs, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, telephone, and water
Medical Care Insurance
- medical, dental, and vision insurance
Uninsured Medical Expenses
- out-of-pocket medical costs that exceed the cost of a basic health care insurance plan
- including co-pays, deductibles
- accident or emergency services costs
- dental braces
- special health care costs
- school clothes/uniforms
- school photos
- tuition fees
- lunch money
- private tutors, if necessary
- daycare services
- childcare during summer months, spring break, and some holidays
- basic transportation and travel cost
- gas fees
- car payments
- bus fare or other forms of transportation
- child’s travel to visit the noncustodial parent
- access to computers
- television programs
- movie theatre
- amusement parks
- camping trips and other outings
- after-school programs/classes
- summer camp
- sports activities
- clubs – ex. Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts
- music, dance, or other private lessons
While this list is not exhaustive, it gives a good indication of what costs might come up over the course of your child’s life. When considering what is enough spending on children, it is important to know basic child support payments may not (and probably won’t) provide your child with more than their minimal needs. If you want them to enjoy an enriched life too, you may end up spending a bit more.
What Am I Paying For?
State laws, which vary from state to state, regulate what expenses are included in direct child support calculations. All 50 states create and utilize child support guidelines to determine amounts one parent may be required to pay to the other for child-related expenses. A variety of factors are taken into consideration to decide what is ultimately the amount of support needed to maintain a child’s standard of living as close to what it was in a two-parent home. Income and the ability to pay support are primary factors in these calculations.
Be sure and check the child support guidelines in your state, as the laws vary greatly.
Once the court factors the essential financial and support needs of a child, a child support order is issued to reflect the determined amount one parent must pay. Should there be a change in the child’s needs, or if a significant difference develops in one parent’s circumstances,, a request for change may be filed.
While childcare, uninsured medical expenses and extracurricular activities are typical expenses in raising a child, they are not always routinely calculated in child support amounts ordered by the courts. These costs may be included in the divorce settlement agreement, however, upon request.
To avoid questions and potential disagreements with your ex-wife in the future, lay out as many of these additional child-rearing expenses as possible in your divorce agreement. If you did not outline these other costs, daycare or uninsured dental care as an example, in your initial child support agreement, you might wish to do so now.
Don’t underestimate the value an experienced divorce lawyer can provide to help ensure the best outcome for both you and your child.
While courts may not command the parent paying child support to provide additional monies to cover dance recitals and traveling sports, when it’s important to your kid, you might want to go ahead and budget a little extra for upcoming events.
As you evaluate the needs for your lifestyle as a single man and work to determine a budget for your post-divorce life, be realistic about what child support covers and what it does not. There may be times you are asked to pay for things that are not basic needs but will enhance your child’s life. Responding to these money inquiries may require setting aside personal feelings of your ex. This is why detailing what supporting your child after a divorce entails, as precisely as possible, in your initial divorce discussions should help you navigate when these times come.
My Ex Won’t Account for the Money
Courts do not require the parents who receive child support to prove the child support payments go toward specific expenses or activities. It is assumed by the courts that custodial parents of children are spending on children as required to adequately raise the child. Thus, they will not monitor the expenses and spending habits of a custodial parent unless there is compelling evidence to indicate misuse of support payments.
Continually being asked to send additional money or receiving numerous requests to purchase essential items like underwear, socks, and toothpaste may indicate your ex-spouse is not using the support funds correctly.
Before getting too pissed off, see if a change in circumstances is causing these requests. Maybe her car broke down, and she needs extra money for repairs. You can give her some slack, or help her out a little bit, or you can laugh in her face and tell her to ride the damn bus. But don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You never know when circumstances may be reversed, and you may be the one in a financial pinch.
However, if you are convinced your ex-wife is not utilizing the support payments to provide for your kids, start taking notes. Record the requests she makes for extras, as well as any spending you are doing during your parenting time if you end up purchasing necessities for your child. Keep receipts of what you buy and request reimbursement for amounts you think are reasonable.
If your reimbursement requests go ignored, or the pleas for more money from you do not stop, consider consulting an attorney.
Spending on Children, the Bottom Line
It is highly unlikely the amount set for child support by the courts will cover all the needs of your children all through their childhood years to age 18. The more you can prepare yourself (and any future spouse) for covering some additional expenses the better off your child, and all parental parties will be.
