Help me to deal with the double edged sword of child support enforcement.
July 31, 2011 12:44 AM   Subscribe

I just noticed another question posted re: child support, so while we're on the subject . . . I haven't received child support in more than 5 months and it was sporadic before that. Now my ex has stated emphatically that he won't pay until or unless he gets a job. That may sound reasonable to many, but I believe he's not actively pursuing work because he doesn't have to work - his wife is the primary breadwinner.

I've tried to write this question a few times but I keep editing it to add and subtract information. I may be giving you more info than you need, but it's cathartic to share and may give you the history needed to be helpful.

10 years ago, when I filed for divorce, my husband claimed that child support was part of a conspiracy to encourage women to leave their perfectly good husbands and that he would never pay it. But he had a job, and in our state, child support is automatically deducted from the paycheck.

Seven years ago he remarried. His bride had just graduated from med school and accepted a residency in another state, so he quit his job and moved with her. I know their first few years were tough for them: they had a child within the first year and he was a stay at home parent. Gradually, the time stretched between child support payments and when I emailed him to find out when he would be able to pay, he responded by criticizing my greediness and complained that he had to pay the transportation cost for our daughter to visit him, so it was unfair that he should also have to pay child support.

Six years ago, I filed a motion to modify visitation; our previous plan for every other weekend wasn't practical. I proposed that our daughter visit him for four weeks in the summer plus one week during each of the remaining three school breaks. He countered with eight weeks in the summer. The judge, not surprisingly, split the difference and ordered six weeks in the summer. During the same hearing, my ex file a motion to modify child support payments, arguing the lack of a paycheck and added transportation expenses should reduce or eliminate his responsibility for child support. The judge ruled that he should pay for all transportation expenses and decreased child support by just a small amount.

About a year and a half ago, he proposed that our daughter live with him. He was adamant that we not go to court to change custody and that I should just agree to this proposed arrangement. I thought about it long and hard and discussed it at length with my daughter. She was on the fence for a while - I think she just wanted to be loyal to both of us, but following a visit to her dad's she told me that she wanted to stay with me. At dad's she took a back seat to her much younger siblings and she felt bored, ignored, and even taken advantage of (babysitting). I told my ex that I felt it was in our daughter's best interest for her to stay with me (I didn't share daughter's comments) and that if he wanted to change the arrangement, he would need to do it legally.

His wife is now a physician and on staff with a hospital. They've purchased a beautiful home and last year he took a job outside the home. The job only lasted a few months, and my understanding is that he resigned voluntarily (I don't know the details). He recently emailed me to say that he can't pay child support until he gets another job and that his wife no longer wants to pay my child support because I won't let my daughter live with them. (FWIW, I have a hard time believing she ever said such a thing.)

I wish I could say I don't need the child support, but I'm living paycheck to paycheck and we've had to eliminate all unnecessary expenses. I pay for all medical & dental care and insurance, all school related expenses, I buy nearly all her clothes and, as of last year, I'm paying for braces and glasses.

We're getting close to my question, so please bear with me.

I know there's a process for child support enforcement in my state. I've even filled out the application form, but I can't bring myself to submit it. I don't want him to go to jail - what good would that do? I'm so afraid that he will tell our daughter that I'm selfish, greedy, and demanded that he pay me money he can't afford, which would make her feel somehow responsible for his hardship or like she's not worth it. I'm also worried that she'll begin to believe dad's message, that I only wanted the divorce - and custody of her - for the money. I can't bear the thought of how that would hurt her.

How do I rationalize taking this action, when I know my daughter may be harmed by it?
What can I say to him to make him realize the possible consequence of continued non-payment, without sounding like I'm threatening him.
If you have applied for child support enforcement, what was your experience? Did they start with just a stern letter reminding the non-custodial parent of the legal obligation for support or did they issue an arrest warrant?
posted by Hiding in my sock drawer to Human Relations (44 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not one of those people who always says talk to a lawyer, but you need to talk to a lawyer.

Your ex husband sounds like a first-class asshole, and he needs to pay his obligations. Don't feel guilty for a second over that.
posted by empath at 1:03 AM on July 31, 2011 [33 favorites]

You don't have to warn him that you're legally going to enforce his court-ordered child support. He's in arrears and needs to pay up. He won't go to jail if he follows court orders.
There's probably nothing you can say to him that will make him realize anything. And you don't have to. Let your lawyer handle communication with him.
Good luck! Remember that the law is on your side.
posted by Linnee at 1:17 AM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: He's likely manipulating you. He has a history of badmouthing child support, so it's quite probably his views haven't changed. Having seen my mother in a similar situation growing up, she did submit for enforcement. She eventually got support restarted, including back payments.

