How can I exert some influence over my ex-wife, who is not making the financial and other decisions I wish she would?
February 2, 2012 2:38 PM   Subscribe

How can I exert some influence over my ex-wife, who is not making the financial and other decisions I wish she would?

Backstory (sorry): We have been divorced for a year (separated for two) and I have recently remarried. My ex and I have two small kids who I have on the weekends. They love both parents and are generally well-adjusted. I pay a pretty large amount of support and alimony ($2500/mo, just over half my net income). Relations are cordial but surface-y. I initiated the divorce mainly; she had an arts-related hobby that was taking over our lives. She had quit working to have the kids, but I did about 80-90% of the housework, all the yardwork, and my share of the child care in addition to a more than full-time job. We also had a temporary maid that turned into a permanent weekly thing (we could *not* afford it) to cover her lack of effort. Basically I worked all day, came home to a sty, cleaned all evening and got Chinese for us, and came home the next day to the same ... for years. We tried counseling and I was very direct with my needs, to no avail. She also rarely showed affection, much less sex in later years. I am 99% sure she wasn't cheating but was just depressed, but she refused to talk about her mood.

The only thing she seemed to have energy for was her hobby (dance/teaching dance). I was very supportive and helped her create a space for this and attended her events, etc. But she'd ignore her family to further this. She didn't do anything for my 40th birthday; she'd say she was too tired to help me around the house on the weekend but then go to a gig; she generally prioritized me and the children last. The break was hard at first, but very freeing for me. She got a lawyer and put me in pretty bad debt due to my own legal bills (rather than work things out with a mediator), but I am mostly over this.

The present: She has 3 years left on her alimony after which her payments drop by half. She made a bizarre off-hand comment that makes me think I'll take the kids more often once this happens, despite what the agreement says. I don't think she has any plans for the future. She has not done anything to find a job/day care for our youngest, but has expanded her dance activities, saying she "needs to bring in money". The total income per year after expenses is less than $10k ($3k last year), but she refuses to realize that perhaps a more traditional desk job is required. She has a degree and prior computer experience and was pulling $60k+ when we met. She cut their cable to save money and didn't buy my son sneakers for school last fall (I caved and got them). Now she is asking for more money for summer programs and reminding me to save for college (!) even though she knows my wife and I are working out of a $30k debt hole. Also, she lives in an old, high-maintenance house with a very filthy basement full of chemicals, teetering objects, etc. and lets the kids play in there. I offered to come help clean it up once but she denied it.

I really do not want to control her, but I don't feel good about giving her more money and doing her favors when if she just got a job part-time she'd be fine. I wish I could tell her to "get a job!" which is what my lawyer, wife, family, etc, are amazed she hasn't done. I also tried to get her to sell the house and buy a condo since she does not do maintenance stuff and the house is worth more than the mortgage (but she's one expensive repair like an AC unit away from ruin). I just want my kids to be safe and happy, and also to not have her griping about how poor she is when the answer is within her grasp. Her behavior seems very bourgeois and special-snowflakey; I don't love my job and I have health problems but I plug along because I have responsibilities. She does too ... but she does the bare minimum.

I have no idea how to interact with her about this stuff, or whether to try. She gets very POed when another person suggests things to her, regardless of tone.

Thanks for any suggestions ...
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You cannot make another person do something they don't want to do.

If she's neglecting the children, that might be the only recourse you have.
posted by royalsong at 2:43 PM on February 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

You can't tell her how to spend her money or what to do. You are no longer married to her, so you no longer have any say in what she does outside of how it affects your children.

Depending on where you are, you might be able to discuss with your lawyer requesting things like a seek work order. If you are concerned that the state of her house is damaging to your children, then I would address that with your lawyer and the courts.

Money for things like summer programs and shoes are not money for her, they are money for your children.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 2:44 PM on February 2, 2012 [13 favorites]

can you let us know what is the reason that you don't have a bigger share of the custody of the kids? a bigger share of the custody would reduce your child support payments as well as allow you have more control of the care and well-being of the children. given the circumstances/neglect that you describe with regard to your ex, it seems like if you petitioned for at least a 50/50 shared custody, you would get it—if not primary custody.
posted by violetk at 2:45 PM on February 2, 2012 [32 favorites]

Is there a reason the children don't spend more time with you?
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:45 PM on February 2, 2012 [16 favorites]

You can't control her actions at all in relation to anything else but your kids and their well being.