Discuss with your child’s mother early on how you will split extra costs for your kids to avoid potentially ugly discussions down the line. It is better to deal with the issues now than to disappoint your child later because you disagree with their mom on who will pay for piano lessons or hockey skates.
Spending on children is something every parent must do, whether married or divorced. While child support payment and money for extras is for the care and benefit of your child, you aren’t a bad dad if you draw the line at excessive spending.
(c) Can Stock Photo / nastia1983
Fathers Rights advocates understand that a man who is incarcerated does not bear the weight of his punishment alone. His family—especially those most dependent and vulnerable, his children—also suffer. Kids of imprisoned fathers face well documented adverse effects. Having a dad in jail or prison puts his kids at higher risk to experience poverty, suffer from addiction, or end up behind bars themselves. These children often live with trauma, shame, social stigmatization, guilt, and financial hardship. As if the picture is not bleak enough, incarceration leads to generational institutionalization. Growing up fatherless is the number one predictor of criminal behavior in a child’s future. In fact, most dads in prison are fatherless. It’s a tragic cycle.
This is not just a family problem. With 1.5 million kids in this country separated from their fathers as a result of state or federal incarceration, it is a societal issue. Add inmates imprisoned in jails, and the number jumps to 1 out of 28 U.S. children. And the problem is growing. The number of children with a father in prison has skyrocketed by 79% since 1991. To help these children, we all have a stake in helping these fathers. In fact, dads who have a relationship with their kids are less likely to re-offend. That’s a huge benefit to these children, who are our country’s future, and to society as a whole, since two-thirds of prisoners end up committing crimes which land them back in prison within three years of their release.
Barriers to Parenthood in Prison
As an incarcerated father, you face unique parenting challenges. It can be difficult to see your children if you are imprisoned. There may be no one willing to bring your children to visit you. If you lack the means to pay support, it can affect your kids and your custody rights once you get out, and simple communication via phone and mail can be unaffordable while inside. Private phone companies are making a killing exploiting those who have the least money to pay, holding their relationships with their loved-ones hostage for up to $24.95 for a fifteen minute, in-state phone conversation.
Free, in-person visits are the newest area targeted by private companies for profit. There is a trend to replace in-person connection with video visitation technology that charges up to $1.50 a minute for low quality, offsite video conferencing.
Distance presents another hurdle for fathers behind bars. Proximity to family members is not always taken into account in determining where a prisoner will be sent to serve his time. Fathers rights take a back seat to considerations of overcrowding and other issues. As the distance loved ones must traverse to visit incarcerated family members increases, the likelihood of getting a visit, and the number of visits, decreases.
What are Fathers Rights in Prison?
From the inside, it can be difficult to find information on fathers’ rights or to access legal resources. The feeling of powerlessness and the struggle to stay in touch add to the strain of prison life for dads that are serving time. It may not be easy, but it is vital to stay in touch with your children, for their benefit as well as for yours. Children who have a relationship with their father have a better shot at a brighter future, and inmates who maintain healthy relationships with their loved ones are less likely to return to prison.
Tips for Protecting Fathers Rights While Incarcerated
1. Maintain Visitation
If your children are unable to visit because of financial hardship, distance, or other reasons, then keep in touch by phone. Lack of interest can be used as grounds to terminate a fathers’ rights and clear the path for adoption by your ex’s new husband, by your child’s caregivers, or the foster parents.
The onus is on you, as a father, to research and know the laws of your state. Seek legal counsel if necessary. Time is one resource that is abundant in prison; invest it wisely into nurturing meaningful contact with your kids and educating yourself on how your state’s laws function.
2. Document your Progress
Make a record of the positive steps you have taken while in prison to be a good father and to prepare yourself for success once you get out. Upon your release, you will have to prove to the judge that you can safely care for your kids. These records will show your efforts to visit and contact your children, as well as classes and certifications you have earned from rehabilitation programs. Be detailed; write down the time and date of everything you do for your child. A documented list of your interactions with your kids and others involved in their care will go a long way in convincing a judge you are serious about being a good parent.
How to make a record:
- Use a notebook or piece of paper to keep track of all visits and calls with your child and anyone connected to your case. Be sure to write down the date and time. Add any additional notes you feel were important to remember about the call or meeting.
- Include calls and visits from your child, your child’s caregiver, your lawyer and the social worker.