It's tough and expensive raising a child, moreso today than when I was a kid. I grew up poor. Holes in my shoes and no phone in the house were some of the details. Look, you need the support and you are entitled to it legally. He's tried to talk you out of pursuing it and even tried wrangling custody away from you out of court (because he likely knew he'd never win in court since you're a competent parent). Dragging his wife into the situation is irrelevant. He is the one who fathered this child and he is responsible, no matter how he tries to weasel out of his obligations.

Pursue it. There are many steps they take before considering imprisonment. And best-case scenario is you're able to make ends meet for your child.

Your kid won't hate you. Submit that application. You have absolutely no reason to feel guilty.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:17 AM on July 31, 2011 [10 favorites]

I would try the ex one more time, saying something like what you said here: you want the best for everybody, but considering your kid's expenses and your own income, you aren't able to hack it.

If he continued with his line about how he won't pay child support until/because/etc., then I'd tell him I was going to file for non-payment and that my hands were tied to do otherwise. I'd give him two weeks to pay. Then, if two weeks passed without a check, I'd file for non-payment.

It's in your daughter's best interest that you and her dad get along amicably. It's also in her best interest to eat, wear clothes, have braces and so forth. If he is making it impossible to have both at once, that's not your fault.
posted by hungrytiger at 1:18 AM on July 31, 2011 [20 favorites]

You can rationalise it by realising that the current situation is hurting your daughter. Living paycheck to paycheck is stressful and it does sound like your budget must be stretched. Would you be able to afford to send your daughter on trips with her friends? Can you afford to keep living this way? It is important that her father pays his part.

Don't listen to your ex- you aren't being greedy. You are looking out for your daughter's best interest and you are being as reasonable as possible about it.

Maybe it is time to review his contributions again, in light of his job situation and your increased expenses for her. You could suggest to him that, as before, if he does want to make changes, you would be open to discussing it in a legal context. Otherwise, you will continue to expect the child support that he is currently legally obliged to pay.

Set yourself a date - if he hasn't started sending the money in, say, 3 months, you submit the form.

As for your daughter thinking that you only want her for the money, you deal with that by continuing to spend quality time with her, making it clear how much you love her and enjoy being with her.
posted by brambory at 1:20 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not the child of divorce, but I grew up with a lot of friends who were.

Your daughter knows. She knows that you guys are struggling. She knows that when she goes to her dad's house they have nicer things. She knows she gets treated like a second class citizen compared to her siblings. She knows that if her dad paid you the child support he owes you that maybe you could relax a little and not be so stressed all the time. She knows that him not paying is his way of saying that she just isn't worth it to him. She knows that if her dad would just give you the money you need that maybe she wouldn't have to act so cheerful about skipping that class trip or act like she doesn't want a cell phone like her friends have.

Whether she knows these things on a conscious level depends on how old she is and how much she'll admit to herself.

You need to see this as fighting for what your daughter needs. She needs to know that you see her value. That you see it's worth the fight to show her dad that he can't think of her as some throw-away kid.

In all my discussions with all my many friends with divorced parents they never faulted the parent trying to get support. They always knew who the deadbeat was and hated how that person made them feel.

Get yourself a lawyer. Prove to your daughter that she's worth the fight.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:21 AM on July 31, 2011 [69 favorites]

Best answer: Do you really think his new wife would see him in jail rather than pay his child support? Submit the form. Your daughter sounds like a smart kid, she's clearly chosen a loving parent living paycheck to paycheck over a wealthier parent who ignores her. Would paying the child support really be a hardship for his family? Unless they're going to have to move out of their nice house and into a smaller home than you have just to cover the child support payments then I don't see how she would even remotely fall for his crap. She's already been hurt by the current arrangement - seeing you (and by extension her) struggle when her siblings have a nicer house, nicer things and 2 parents that love them - that's really gotta hurt. If he really does try to poison her against you, sue him for full custody.
posted by missmagenta at 1:42 AM on July 31, 2011 [13 favorites]

At this point I would no longer even bother with giving him some final warning. He's had his chance, judges have already told him he has to pay, and it sounds like he's already decided he doesn't have to take you OR those judges seriously.