I think your only avenue here is trying to change the custody and/or child support arrangement if they are living in an unsafe environment or if you are having to pay for things that she should be paying for out of child support.

And tell her you are coming over to secure the chemicals and install tip over prevention devices for your kids safety -- for goodness sakes, don't ask once, shrug your shoulders and say you tried where your little ones are concerned. If she refuses, go to court and try to get custody.
posted by murrey at 2:48 PM on February 2, 2012

Dude, she wouldn't listen to you when you were her husband. She's definitely not going to listen to you now that you're her ex-husband.

Focus on providing for your kids with love, attention and school supplies to the best of your ability. Maybe they need to live with you full-time.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:48 PM on February 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

The absolute best thing to do is be crystal clear that the legal money arrangement that you have is going to be the only money arrangement that you have [i.e. do not give her more money and I know it's painful but tell her that she is responsible for feeding and clothing the kids as the primary custodial parent and back it up legally if she's being weird about that] and back that up.

I am sorry that your relationship with her is not better, but the best way to make it clear that you are not in a relationship with her is to not act like you are in a relationship with her, which means you can not tell her how to live her own life at all. And if she is living her own life in a way that you think is impacting the lives of your children, that is at this point a legal matter. If you think you should have split custody of the children because you think she isn't a fit parent or something, that is something you work out legally.

I don't mean to be a broken record about this, but it seems like you're still feeling bad over a lot of things about the way the relationship went [I probably would too, not saying it's a bad thing] and are enmeshing that with the way she is interacting with the children and being mushy about the money stuff. You both have legal obligations towards your children in terms of college and she has no right to ask for any more money from you for anything that is not in the child support arrangement. You might benefit from therapy that helps you untangle the complicated feelings you have about this, but echoing everyone else: you can not make her do anything, nor should you.
posted by jessamyn at 2:49 PM on February 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

I have no idea how to interact with her about this stuff, or whether to try.

Don't. Don't try. You need some emotional seperation. Get some space and practice not thinking about her. Your new wife will than you for this, as well. Your responsibility absolutely stops at the alimony check & the well-being of the kids.

My last divorce involved kids and an ongoing business, and it took me SIX YEARS to extricate myself from my ex financially -- I have no idea why I still have my current partner, other than that she is a saint. I would give a lot to go back in time & hasten the progress by about 5 1/2 years.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:54 PM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

One more thing...
I understand your frustration and would likewise hate to hear your ex griping about money. So don't listen to it! Cut her off the second she complains. Protect your kids and do not let them suffer for your ex-wife's intransigence at getting a job. It is not their fault that you are in debt or that mom is a flake. Just do your best to be a great dad and do not make decisions about why you will or will not provide for them financially to "get back at" their mom. Provide what you can if it is in their best interests.
posted by murrey at 2:56 PM on February 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Wait until the alimony payments stop; that may be the final burst of reality she needs to get a paying job.

I am completely with you that if my child needs shoes, I don't call my lawyer, I stop at Target. That's just how it is for most parents, and you should not ever feel like you're doing something wrong by buying your child necessities that the other parent is too feckless to provide. These things aren't solvable by being the biggest hard-ass you can be. You're doing great.
posted by palliser at 2:58 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who has friends whose custodial parent was not great with money and whose non-custodial parent refused to help the kids out at all (unlike you, the non-custodial parent made high six figures a year), I know that refusing to buy stuff like shoes for your kids is going to screw up your relationship with them.

If you're spending a lot of extra money on the kids' clothing, can you not document that and use it to reduce support, or rework the custody arrangement?

Also, try to keep apart "doesn't have cable" and "lives in a place that is dangerous". One of these is a major issue. The other isn't even remotely a problem.
posted by jeather at 3:00 PM on February 2, 2012 [11 favorites]

You already broke up over this and that wasn't enough to change her behavior - there's nothing at all that you can do now to convince her. It'll just make both of you exhausted and upset.

