Should I file a contempt claim on my ex-husband?
August 21, 2014 3:03 PM   Subscribe

My ex-husband hates me. I mean, REALLY hates me. I left him 4 years ago after years of emotional and verbal abuse, and he still has not once looked me in the eye or spoken directly to me since then. We have a 10-year-old daughter together and the divorce agreement says we should split her medical costs (doctor visits and prescription meds) 50/50. I emailed him to ask him to pay his share ($30) from a recent appointment and he emailed back saying that because he had taken her to get her hair cut, he should not have to pay. He then sent me pictures (!) of some over-the-counter cough drops he'd purchased for our daughter and demanded that I reimburse him for them, saying that if I refused I would "set a dangerous and vitriolic (sic) precedent in our relationship." What should I do?

My policy up until now has been "the less contact, the better." I do not care about "winning," or about the money. I'll be happy to pay for every cent of my kid's care forever and ever amen to avoid having to tangle with him.

On the other hand, he is a terrible bully, and I know from bitter experience that if he thinks he can get away with this, it won't stop there. Next will be emails saying things like "I've decided not to drop kiddo off at noon like I said I would, I'm keeping her until 6 instead," or, "I know I said in the agreement that I'd pay for piano lessons, but I've decided not to" (which would punish not me, of course, but our kid). I fear if I don't nip this in the bud forcefully and right now, it'll only get worse.

Is it worth it to ask a court to clarify the agreement for him, hoping that he will realize that I will respond if he tries to pull this kind of nonsense? It is a pretty minor thing -- only $30 -- but I fear it's a harbinger of things to come. In the past when I haven't stood up to him, it's escalated and I've found myself in bad situations. Or am I just kicking a hornet's nest over $30? Maybe I should wait until it escalates and THEN take him to court? What would you do?

A major concern if I did take him to court would be how his anger over it would affect our daughter. Honestly, I don't think it could get worse. She knows he hates me; he makes no bones about it. But he's nice to her because he sees her as a victim (of me). It really doesn't matter what I do or don't do, I think. My actual behavior seems to have no bearing at all on how he acts or how angry he is.

I'm categorizing this as human relations instead of law because it's more about dealing with him than with whether or not the court would find him in contempt. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It is important whether your local court would find him in contempt, because you would lose the ability to scare him with court and you might lose credibility.

Do you have a divorce attorney who is well-versed in your local family court system?

A formal letter from an attorney stating your willingness to go to court might be a good middle step.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:06 PM on August 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

Also, frankly, I think that 50/50-for-expenses-decided-upon-by-one-party clauses are really bad in contentious divorces for this very reason. You can't agree on anything but you're supposed to agree about expenses entered into by the other party? It's a recipe for abuse and power plays. Consider trying to amend that so that this problem doesn't crop up again, if you can.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:08 PM on August 21, 2014 [26 favorites]

Tell him to deduct the cost of the cough drops from the $30.
You have an agreement that covers medical care for your daughter. Unless there's mention of sharing the cost of haircuts, he's out of luck on that one. If he does not comply with the agreement and you do nothing, he'll continue to bully you.
posted by Linnee at 3:10 PM on August 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

it's going to cost you a hell of a lot more than $30 to file a contempt claim, if you hire a lawyer. Also, a judge might view it as wasting courts time. If there was a more serious issue to bring up, then yes, but for this one little thing, I would let it go until he has been given enough rope to hang himself. In the meantime, save up your pennies for an attorney so that you can hit him with something bigger in a few years time, and it's worth more money/energy/etc to you.
posted by katypickle at 3:13 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Talk to your lawyer, but don't let your ex walk all over you. He sounds like a perfect ass, and it sucks that you must co-parent with him.

I'd send an email that says, "I have attached the invoice from the insurance, please pay your portion by X date."

I don't think this is the hill you want to die on. If there's something you can do to minimize these onesy-twosy expenses, like getting an HMO with no co-pay, it may make sense to do that.