You can't are not responsible for the bad decisions of someone else. You ARE responsible for making sure your daughter has what she needs and deserves. If your ex allows things to go so far that he end up in jail (which surely won't be the first step the courts take), that is HIS fault, not yours.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:50 AM on July 31, 2011 [8 favorites]

Submit the form ASAP. Notify him and if you're feeling generous, give him a few days to respond before you send it.

My brother was ordered to pay child support out of his pizza delivery minimum wage job when he was in school full time. It was half of his take-home. Surely with a reasonable income, even if it isn't earned by her biological parent, they would order payment and also award back payment.

Fight. He doesn't deserve to get away with this, and neither you nor your daughter deserves to live with the consequences of his asshattery. Lawyer up if you can, and submit it sans lawyer if you can't.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:13 AM on July 31, 2011

Best answer: I'm on the other side of the planet to you so the legal context won't be the same, but I've been in your shoes (except instead of a second wife, he has a non-de-facto girlfriend and her son who get taken on holidays and bought expensive gifts that our kids can only dream of).

We had an amicable relationship after we broke up. But after 6 years, I tired of ringing him to ask for money to help buy our kids clothes, pay school expenses, dental expenses, shoes, etc, only to get a token $20 every few months (when he was making $70,000 a year). I then formally requested that the Child Support Agency (an agency of our federal taxation department) collect the hundreds of dollars they estimated he should pay each month.

Our up-til-then civil parenting arrangement crashed and burned. He enlisted a lawyer to fight for custody as I'm an 'unfit mother' for wanting him to contribute to the costs of parenthood - the end result was that his visitation was changed greatly in my favour, he was sternly told to abide by the CSA's ruling of how much child support was to be paid, and he paid a fortune in legal costs.

But, at the end of the day, after all the scrimping and saving, after all the work I've done to put nutritious food on the table, after all the school expenses had to be paid off in tiny instalments as I could afford it, after all the second-hand clothing and financial assistance we've gratefully received from friends and family... my kids know he's a deadbeat dad. I didn't have to tell them, it really hit home last Christmas when his girlfriend received expensive jewellery, her son received a flash electric guitar, they all went on holidays together, and our kids got a small box with cheap clothing and shoes (which were all the wrong sizes) and inappropriate books and DVD's.

I'm quite sure your daughter understands.

Call his bluff. Submit the form. And don't ever feel guilty for wanting your daughter to get what she's legally entitled to.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:32 AM on July 31, 2011 [23 favorites]

Contact a lawyer and submit the form. Do NOT waste any more time or effort giving him any more 'second chances' to fulfill him legal and moral obligations to your daughter: with a history of erratic payments and now several months of total non-payment, he needs nor deserves any additional warning that you're filing the paperwork for enforcement --- he knows precisely what the court order is, he has emphatically stated (in writing! and I hope you've been keeping all his emails) he does not intend to pay his court-ordered child support payments, and he is manipulating YOU into feeling guilty ("greedy"?!? hah!) about HIS lack of concern for your daughter.

Enough is enough. Court enforcement is definately in order, and make all further communications through your lawyer.
posted by easily confused at 4:01 AM on July 31, 2011 [8 favorites]

Best answer: This isn't your money. It's your daughters money. For her sake, file the form.
posted by bq at 4:23 AM on July 31, 2011 [37 favorites]

He's good at manipulating you and does not have your daughter's best interests at heart, so once you've got his BS responses in writing to show to the court, it would be a great idea if you stopped communicating with him directly. Let the courts be your ears and your voice. Family court judges have seen it all, and have no patience for selfish jerks like your ex.
posted by Scram at 4:52 AM on July 31, 2011

They aren't going to get your form and immediately put him in jail. Your daughter has the right to this support, and you're not doing her any favours by not getting it. She has already told you she feels second best to his new family.
posted by jeather at 4:59 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm with bq. It's called child support for a reason. Don't let this man steal any more from your daughter - he's already deprived her of too much, in too many ways.
posted by amy lecteur at 5:09 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

bq and amy have it right. it's not your money--it's your daughters. he's stealing from her, not you. he needs to understand that and he's not going to learn it from you. let the judge teach him.
posted by lester at 5:32 AM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, turn enforcement over to the state. State enforcement departments aren't the most effective, but they have more ability than you to get blood from a stone (garnishing his state and federal tax returns, taking his driver's license, putting liens on assets, etc), plus then you don't have to talk to him about it. My ex is 8 years in arrears, but even though she's judgment-proof (no assets, no income), the state child support enforcement dept does what they can. I look at my ex's current arrears now as my 'retirement account', because enforcement will keep garnishing and pursuing payment until the arrears are gone, well beyond our daughter's 18th birthday. Me, while that missing $230 a month hurts, the stress of having to push her for money is off my shoulders. Of course, talk to a lawyer, and even talk to the enforcement department to find out just what they can and can't do, and then come up with a plan that requires the least amount of arrears-collection on your plate.