If you're worried about your kids, taking care of their needs without putting a price tag on it would be my suggestion. Sure, you're picking up your ex's slack and that sucks... but your kids are your kids. Talk it over with your (current) wife and see if you'd be happier spending more time with them and having them around your house more often if your ex's house seems unsafe.
posted by sonika at 3:00 PM on February 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

As others have said, you seem very wrapped in all the things your ex-wife does that displease you. She didn't throw you a birthday party, she got a lawyer instead of settling the divorce you asked her for the way you wanted her to do it, she cut cable at her house (why is that item even your business?). You need to figure out how to disengage, because you can't spend the rest of your life pick, pick, picking at her. My aunt and uncle got a divorce several years ago, and even after he remarried, he spent tons of times bugging her about all the things he thought she should do, particularly when it came to their teenage daughter. You have a long road ahead of you, and you need to manage your relationship with the mother of your children the best you can, if only to set an example for your children on being the bigger person.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:04 PM on February 2, 2012 [22 favorites]

You're going to have to let her sink. Some people are just totally unrealistic and stubborn about the earning potential of their hobbies. However, this means you're going to have to pick up the slack with the kids in terms of housing & clothes & food, if she doesn't manage to keep that part together. Just keep a watchful eye and don't get involved unless the kids are being harmed.
posted by yarly at 3:08 PM on February 2, 2012

Document the expenses you incur for the children that seem to you to be things the child support should be paying for, so that you'll have a paper trail if you petition to change the terms of child support.

You aren't going to change her behavior, but if you're having to pay twice for things, you can conceivably change the court orders.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:08 PM on February 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

You might also want to make sure a lawyer or someone in the court system understands your concern that the house (was this your house prior to the divorce?) and her financial situation are in such bad shape that you are concerned she may one day be unable to care for the children.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:20 PM on February 2, 2012

Does your ex-wife have an eating disorder or an addiction to exercise/dance? If so, she needs mental health care so the situation does not become outright neglect. I realize that it's not your responsibility to make that happen but I do think it's important for you to understand that she might be ill (and possibly has been for a long time?).
posted by rglass at 3:34 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

All the money stuff; not your business any more.

The kids are. Separate out issues with the appropriate care of the children from your feelings and the money. Organize and document your concerns. Consider a mediator to help you and you children's mom resolve this problem. Issues about buying one pair of sneakers are trivial. Safety and a good environment are serious.

And somewhere in all this, make a list of ways she's a good Mom. Praise her when she's a good Mom. Make sure the kids know she loves them, and that they must respect her. I'm a single Mom, and the sabotage from my son's Dad was really hard on my son. I'm sorry it's so difficult for all of you.
posted by theora55 at 4:37 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

This sorta sounds like my own parents after their divorce. The best thing my father did for my sister and me was to never hesitate when we needed something, while still refusing to bail out my mother all the time. Granted, we were older than it sounds like your children are (13 and 11), so we could just call up Dad and ask for the money for a school trip or new shoes. He also always made it clear that there was always a place for us in his home if we wanted to live there.

I'd suggest staying as involved and connected as you can with their teachers, camp counselors, soccer coaches, or any other adults in your kids' lives that are not their mother - in addition to keeping an open and honest relationship with the kids. Hopefully this will help you gauge how well their mother is actually taking care of them, without having to talk to her all the time.

I also agree with Sidhedevil regarding documenting the amounts you spend on items that should be taken care of by the child support payments.
posted by youngergirl44 at 4:59 PM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Does your ex-wife have an eating disorder or an addiction to exercise/dance? If so, she needs mental health care so the situation does not become outright neglect. I realize that it's not your responsibility to make that happen but I do think it's important for you to understand that she might be ill (and possibly has been for a long time?).


In response to both this and the OP: Being a dancer and dance instructor is not the most lucrative career, but it's not an illness, and it sounds like she's making money from it and it's more than a "hobby." She may not be living her life just as you'd like her to, but, hey, that's probably why you're divorced.

She doesn't have cable, and your son didn't have brand new sneakers, but they're eating, right? She buys them things, right? Maybe not as nice as you would like, but it doesn't sound like she's failing your kids in major ways. The basement thing sounds serious, but you sound so pissed off and judgmental that I don't think we know what's actually going on.

And of course you should pay/help pay for college! You and your wife are in debt, but taking care of your kids is not a game of tit-for-tat divorce battling. It sort of sounds like you think the kids are her problem with which she is burdening. Oh, college? My wife are in $30K of debt, so no can do . . . In what universe does this make sense?

Therapy, dude.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 5:20 PM on February 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

You don't have to be madly in love with her, but, no matter your judgment about her chosen vocation and lack of acceptable ambition or energy level, she is the mother of your children and they will always love her and should not have to even sense that their father dislikes their mother. It's not fair and it will cause them to distrust you. You would be helping them immensely by letting go of your pettiness over her financial situation, accept her limitations, and let go of your frustration.

Yes, I get it, you don't like paying child support to a woman who, despite loving your children and most likely trying to do her best, is no longer your romantic interest and you'd like to withdraw all financial obligation to her even though she had your two children and will always be their mother.