Hang in there. 8 more years to go!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:18 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's hard to answer without reviewing the entire written agreement. If the agreement was competently drafted, then all of your daughter's expenses are covered in one way or another and not debatable.

I'd suggest keeping records of your grievances and nine months or a year from now, say, going back to your divorce lawyer for a consultation about what can be done.

In the meantime, follow Linnee's advice on the cough drops, if the agreement really wasn't drafted to distinguish between cough drops and a doctor appointment(!).

On preview: And what the other posters said above.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:24 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is me, not you, but I would drop it. It's not worth the stress. My ex was the same way and he was in contempt of the order in many areas: he didn't pay for the kids' expenses, medical bills, camp, extracurriculars.

I got sick of asking and just stopped, it was worth my mental sanity to get him out of my life.

I would drop it, stop keeping track of what he owes you, and get your daughter into competent therapy. If he's really trashing you to her, she needs some support to help deal with it because that's just WRONG.
posted by kinetic at 3:31 PM on August 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just drop any communication with him, for your child's sake if not for yours. As a kid, I had friends whose parents would bill each other for half a chocolate bar. The negative impact on the child can not be exaggerated.
posted by xammerboy at 3:49 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

keep emails where you ask for payment and he refuses (and keep sending those emails even though you know they'll end like this one). if that number gets too big, go to court with the proof that he hasn't been paying those expenses. i wouldn't make this $30 a huge deal, but i also wouldn't just write it off entirely in case i needed it to prove a habit of ignoring his previously agreed to commitments.
posted by nadawi at 3:50 PM on August 21, 2014 [32 favorites]

As a single mom myself there's no way in hell I'd take $30 to court, but I would as nadawi says keep records of it for future reference if such incidents build up.
posted by celtalitha at 3:54 PM on August 21, 2014

Document it. Don't move for contempt over $30. The judge will not be pleased with you and you'll lose credibility in the eyes of both the court and your husband (when your motion for contempt is, inevitably, denied... potentially with sanctions for wasting the Court's time).
posted by ewiar at 3:59 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Pay by check, send it registered mail, with a letter; as per this specific part of the divorce agreement here is half the medical expenses. Video putting it into the envelope.
Don't play the game of deducting one thing from another thing. Keep it separate.
Now when you have enough of his unpaid bills to make it worth a contempt motion, you have a counter example of how you adhered to the agreement.
Just be prepared for the judge to screw you over and just ignore things, or let him make a cruddy payment plan.
oh, and if he plays a game of buying homeopathic items, chiropractic, accupuncture etc for her, just remind him that it's medical that's covered, not placebos.
posted by Sophont at 4:25 PM on August 21, 2014 [25 favorites]

I am not sure what to do, but I think it is important to put this in context. Your context. You are playing the long game here. Your goal is to bring up a healthy and happy daughter. Doing so is not a straight line. Will ignoring this cause you and your daughter to go off track? Is this just another bump in the road? Think of your daughter 10, 20 years from now. How can you have a good relationship with her then and how will she be a productive part of the community? Whatever leads to that outcome, is the path I would take.

Two other thoughts. One, the fact that he hates hates hates you is a red herring. He is just an asshole. I don't particularly like my ex, but we are cordial and very cooperative when it comes to the kids. Hating someone and working with them for a common goal are not mutually exclusive.

Two, you can always take him to court later. When there is a big issue to fight over it, come out with your guns blazing. I don't know if there is a statue of limitations on when you can or should demand payment on a past obligation detailed in a divorce agreement, but if it can wait, it might make more sense to either wait for a big issue and tack on these $30 here and there items or wait until you have 10 or so of these and then press him. I just don't see the lesson he will learn by taking him to court over $30. He could learn that he can make you spend $1000 to get back $30 and will do it again. Make you spend money on lawyer or filing fees and right before the court date, he pays the $30. He is out nothing more than what he owed you and you are out lawyers fees less what you get from him.
posted by 724A at 5:10 PM on August 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