- Write down dates of letters or pictures you send your child and keep a copy.
- Attend programs and meetings offered by your institution. Keep a record of these and any copies of certificates of completion. Some detention facilities offer classes on parenting, be sure to attend these if offered. Do not only take classes or participate in programs that are mandatory; take the initiative by taking advantage of resources that are voluntary.
- Ask the teachers and counselors of any programs you complete if they can write a letter about your performance.
Tips to stay actively involved in your child’s life:
- Ask about their education. Ask to see report cards, inquire about their favorite classes and any challenges they may be having.
- Be supportive and understanding of their daily achievements and struggles.
- Stay focused on your kids and their needs. Try not to add to their burden by placing your problems or issues on them. Keep visits positive, so your children leave with a good feeling.
- Be patient and let the relationship grow slowly and steadily. Trying to force things will likely have the opposite effect of making your child more closed off and resistant. Nurturing a relationship takes time.
3. Stay on Top of Child Support
Father’s rights, when incarcerated with a Child Support Order, vary by state, but whichever jurisdiction your judgment falls under, you must be informed to avoid the risk of leaving prison with a mountain of debt. On average, an incarcerated parent with a Child Support Order can potentially leave prison with nearly $20,000 in child support debt, having entered detention with around half that amount owed.
Laws regarding Child Support and incarceration:
Whether incarcerated or not, a material and substantial change in circumstances is required to modify child support orders in most states. Two situations that may be treated as a material and substantial change in circumstances are incarceration and unemployment. State policies regarding modification of child support during incarceration vary and depend on a number of factors.
A significant reduction in income due to a job loss or job change is generally considered a material and substantial change for modifying child support if the job loss or reduction in earnings was involuntary (usually meaning you were fired or laid off). If a parent tries to avoid child support payments by voluntarily losing their job (such as quitting work or refusing to work), it is not considered a material and substantial change of circumstances and would not qualify for modifying child support.
Currently, there is a federal rule in place that makes it illegal for state child support programs to treat incarceration as voluntary unemployment, which means you can request a modification of your child support to take into account that you are no longer able to work in the same capacity you did on the outside.
Be aware: most states require you to be proactive in making that request. You must familiarize yourself with the process to file a modification and to do so within the mandated time limit. In a couple of states, the responsibility is not on the incarcerated father to file, but these are the rare exceptions. Recent California law requires the Child Support Order to be automatically suspended in the cases of incarceration or involuntarily institutionalized. Vermont and Wisconsin allow the child support agency to file a motion to modify the Child Support Orders on behalf of those fathers that are incarcerated. The key is to seek legal counsel or do your research, so you are informed. The burden of filing falls on the father.
The consequences of falling behind on child support are not merely added debt. Non-payment can be used against you in custody judgments and can result in revocation of privileges once you are released, such as an industry licenses, business licenses or your driver’s license.
To find out the laws that apply to your case, check the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement State-by-State-How to Change a Child Support Order page and the Modification Laws and Policies for Incarcerated Noncustodial Parents facts sheet.
4. Access Free Resources
Here are a few online resources for information, support and more.
The Prison Fellowship offers resources that tackle everything from how to avoid “visiting room sabotage” to offering interactive activities for visiting day.
The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated is “the oldest and largest organization in the U.S. focused on children and families of the incarcerated and programs that serve them.”
For fathers of young children, Sesame Street offers a wonderful Incarceration Toolkit that uses the characters in the show to introduce the idea of a father’s incarceration to young kids in an entertaining way that they can understand.
When fathers rights are used to promote a healthy, ongoing relationship with their children, we all profit as a society. Benefits include a reduction in recidivism for incarcerated dads, a more promising future for their children, a decrease in taxpayer-funded detention facilities, and healthier communities for us all. All that is needed to break the cycle of the damaging effects of fatherlessness is for fathers to assert their legal rights to pursue positive father-child involvement.
(c) Can Stock Photo / fuzzbones
Why A lot of dads don’t understand the importance of paying child support consistently. More often than not, in fact, it’s hard to do so without harboring resentment towards the other parent.
Court Ordered Child Support Is Frustrating
It can be a frustrating experience to be court ordered to fork over 18 percent of your annual pay to an ex. It’s harder still to do so without wondering if your hard earned money is actually being spent to better the life of your child.