I think you should really see a therapist and work through your anger. It is very hard on children who sense their father dislikes or doesn't care about their mother. Get a therapist, try to figure out why you're obsessed with how she lives her life, and accept that you are the architect of your own problems in this situation. You chose to marry her, you chose to support her staying home with the kids and having a dance career, you chose to get divorced, and now you're choosing to rant and fume about her.

Give her a break and find someone who can help you.
posted by anniecat at 6:24 PM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not sure I see anger toward the ex in an over-riding way - sounds to me like trying to make sure the internets understand that she effectively abandonned the family before the breakup and has no idea that she is not actually making a living and is not planning her future.

However, it would be helpful to know why she has what sounds like full custody and how she came to live in a falling-down house with chemicals in the basement.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:48 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there anything you're covering for your kids now that you wouldn't be paying for if you still lived there? It seems like you'd still be on the hook for the sneakers and the summer program and certainly for whatever financial aid didn't do about college. Unless they're moving in with you (you sound alarmed by this possibility?), it's a lot better for them to get to stay in what they see as their house. If you were living there and the A/C broke, you'd pay to fix it; why not pay to fix it for your kids? It's not a favor to her; they can't help it if she's not getting a job. There's also an argument that they're better off having their caregiver available to them as much as possible, given that she is the only parent in a single-parent household. They're well-adjusted now; what happens when they have to move into a condo and their mom starts working in an office and consequently becomes incredibly unhappy (which may be selfish, but let's face it, if she loves dance so much it broke up your marriage, she will feel bad, and the kids, who do not have anybody else in the house to balance her out, will feel it too)?

The unsafe basement is a separate thing. Is there a way this can get cleaned up without you personally being the one to do it? I would imagine that this is the crux of her objection.

It's not fair that your leaving has not induced your ex to put more money into the kids. But it doesn't sound like you're doing anything you wouldn't have been doing if they still had you around, and there's no way to force her to do anything without potentially hurting them. Just the fact that you and your ex have a fairly cordial relationship is extremely good for them, and no small achievement, either. If they don't get it already, they'll eventually figure out who's carrying how much weight. Kids can be delicate in a lot of ways, but they're also pretty smart.
posted by Adventurer at 8:07 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and to sort of repeat what anniecat said: the kids are very well aware that they're as much their mother as they are you. Don't let them think you resent or dislike their mother.
posted by Adventurer at 8:09 PM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

You guys. OP is not saying that he does not want to pay for the kids' college educations. The mention he made was this:

Now she is asking for more money for summer programs and reminding me to save for college (!) even though she knows my wife and I are working out of a $30k debt hole.

Given that just a line earlier, he says that HER TOTAL TAKEHOME INCOME FROM HER DANCE "BUSINESS" is LESS THAN TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS and that she intends this to be her only source of income when the alimony goes bye-bye, it seems pretty obvious that the OP is implying that he's being asked to fund their ENTIRE college educations, on top of constantly being hit up for more and more and more on top of the monthly child support and alimony payments.
posted by palomar at 10:06 PM on February 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

As long as you stay angry about things she did in the past (nothing for your 40th, etc), you're staying emotionally invested in that marriage. If I were your current wife, I wouldn't like that much at all. But it is understandable - it sounds like you got screwed over royally by your ex. Still, I think you need to figure out how to separate worries about your children's future from anger about your former marriage.

I agree with all those asking why your kids can't spend more time with you, or even live with you full-time? If you just can't be bothered with them you get no sympathy from me, but it seems like they'd be better off emotionally and in terms of safety with you and you'd be better off financially if they were as well.

Not every kid gets college and all living expenses paid for by a parent, so I would just try and save the best you can and do as much as you can for them on that score. As far as new shoes, etc, it seems the expense is so minor it's not worth worrying about, just buy them and try to let the anger go.
posted by hazyjane at 10:35 PM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

You seem to be living in the past here, and very mad about it. Focus on the present, where you only have to deal with this woman as a business partner with lower income.
posted by ead at 10:38 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

This doesn't even have to be a "controlling" thing. Why not propose to her to change your custody agreement so that you have full custody of the kids? Maybe it will shock her into action. It's obvious she's not real interested in anything but herself. She's not holding up her end of the bargain, as a parent.

And if the suggestion of changing the custody arrangement doesn't move her to step up, I suggest following through on getting more custody.