As for going to jail: that's a totally, utterly, last-case option when it gets to a point that he's utterly refused the courts to pay the child support -- he feels happily comfortable to refuse you, but when he's standing in front of a judge every six months his tune may change. He may still be angry about it and think it's a conspiracy against him, but he'll be paying it. My ex hasn't gone to jail yet, and it's been years since she's had a job or sent me payments on a regular basis.

As for your daughter: as others have said, she knows the score. Particularly -- if the accusation is that the only reason you did it is for the money, if you've gone this long without the money and you're still doing it, then your ex's logic is flawed. Your daughter sees that. She will also see that he's deliberately avoiding both work and sending payments. She'll see that he's spending a lot of money on himself and his new family and not her. His actions will hurt your daughter, not you. Plus, the more crazy-talk he does to his daughter will only hurt things further. If your daughter seems hurt or aggravated by this process, don't internalize it: maybe get her counseling, but don't consider yourself at fault. You're doing the right thing, and that will help in your favor from all angles.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:41 AM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

My father left the country, became a successful entrepreneur, and decided he didn't feel like paying child support anymore. He also backed out of his court-mandated responsibility to pay for half of my sister's and my college educations, among other things. Mom stopped keeping track, but he owes her tens of thousands of dollars.

For reasons very similar to what you describe, she decided not to pursue the matter in court. I respect that decision, although I remember how hard things were for her.

What I don't respect is my father. The fact that I'm writing this comment from an account that's linked to my real name should tell you how worried I am about his "feelings" at this point.

If you want to give your ex a chance to make things right on his own before you take legal action, ask him this: what's more important to him? Money, or his relationship to his daughter?

Because by pulling this shit, he isn't just punishing you. He's telling his daughter that his new family is more important than her, that his petty selfishness is more important than her, that "sticking it" to her mom is more important than her.

She might not be old enough to really process that right now, or her defense mechanisms may be such that she can't really think about it. But she WILL remember. And she won't be interested in his excuses.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:41 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: tl;dr. LAWYER. Does you state have a friend of the court office? If you don't want a lawyer for some reason or can't afford one, FOC exists to take over this whole mess and kick his ass for you. (Metaphorically and financially speaking.)
posted by motsque at 6:07 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think your daughter knows she was invited to join their posh lifestyle so she could function as a live-in unpaid (under age!!) employee to take care of her younger half-siblings, even if she's never voiced it to you quite that way.

No more chit chatting with the ex. His interests and opinions are not trustworthy on matters of Right or Fair or Legal when it comes to your daughter. Sadly.

File form. Get a lawyer. Get all the back support you can - YOUR DAUGHTER DESERVES TO HAVE THOSE RESOURCES. She really really does.
posted by jbenben at 6:27 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Get a lawyer! They will be far better equipped to navigate what sounds like a multi-state process than anyone on the internet. Seriously, I know this is said a lot, but your issue really needs professional assistance.

The good news is, it sounds like you have an order for support payments from a court, which your ex is in arrears on paying, yes? While multi-state enforcement can be a pain (again, getting a lawyer will greatly help you with this process), child support arrears are basically airtight, thanks to federal law. They can't be disclaimed, they can't be discharged in bankruptcy, and interest is owed on them. Your lawyer will be able to help you enforce the judgment from one state (the state where you got divorced/got the order for payments) in another state (the state where your ex now resides)

With the help of your lawyer, the child enforcement unit of the state in which your ex resides can begin enforcement proceedings. To calm your fears about jailtime, I would talk to your lawyer. He or she will probably tell you that usually, jail is not the first option for enforcement, but one of the last. There's lots of carrots and sticks used to get child support, and I doubt your ex will end up being that stubborn when the enforcement unit comes a'knocking.

You really shouldn't feel guilty in any way about this. No rationalizing necessary. Your husband owes a clear legal duty to support his child. If he can't meet his support obligations, it is HIS burden to go and convince a court that his payments should be reduced. That's not your job. Parents need to support their children. It's a legal duty, it's a moral duty, and it's basic, common sense. The fact that your ex has YOU in a position to feel bad about HIS inability to meet his parental obligations is silly. You don't have to be mean about it, and you don't have to be vengeful- just go get a lawyer, the lawyer will file the necessary paperwork, he will be forced to pay, and you can just wash your hands of this.