Nevertheless, the overall well being of your child rests upon your willingness to contribute monetarily to their upbringing. Even if you view your ex as the enemy, try to remember that the money you pay towards child support is, in fact, given to provide for the child.
I may be a woman, but I’ve been fortunate enough to view this topic from both sides of the fence.
Is The Ex Blowing Your Money on Herself?
I have plenty of male friends who have voiced their concerns on this topic. My dear friend Jesse, for example, was ordered to pay nearly $700 per month after a less than harmonious split from his wife of nearly 15 years. “How do I know she’s not using my money to buy new boobs?” he once asked me. “I have no proof she’s using my money to better the life of my kid, and I have no way of holding her accountable.”
That’s a real and legitimate concern. I understand his frustration. “Let me put your mind at ease,” I told him. “The majority of moms aren’t using child support money to support their lifestyles.” I mean, let’s be honest here: the typical y monthly support payment, even saved over a number of years, isn’t going to fund a lavish yacht or car.
Raising Kids is Expensive
Raising a kid is expensive. When you add up all of the basics, a parent is fundamentally required to provide for a child–food, shelter, warm clothing–the typical child support payment barely makes a dent. Add in piano lessons, ballet, math tutoring, the occasional trip to a movie theater or a birthday party for eight kids, and you can see how assuming that your ex is using your money for anything other than meeting your child’s needs can get a little ridiculous. I’m not saying that abuse never occurs. I’m just saying that it’s rare. I speak from experience.
I’m the mother of a beautiful eight-year-old girl. Her father and I divorced when she was only 16 months old. He was ordered to pay $450 per month. Until recently, he rarely, if ever, paid anything. How did he avoid being fined or jailed? Simple. He took jobs that paid him under the table and he moved around a lot, from state to state.
As a young single mother, that money would have gone really far for me and my daughter. She missed out on things that would have made her life more enjoyable because I couldn’t afford the extras. I was keeping a roof over our heads. Tumbling lessons were out of the questions. That trip to the theater wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, things haven’t been so tight over the past several years. But I’ve watched my daughter suffer because her father, the man who helped bring her into existence, was being selfish and saw paying his child support as a choice and not a priority.
Don’t do that to your kids. They really are the ones who suffer.
You Could End Up In Jail
But if you need additional motivation, one of the primary reasons that you should never stop paying your child support is really for your own well-being. Negligent fathers are thrown in jail for failure to meet their obligation every single day. That’s a very real thing. Your ex could drag you back to family court where you will be forced to stand before a judge and explain your unwillingness to contribute to the monetary rearing of your child. You may get one or two chances to prove that you can pay regularly and on time, but beyond that, expect to serve some time.
If the reason for not making your support payments is a financial inability to meet your obligation, communicate that to both your ex and your court designated case worker.
If you live so far from your kids that you’re unable to interact with them on a regular basis, you should still pay your monthly obligation. If you can’t be there for them physically or emotionally, be there for them monetarily.
Do It For Your Child
There are a million scenarios that can play out between parents and in your own life that might make meeting this obligation a struggle, but remember, court ordered child support payments are enforceable by many unpleasant means. But it shouldn’t take the threat of being jailed to motivate you. Love for your child should do that.
You’re divorced, child custody was settled, and there is a working parenting plan in place. Life goes on, then changing circumstances affect you and your kids. The good news is that you can modify a parenting plan without going back to court.
Mom Was Moving Out of State
I had the opportunity to help an already divorced couple re-negotiate their parenting plan without having to go back to court and shell out thousands of dollars for litigation. Here’s how it went down: The couple, “Ruth” and “Justin” had been divorced for 11 years, sharing custody of their now 13-year-old daughter, “Lexi”. Their co-parenting of Lexi had its issues; however, Ruth and Justin had been able to compromise most of the time.
But Ruth recently remarried, and received a job promotion which necessitated relocation across the country. Both Ruth and her daughter were excited to move to Atlanta. It was happening just as Lexi was about to start high school and, although she was sad about leaving her friends, she had a good attitude about her new adventure. So, most of the big decisions had been made: new house, moving date, school enrollment. The final remaining stumbling block was obtaining Justin’s permission to move his daughter out of state.
Dad Didn’t Want to Lose Visitation
Understandably, Justin was not immediately on board to consent to his daughter moving 2,500 miles away from him. His divorce decree and parenting plan prohibited Ruth from taking their minor daughter away from the state for more than seven consecutive days, and Justin was quite adamant about sticking to the plan. He was also very clear that he was unwilling to lose any of his visitation days with Lexi.