From what you have posted here, if you get custody of the kids, she might even be relieved.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:36 AM on February 3, 2012

[Folks - this thread is turning weird and unpleasant and too many people are bringing their own baggage into it and/or fighting with other people. If you can't answer this question or even read it without becoming incredibly angry you need to do yourself and the site a favor and keep on walking. If you think this is an error in site policy you need to go to MetaTalk. Seriously, this is not the place to rehash old arguments from your own personal life.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:01 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

She has not done anything to find a job/day care for our youngest

It sounds like she was out of the workforce for at least five years, if not more. So her computer skills are out of date, her network has moved on and right now there aren't a lot of jobs out there. The jobs she may be offered may not cover the cost of day-care, especially if you factor in the double whammy of her losing wages to stay home and care for a sick child while also paying the daycare for the empty spot each day. Can you commit to her that if the children are sick you will take the time off work and look after the children so she can go to work?

You said your children were small and required day care. Keep in mind, even after they go to school they will need before/after-school care/PD and holiday coverage. This expense will probably ease when the children are around twelve. Have you offered to pay a proportionate amount of the daycare (or all of it) so she can work? I assume you made the decision to have her stay at home during your marriage so you could feel free to work; the divorce does not change the fact that you assumed the responsiblility of raising your children. Right now you are contributing more of the money but she is the one contributing the time to the continued detriment of her future income-producing ability.
posted by saucysault at 8:48 AM on February 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

From the OP:
Thanks to everyone for all the good advice. I actually don't run around mad about this stuff every day; I had to dredge it up to ask the question. I see that I came off as overly obsessed/therapy-needing about this. I'm sure there's some buried stuff in me somewhere, but it really only comes up when I feel I am being railroaded and manipulated about money. Most of the time I focus on my new wife, kids, work, etc. and am way happier than I've been in my whole life. Also, I was once in the arts, so I don't pooh-pooh it as a career; but it's different when I worry about my kids' needs.

I think what I am going to do is:

1) Let her know my boundaries and expectations about extra money, college, etc., and see if she will enter some sort of productive dialogue via email or something.

2) When I can afford to consult a lawyer, and well before the alimony goes away, I will discuss options related to money and custody modifications and find out more. I can relay any legal truths to her in a neutral, factual way.

3) For now, just handle each situation on its own, with an emphasis on doing what's right for the kids.

One other thing: I don't have primary custody, but I have them 40 weekends a year and one evening a week, during which time they have a very structured, attention-giving, supportive environment. I would be totally willing to consider expanded custody if I can bring it up without angering my ex. I doubt she'd go for it, because her support amount would go down and then she'd have to work.

As far as the house condition and safety, I will just try to mention it tactfully and see what happens.

Thanks again ...
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:16 AM on February 3, 2012

I'm glad you are not obsessing over all this and I agree with other posters that suggested you are a bit too wrapped up in her life.

You keep referring to her work as a hobby. I encourage you to let this go. If she is making $10,000 a year from it, that is not a hobby. That is a job or a business. If she was working at Wal-Mart for 25 hours a week, she'd make about the same. I don't know how much childcare is where you live, but, where I am, it is about $900 a month for a child under 5 and about $500 per month for a child in school. You didn't say how many kids you have, but it sounds like the "value" of the work she does is actually higher than $10,000, given that no childcare is involved. In fact, if she's taking care of the kids during most of the week, she is actually saving you whatever you'd be paying for daycare. Also, if she has the flexibility to take time off when the kids are sick or to pick them up from school, she is enabling your work.

You also said she was talking about summer programs. Is it possible that these programs provide her with the childcare she needs to do her work? Many of the WAHMs and WAHDs I know work during morning camps or full day camps and so on, while still being able to give their children the chance to not be in institutionalized care all day.

Also, at her income level, she may be qualifying for certain assistance or benefits. If, with her skills and network having dried up, her option would be to make about $40k at a full-time job where she has to work long hours, pay for business clothes, pay for transportation, rely on more conveniences and then share in childcare expenses, she might not actually be any further ahead than she is now and your kids would be staying in daycare during the day.

It wasn't clear to me whether your son needed new shoes or if you wanted him to have new shoes for school. It's hard to interpret that.

I'm not trying to attack your position. It sounds like it was really hard and that you've made some tough choices. I just wondered if trying to look at the income thing from a different perspective might help. I know it must be hard to think of it as handing money over to her.

The basement thing sounds scary though. If you can't get through to her, maybe you could get some legal advice.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:10 AM on February 3, 2012

« Older Random pics from an 80's movie. Which one? Because...   |   A victim of circumstance Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.