Your daughter knows the truth here. I was a child of divorce, and I can tell you for a fact that though both parents may try to spin things to their own advantage, kids are really good at figuring out what the real deal is. Just take the high road, and tell her the truth if she asks you: "I don't have anything against your father, but he is required to support you, just like I am, and I need the state's help to get my fair share." And leave it at that. When children/teenagers are put in a situation where one parent is talking significant shit about the other, and the other parent remains high-minded, they quickly figure out what is going on. Your daughter probably has a better understanding of these nuances than you realize.

I guarantee you this is going to be one of those things that, a decade from now, your daughter, now a young adult, is going to look back on and say to you: "Wow, Mom. That time you went to bat for me? That was awesome."
posted by HabeasCorpus at 6:43 AM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

It sounds like your daughter is old enough to understand what's going on and probably wouldn't be fooled even if your ex said something to her about how selfish and greedy you are. However, it also sounds (to me) like your daughter is old enough for you to tell her a little bit about what's going on. I think you could frame it in terms like: child support is for the child, but because it comes to the parent it can become very emotional and contentious; you and her dad are having a hard time working it out on your own so you need to get the courts involved again.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:46 AM on July 31, 2011

Best answer: He recently emailed me to say that he can't pay child support until he gets another job

He may not have a job but he has plenty of income. He's obligated to support all his kids, and the fact that his income comes from his wife's medical practice affects that not at all.

and that his wife no longer wants to pay my child support because I won't let my daughter live with them.

"I'll pay this child's expenses but only on the condition that she live with me" is not how custody works.

He was adamant that we not go to court to change custody and that I should just agree to this proposed arrangement.

Guys like this love to talk about how lawyers are ruining America. You know why he doesn't like lawyers? Because a lawyer's job is to make people like him do what they would do on their own if they weren't assholes.

File the form.
posted by escabeche at 6:51 AM on July 31, 2011 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Print out all of those emails and put the file in a safe place (out of your daughter's reach/awareness - like a safe deposit box.). FILE THE FORM. Give the state (NOT your ex) a few months to do their thing, which will not include sending him to jail. If no action is forthcoming, either a) go back to your judge or b) get a lawyer (I think you might already have one, given how many hearings you refer to) and have them go back to your judge.

My mom deals with this from the legal side as a prosecutor, and I deal with it from the employer side as a payroll clerk. Your ex is quite clearly in that group of people who are hoping emotional blackmail and manipulation will get them out of their moral and legal obligations. Many, many men - including those who think child support is totally bogus - refrain from this behavior because that's not how decent people behave.

And your daughter is already hurt. Lose the guilt, you can't do anything about it. You can help her get some financial and physical security, and teach her something about the importance of standing up for yourself and your children (who can't do it themselves.)
posted by SMPA at 7:15 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, to end up in jail he's really going to have to go through months and months of enforcement attempts that he refuses to comply with and then mouth off to the judge in person. An acquaintance of mine is in a similar situation with her ex-husband (though he lives high on the hog on inherited family money, not a new spouse's income, but same thing with the second family counting more than the first, child support being a way for women to stick it to their exes, etc.). They got to the point that the judge told him, in open court, that if he had such strong feelings about not paying child support, he needed to keep his penis in his pants and not keep whipping it out to impregnate people, since it's not like the legal requirement to support your children is a SURPRISE to anyone. The judge threatened him with jail for contempt of court if he kept mouthing off and ignoring the court's orders, but he still didn't end up in jail; there are other and better enforcement mechanisms. So don't worry about that. He'll have to be really egregious to end up in jail, and if he does, it'll probably be for being a dick to the judge, not for his treatment of you.

Before jail there will be orders, garnishment, loss of licenses (drivers, hunting, fishing, etc.), and many other penalties, depending on the state and the specific situation.

Incidentally, the judge can also order him not to badmouth you or to talk about his theory that child support is a conspiracy or whatever else, on pain of loss of custody or modification of visitation or other penalties.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Other things you may not have considered:

Your husband has a legal, moral and ethical obligation to support his child. This is why it is called child support. This includes a percentage of her housing, medical, food, care and maintenance costs. His opinion on child support is irrelevant.

When your husband remarried, his new wife was presumably fully aware that he had an ongoing legal and financial obligation to your child. If he is unemployed, that obligation can be met by their joint assets, of which he is clearly enjoying the benefits.