Start by Nailing Down the Issues
When they came to my office for their first mediation session, we quickly identified that there were three issues that needed to be resolved: permission to move the minor child out of state; modifying the visitation schedule to accommodate the relocation; and who was going to pay for the travel expenses. Permission to move the minor child required very little discussion. Although Justin didn’t want his daughter to move across the country, he understood that she would benefit by being in a better school district and, as it turned out, being closer to other members of her extended family. Permission granted, and onto the next issue: scheduling.
Baby Steps in Mediation
Everyone took out calendars, and we started talking about school schedules, holidays, vacations, and the complications of air travel. It was evident to me, as the Mediator, that the parents were becoming overwhelmed. So, I suggested that we only discuss the upcoming school year. By limiting the scheduling to nine months rather than five years, both Justin and Ruth visibly relaxed. After that, it was like trading players on a fantasy football team. “I’ll take the first week of the winter break and you can have her the second week.” Or, “I’d prefer that Lexi spend her birthday with me, so she can be with her grandparents.” You get the picture.
By taking a baby step in mediation, Justin and Ruth were able to focus on establishing a temporary plan, leaving room for flexibility, instead of being forced to follow a Court Order. Mediation allowed these two parents to focus on the needs of their daughter instead of on their own interests.
Once these two hurdles were overcome, the final issue of who pays for airfare turned out to be relatively easy. Justin started the negotiation process by offering to pay zero dollars for Lexi’s airfare. I let them argue for a moment, and then asked Ruth how much she was willing to pay. Ruth said 50%. Justin countered back at 1/3, and it was as though the bell signaling the end of the round in a heavyweight fight had been heard. Ruth agreed to pay 2/3 and they went back to their neutral corners. The bout had ended, not by knock-out, but by unanimous decision.
A Winning Way to Modify a Parenting Plan
Three issues, three resolutions, two hours total. I wrote up a document to modify their parenting plan incorporating their decisions; they signed it in front of my Notary, and everyone left feeling like they won.
Mediation Empowers the Parents
You can only imagine how long this might have taken through litigation, not to mention the expense. And most significant, imagine the risk involved in allowing a Judge to determine what’s best for the family. A Judge who, although well-intended, has no real knowledge of the family’s dynamic. By opting to modify a parenting plan through the process of mediation, Justin and Ruth were empowered to craft their own resolution and, in this particular instance, by making a temporary agreement to be revisited later, if necessary.
Naturally, not every divorced couple is a candidate for mediation. They must come into the process carrying a spirit of cooperation in their pockets.
Mediation After a Bitter Divorce
In another example, “Ben” and “Sara” went through a bitter divorce when their two kids were toddlers. They each ran up tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees because Ben wanted the divorce and Sara intended to “make him pay.” And he sure did!
Not only did Ben get his shirt handed to him in Court, but he had minimal visitation with his children and paid the maximum in child support. They came to me literally 10 years later because circumstances had changed considerably over the decade since their divorce. The two kids were now teenagers, and were proving to be more than Sara was willing or able to handle. Not only did Ben want more time with his kids, the kids wanted to live with their dad permanently.
Modify a Parenting Plan to Change Primary Custody
Through the process of mediation, it came out that neither of the teenagers liked Sara’s live-in boyfriend. And the boyfriend was, evidently, jealous of the attention Sara gave to her own children. The living situation in Sara’s home was full of conflict, and neither of the kids was happy. Enough time had passed for Sara to get over her bitterness towards Ben, and both parents were ready to make some changes. So, they hammered out a new parenting plan, modifying everything including primary physical custody, and child support. Again, I prepared a written document for them to sign which set forth all of the modifications.
Mediation Reduced Court Appearances and Costs
In Ben and Sara’s instance, a brief amount of attorney involvement was necessary. Once they signed the agreement I prepared after mediation, Ben’s attorney drafted the necessary paperwork to submit to the Court showing that the parties changed the prior Court Order through the process of mediation. The fact that a Mediator prepared an agreement reflecting the desires of the parties, and that agreement bore the parties’ signatures, all but guaranteed that the Judge would approve the modification. In less than a month, Ben and Sara received the Court’s blessing by way of an Order modifying their divorce decree to afford Ben primary physical custody of their teenagers, and considerably reducing the child support payments.