He will not go to jail. You will go to court, he will lose, and she will write you a cheque for the full amount of back payments.

I pay for all medical & dental care and insurance, all school related expenses, I buy nearly all her clothes and, as of last year, I'm paying for braces and glasses.

You are getting royally screwed here. You do see that, yes?

I'm so afraid that he will tell our daughter that I'm selfish, greedy, and demanded that he pay me money he can't afford, which would make her feel somehow responsible for his hardship or like she's not worth it.

First of all, if your ex shares details of this dispute with your child, he's a raging asshole. She is his child, not his therapist, and one parent should never ever bad mouth the other. My dad bailed on child support for months at a time; while I knew things were rough at home, I never, ever knew why until I put two and two together as an adult.

If you and your ex can't agree that there's no reason to discuss this with your daughter, you will need to take prophylactic measures and let her know that you and her dad are going to go back to court to work on some details because you can't agree how to take care of her right now, and everyone wants to make sure they do what's fair. If he gives her a ration of shit about how you're doing this to him, blame the judge:

"Part of having kids is taking care of them no matter what. The judge wants dad to take care of you the same way dad and Judy take care of little Timmy."

The only thing I would say is that if it is at all possible, you should avoid filing while she is in his custody for the six weeks. That's a long time to have to have to hear about how mom is a huge bitch.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:53 AM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

See also: this thread. In addition to many people chiming in on the "how not to make my kid hate me" issue, please note how many spouses of non-custodial parents refer to their mutual obligation to support a child from the previous marriage.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:08 AM on July 31, 2011

Best answer: I know* that daughter!

How delightful of your ex-husband to show you and your daughter his true colors.

She knows. Trust me, she absolutely knows that he is an asshole, that you are struggling, that money is a hard thing to talk about, that money pays for basics as much as it pays for special things, that not having enough money makes you stressed out, that greed is your husband's word for need, that she plays second fiddle to his new family, that she is a reminder of you more than she is her own person to him, that she gets more expensive the older she gets. She knows all of these things.

You say you were divorced ten years ago and child support ordered then; she is now at least eleven and a pre-teen, if not older and a teenager. Don't treat her like a child that needs to be shielded, don't use oversimplified language to describe his responsibility of child support. She knows he doesn't see her as his responsibility anymore but rather a burden, so she will understand that the responsibility is now a legal one, not an emotional one.

Submit the form. Stop thinking about him as your daughter's father, because he's not willing to take responsibility for it anyway. Start thinking of him as an unpaid debt, because that's what he is. He's a deadbeat dad, the worst kind: the kind that intentionally impoverishes himself with loopholes just to avoid paying you because he still has untold amounts of aggression towards you.

Submit the form. It will not damage your daughter to see him brought to task for shirking his responsibilities. Submit the form.

posted by juniperesque at 8:11 AM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

I would bet serious money that your ex, who sounds like an asshole, has ALREADY been telling your daughter while she's on his turf that you are selfish, greedy, etc. because he's one of "those" dads who just wants to happily abandon the first family and bitches every time someone reminds him of them. This will rile him up more, but for her it'll be more of the same kind of shit. Being "nice" and letting him continue to get away with this behavior won't make it stop. Might make it worse, but he was going to do that anyway. Dude just wants to be an asshole and he's making it pretty clear.

As everyone else said, your daughter already knows who's the jerk here. It's not you.

Get the money out of him any way you can. He wouldn't be cooperative with you when you were being "nice" anyway. He'll be more of a brat now, but he was being a brat already. Siccing the law on him is what he deserves at this point.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:51 AM on July 31, 2011

Best answer: Lawyer up, submit the form like everyone else said.

As the husband of a child of divorce, what I've learned is DO NOT BAD MOUTH YOUR EX IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILD. When she watches you taking the high road while the courts settle all the monetary issues, she will thank you for it. Let him be the douchebag and let her form her own opinions. You do whats best for your daughter.

She still loves him on a "He's my father" level, no matter what else is going on. What's best for her is
-Getting the child support, and the courts are the only way that's gonna happen
-Not hearing her parents bad-mouth each other.

He's gonna talk shit about you in front of her. Don't play that game, because there is no win. You dont' have to sing his praises, but don't get her involved in the ugliness between you and your ex.

In the end, she'll thank you.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:38 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Stop talking to your ex about this. Talk to your lawyer/the court/the enforcement people about this.

He is voluntarily un/under-employed for the purposes of avoiding, as someone above said, a legal, moral, and ethical obligation to support his child. While the courts and support system can't do anything about his morals and ethics, they sure as hell can enforce the legal bit. Sadly, this behavior is not uncommon.

You and your ex are the ostensible adults in this situation. Even if he doesn't act like one, you should, by doing what's best and right for your child, and being the grown up. But that does not mean rolling over and letting him get away with this, because that's not protecting your daughter. Use the system. Let him screw himself.

posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:00 AM on July 31, 2011

Best answer: She was on the fence for a while - I think she just wanted to be loyal to both of us, but following a visit to her dad's she told me that she wanted to stay with me.

She knows what's up. Immediately after spending time with her father, she wanted to spend less time with him rather than more.

File the form. They won't put him in jail, not unless he basically stands in front of the judge and says "You will have to put me in jail, because I am unwilling to follow the law and support my daughter." Regardless of what bullshit he spins, that money isn't his, and it isn't his wife's, and it isn't yours, it's your daughter's. This man is stealing hundreds of dollars from your daughter every month.

What everyone is saying about taking the high road is exactly right. Hew scrupulously to the visitation arrangements, don't badmouth your ex, don't try to link the lack of support to lack of love or anything else. Be civil and polite to him when you have to see him, don't discuss support arrangements with him, and if he tries to guilt-trip you, you can smile and say "It's out of my hands! Ta ta!"
posted by KathrynT at 11:07 AM on July 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Please be an advocate for your daughter. Please model her the right behavior here: show by your example that it's not right to let others shirk their duties. Show her that she matters. Show her that she is worthy of support, financially and personally. Show her what a responsible, self-respecting woman looks like who is willing to make difficult choices to do the right thing.

Her father has completely failed her. She is actively looking to you to do the opposite.
posted by scody at 11:26 AM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

Approximately how old is your daughter? And has she already had her six-week visit for this year, or is it coming up soon? The reason I ask is that (being the suspicious & nasty-minded sort of person I am) I could see a really world-class asshole refusing to pay for her return flight to you. God forbid that should happen, but if so: does she have a way to contact you and get home?

At the very least, please make sure she has a cellphone, a fully-prepaid ticket, and if possible someone on that end she could turn to for assistance.
posted by easily confused at 11:53 AM on July 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I wanted to come in again to add: we as a society have a lot of really really strong reasons for wanting to make sure that fathers (and mothers) support their children financially. If you can't convince yourself that this is a good idea on the basis of your daughter's welfare, general principles of fairness and proper conduct, or your own sanity, remember that all of us are better off when children are provided for properly.

There's a reason the court ordered him to pay child support, and not letting the court know he's not doing it is a bit like not telling the court when your spouse isn't making his ordered AA meetings: not only are you not actually helping the person you're not "turning in," you're putting society into a worse-off state. Your role is as an agent of your child's interests, the one person specifically empowered in this instance to ensure she is taken care of. It's only "in your hands" in the sense that it's your duty to report this problem.
posted by SMPA at 1:58 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is the second child-support question where one of the issues at had was one parent's hedging against the other parent's leverage over the child's opinion. Don't let him manipulate you or your daughter like this. It's extortion. Trust your ability to deal with your daughters responses to his bad mouthing. Trust her enough that even if she does get a little sucked into his spiel, in time his actions will tell her what she needs to know about who the real parent is.

Go to a lawyer Now. Add up everything you spend on your daughter in a year as best you can. Deduct the travel expenses he pays. The difference should give you and him some ball park of what you expect. Submit this to him with the expressed intention that you will pursue his share to the exact limit of what the courts says you're entitled to. He'll likely not go to jail, but if he understands that you are not afraid to enforce his obligation to that extent, he may take you more seriously.

If he is staying unemployed to avoid child support, his new wife may be in the better position to pressure him to get a job if she's the one paying for his kid.

By the by, one of my best friend's dad dodged child support for much of her childhood and teen years. Sometimes he paid, most of the time he didn't. Her mom was awarded back child support even after her daughter was an adult. Just something to keep in mind.
posted by space_cookie at 1:59 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: He doesn't get to decide the circumstances under which he will pay. If he believes the child support order is unfair due to his unemployment, he can ask the court to revise it, and they can determine whether he gets any kind of modification under the applicable law. Simply deciding to not pay is not an acceptable solution to his alleged problem, and it's not one you should accept. The law certainly has well-established policies as to how his wife's income factors into the situation, and you should be going with those policies rather than whatever she thinks is "fair."