How Mediation Can Work For You
There are many more examples of how mediation can be an effective way of modifying prior Court Orders without the need for expensive and time-consuming litigation. The one common thread in every such situation is the spirit of compromise. If you aren’t willing to be flexible, mediation is not for you. But, if enough time has passed, if you’re willing to put the greater good ahead of your need to be right, if you value your future more than you need to validate your past, I highly urge you to consider mediation.
How to suggest mediation to your ex? Easy. Just tell her that you’ve been looking into mediation as an alternative method to litigation, and that mediation is confidential, expedient, and costs a fraction of what attorneys charge.
Finding a Capable Mediator
There are many places to look for a capable Mediator. When doing so, it’s important to keep in mind that not all Mediators are attorneys, and not all attorneys are Mediators. I’d suggest that you and your ex interview at least two candidates, check for reviews on Yelp (yes, Yelp), sniff around LinkedIn, and go to subscription services such as Mediate.com. Most Mediators will offer an initial consultation at no charge. Then, trust your instincts. You won’t be disappointed.
Nancy Gabriel is the principal and managing partner of Mediation Around The Table, LLC., a Las Vegas-based private mediation company. Ms. Gabriel is a founding director of Nevada Mediation Group, a non-profit corporation focusing on the education and training of mediators, a volunteer for the Neighborhood Justice Center of Clark County, Nevada, a member of the divorce panel for MWI, a Boston, Massachusetts firm specializing in alternative dispute resolutions, and a volunteer at Three Square Food Bank. She is a graduate of UCLA, an avid gourmet cook and NFL fan. She may be contacted through the firm website at www.MediationAroundTheTable.com
August! Time for kids across the nation to share the common dread of school starting. The stores are full of back-to-school supplies, ready to sell to parents who can afford them. Meanwhile, programs are ramping up to help poor children who can’t afford new supplies. Many poor children have a parent who is behind on child support.
It is no coincidence that August is also Child Support Awareness month. It would more accurately be described as Child Support Collection month.
Started in 1995, Child Support Awareness has been adopted by states and municipalities across the nation. There will be fewer children needing help getting school supplies with aggressive child support collection programs, right?
Continuing our series about the myth of deadbeat parents, I’m going to show how this national emphasis on implementing a child support collection system is really just a front to fund the states. The truth is in the numbers, so leave your emotions at the door!
Every State Wants A Piece of This Action
You can’t avoid the emphasis on deadbeat child support collections dominating the news this month, second only to the Olympics. Here are a few of my favorite headlines, filled with biased, emotionally charged wording:
– “Texas Cracks Down on Deadbeat Parents”
– “New Jersey Rounds up 1221 Deadbeat Parents Owing $25.4M”
– “New Mexico Governor Announces Crackdown on Parents Failing to Meet Child Support Obligations”
Even the Feds have a Deadbeat Parent Punishment Act to catch parents who move from state to state to avoid paying up.
News outlets revel in hyping the national tragedy of unpaid child support exceeding $100 billion. Very often though, they leave out the details behind these numbers – important details!
First, this is the total running tally of unpaid support since data was kept, meaning decades of debt. The children owed the first $1 million of this figure are likely parents or even grandparents themselves now!
Parents Can’t Pay From Behind Bars
The first article in this series covered how much of TODAY’s unpaid child support is actually accumulated by people in PRISON, who with their almost zero dollars income, are not likely to make those payments.
Even armed with this bit of common sense knowledge, the government is continuing to add up their debt while also piling on interest. Read the detailed article here.
The Numbers Will Blow Your Mind
Following the money, Part 2 of this series reveals how the National Department of Health and Human Services was responsible for the Enforcement Division of the collection effort. But wait! They also reported (through a separate division) who owed the child support based on annual income and the likelihood of collections.
Turns out, those making a livable wage owed only a small fraction of the total debt! The rest of the debt resided with those barely getting by, and this same federal agency labeled that debt as largely un-collectable! The shocking details are all here.
The Beatings Continue Regardless of Results
It’s terrible how so many parents out there are struggling to make ends meet at a poverty-level wages.
Both parents are struggling to provide for their children. Yet, instead of focusing on ways to educate parents to improve their job skills and wage potential, the authorities attack the parent who can’t keep up.
New Mexico, for example, as part of it’s annual crackdown on deadbeat parents, publicly lists the names of parents with delinquent child support.
Are banks allowed to list all those who are late with their payments? A bank would probably be slapped with a huge lawsuit, but I guess the government doesn’t have to follow the same rules.
Where’s The Money – According to Uncle Sam
So where are these agencies focusing their efforts? You can’t nail it down for all states, but the Department of Health and Human Services provides a clue about where recoverable money resides for those in arrears.
HHS reports suggest that once a parent with delinquent child support made over $20,000 per year, their debt was mostly collectable. But, only 17% of the “deadbeats” fall into the collectable category.
The rest – the vast majority- had little or no income.
The data shows that about three-fourths of the debtors have no reported income, or make less than $10,000 per year! This income group is also categorized by this same agency as one whose arrears are virtually “un-collectable.”
But hey, this is where the debt resides, so the agencies choose to focus considerable efforts towards collecting child support debt from those that can’t afford to pay it!
It’s pretty clear how bloated the budgets are for federal and state collection and enforcement agencies. The government collection agencies could pay off the total child support arrears in the country in just a few short years with only their fat annual budgets.
The government collection agencies could pay off the total child support arrears in the country in just a few short years with only their fat annual budgets.
But these agencies are getting results, and their results are widely publicized in the news. As an example, let’s look at New Mexico again.
The Poster Child For Child Support Collection
New Mexico proudly received a national child support enforcement award for the “Most Improved System”.
This year, they are on track to exceed $140 million in back-due child support collection. That’s a pretty impressive number – that leaves out the crushing impact to those who pay into the $140 million.
The New Mexico Division of Child Support Enforcement has an annual budget of $34 million, roughly 25% of the collections. So, for every dollar the tax payers put in, they received four. Sounds good, but there’s more to the story.
The problem with just showing the raw collected amounts is traced to the Bradley Act in 1986 that allowed states to add interest to arrears. So how much of that $140 million is actually money that was due to the parent versus interest that goes to the state? The answer is not advertised, but we have great examples from real folks.
A Payment Scheme Like You Wouldn’t Believe
Recently, a reader shared his story. Let’s call him Joe. His kids are now grown and out of the care of their mother. He made scheduled child support payments until he hit hard times and missed some. Eventually, Joe got back on track and made payments until his kids were grown. Now he’s making his payments for the overdue amount. Joe pays $100 per month.
Sounds good. He’s paying his debt. Right?
The story gets ugly though, when Joe shares the breakdown of his debt payments. About $25 of his payment goes to his ex. The rest? $75 goes to interest on his debt and goes to the state. Yeah, they can charge interest, remember?
Math time! 75% of that collection goes to interest…only 25% to the parent. Apply that to New Mexico’s success story.
Just Suppose …
$140 million in collections…outstanding! 75% back to the state, or $105 million. So $35 million goes to the parent that’s due. Considering that their annual budget, invested by the taxpayers, was, $34 million, the result was only $35 million to the parents and kids that needed the money, the kids that needed school supplies.
That’s pretty close to a 1 for 1 ratio, meaning the taxpayers gave the state $1 and the state gave $1 to the parent in need. After that, the state made over $100 million profit from interest. This is interest collected from people struggling to meet their child support obligations, struggling to make ends meet.
We aren’t talking about making $100 million from creating an industry that provides products and jobs for the community resulting in taxes collected on industrial revenue. This is money “taxed” on the poor.
Essentially, the states are cracking down on struggling parents to fund their programs. The states are publicly vilifying struggling parents, while crushing them with insurmountable interest and debt.
Wouldn’t the agency funds be better spent by educating parents, improving their income, and then taxing their income? The kids would have a better quality of life and the state would be funded to serve the people, not turn them into indentured servants.
There’s Gotta Be A Better Way
We must create a better system. The money invested is clearly wasted. Currently we are treating the symptom of the problem, missed payments, as criminal behavior. The state is spending countless taxpayer dollars to collect back due child support from those that can’t pay, as well as interest to pad the state’s bottom line.
We need a system to treat the cause of the problems. Unpaid child support is caused by low incomes, poor job skills, and skyrocketing child care costs.
Children of divorce will be better served if the funds budgeted for child support enforcement and collections are spent fighting the poverty cycle!
Are you fed up with the broken child support system? What is your child support experience? Share your opinion in the comments below.