Contact a lawyer and/or file with child support enforcement. Do it tomorrow. Going to jail is very much a last resort for all concerned. Before that, there's the strongly worded letter, wage garnishments, real estate liens, bank account levies, holds on tax refunds and motor vehicle registrations, and various other enforcement methods depending on your state. If this seems harsh, remember that he is perfectly free to ask the court to modify how much he owes, and the court will compute a number after taking all the relevant information into account. They will make him pay precisely what he owes, and not one cent more, which seems perfectly fair in my opinion.
posted by zachlipton at 2:13 PM on July 31, 2011

Response by poster: Wow. I went to bed last night hoping for supportive responses, but I never imagined that your answers would be so consistent and encouraging. Thank-you all, I am truly moved to tears. While I understand the recommendations to lawyer up, I can't take on any more expenses at this time. Plus, I know that action more than anything else will provoke his rage (escobeche hit the nail on the head when he said, Guys like this love to talk about how lawyers are ruining America.)

But tomorrow morning I will file with CSE with new found confidence.

I marked several favorites, but I could easily have marked all.
Motsque: thanks for the recommendation for Friends of the Court - I will definitely check to see if we have that resource available here.
DarlingBri: She returned home to me just a couple days ago - I had the same fear about filing while she was with him. I know it will still be an issue when she visits him in October, but that will only be for one week.

Again, thanks to all.
posted by Hiding in my sock drawer at 4:34 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

While I understand the recommendations to lawyer up, I can't take on any more expenses at this time.

Filing with the state sounds like a good idea.

You may be able to get a free or low-cost consultation with a lawyer just to explore what the best options and their costs will be, without your ex-husband knowing about it. I think this is the best idea, even if, in the end, you decide not to pursue any avenues that require further use of an attorney.

The MetaFilter wiki has helpful information on getting a lawyer.
posted by grouse at 5:50 PM on July 31, 2011

IANAL, but if he's just flat out refusing to pay child support, can't he be forced to pay legal fees if you have to take him to court over it?
posted by empath at 6:19 PM on July 31, 2011

Honesty is the usually best policy, and in this case I think being forthright with your daughter and her father is the way to go. Here's the message both should hear: "He is her father and has partial responsibility for the expenses of raising the child he helped bring into the world. There are consequences for skipping out on those responsibilities. He can choose to take the responsibilities or choose to take the consequences for shirking them. The money isn't to support his ex, the money is to help support the child he helped bring into the world." Take action to get what your daughter deserves. If you don't, you're shirking your responsibility. You owe it to her. Best wishes and best of luck.
posted by Daddy-O at 6:32 PM on July 31, 2011

Dammit! I get so sick of men who think they can financially abandon the children they have engendered. Out of sight, out of mind. Like the kids don't need to eat anymore.

Nail his ass to the wall. Your kid knows, but explain to her anyway what's going on. Show her the bills, and assure her that you only want the money to HELP her have the things she deserves, because you can only do so much by yourself. You can do this without blaming him or badmouthing her father. Don't let her grow up thinking she's not worth it or doesn't deserve this from her father. Don't let her grow up to be the kind of mother who's afraid to fight for what her kid should have.

It's the law. Support your damn kids or keep your dick in your pants.

Grandma to three* of the five kids that the little weasel won't provide for with child support.

*I've talked to my daughter, and she won't pursue it. Not my business now. GRRRRRRR
posted by BlueHorse at 11:54 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Show her the bills, and assure her that you only want the money to HELP her have the things she deserves, because you can only do so much by yourself.

Please don't do this. The burden of bills is not her problem; she is a child. If you can afford little else, you can afford the luxury of not stressing your kid out about money and making her feel like a financial liability.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:24 AM on August 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Please don't do this. The burden of bills is not her problem; she is a child. If you can afford little else, you can afford the luxury of not stressing your kid out about money and making her feel like a financial liability.

Seconding this. (Though I do agree with BlueHorse's general message about sticking up for your daughter's needs, obviously.) My folks aren't divorced, but at a certain age I started being told (both directly and indirectly) just how hard it was to pay certain bills related to my existence, particularly medical bills. The result was a gut-wrenching sense of being a burden, as well as feelings of hostility toward my parents that they would be pissed about something that wasn't my fault. (Bonus: a long-term anxiety around money and irresponsibility about finances that persisted into my 30s.)
posted by scody at 10:36 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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