I was you. The best advice I ever received was "If you couldn't get him to do the right thing when you were married, what makes you think he will now that you're divorced?" Keep track of the expenses just in case. Don't involve the kid of you can help it and eventually she will figure out what's what. I promise. I will say that one thing that did help was having my daughter communicate with him about dropping off and picking up, etc. He was less inclined to be rude or undependable with her than he was with me.
posted by tamitang at 5:26 PM on August 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

tamitang speaks truth. Your daughter will know. She may be young, but kids get it. No matter how much he bad mouths you, she will know the truth. He is really bad mouthing himself.
posted by 724A at 5:30 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you should talk to your lawyer about the exact legal scope of the wording about medical costs in your divorce agreement is. Ask about any time limit within which you would have to take him to court for unpaid expenses.

If the cough drops are covered, send him a check and the invoice for the dr appt, asking for his half of the money again.

If he still doesn't pay, I don't think I would bother pursuing it in court now, but I would keep a very detailed record of everything he doesn't pay so that, within the time limit your lawyer describes, you can take him to court for all unpaid expenses within (1 year, 5 years, whatever) if you want to then.

I would personally completely ignore the haircut angle. It's a red herring and I would freeze him out as the idiot he is for even quibbling that that's a reason not to pay for medical costs. Don't even address it, just keep saying "please send me $30 for the dr appt on DATE".

Make sure all your emails, records etc. are secure and he can't guess your password.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:37 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

When my parents split up, they had a really bad habit of keeping track of every little thing in this way, and it was basically impossible to deal with from the standpoint of being their kid.

Your kid is going to be your kid for the rest of her life. There is really not a statute of limitations on haircuts and cough syrup and copays. It's not a finite expense. It's just what you do. I'm in my 30s and my parents are still buying me the occasional lunch or manicure or grocery item. Stop keeping score over items under a certain dollar amount. Period. Let alone going to court over them.

If this escalates into actual bullying, deal with that bullying. Don't contribute to the insanity by behaving in an even more difficult manner. All that will accomplish is pushing your daughter away from you. All my parents constant point scoring and custody battles ever taught me is that they're immature assholes.
posted by Sara C. at 5:53 PM on August 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Different advice here: Don't bill him for small things like $30 one at a time. Save them all up and bill them quarterly or semi-annually or annually. Then it will seem less like you're needling him, which is probably part of the reason for his reaction.

More advice, of a more theoretical nature: You assume that letting it go for a $30 item trains him to push you on more significant matters. You don't know that that's true. It could be the opposite: give him only more reasonable demands (see my advice above) and he won't respond with pettiness (see the cough drop issue). He may be irritated that you're sticking to the letter of the agreement, and pushing back so as to not train you to be so petty yourself.

By "petty" I don't mean that he shouldn't pay his share. But it does seem ridiculous to ask for a tiny amount of money each and every time a bill comes up. What else are you going to take him to court for, being late because he was stuck in traffic? That's likely his thinking, and he's trying to train you to be less petty by pointing out the cough drops expense.
posted by Capri at 5:54 PM on August 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

What a dick. Where are you? If you're in the US, your jurisdiction probably has a Friend of the Court system. YMMV, but the FoC I am familiar with handled splitting all the medical bills in situations like this. You give the bill to FoC, and they chase down his half quarterly or yearly and send it to you with the child support. Be sure and call them if you have them, because you might waive collection on some of the bills if you don't ask for his half within a certain time frame.

When you call your FoC in the morning, send them documentation of your requests and his responses. I'm sure they'll be happy to know he's being such an a-hole.
posted by mibo at 6:26 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's a second for quarterly billing. It's easier on you because it generates less contact.

As a side note, I've had a friend warned by her divorce attorney that (in their jurisdiction) bad mouthing kid's other parent can constitute abuse and would lose her custody right quick. So maybe ask your attorney if you should document him shittalking you to the baby?
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 6:28 PM on August 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm in for un-reimbursed medical of nearly $3000.00. He's still angry at me because I followed the doctor's orders and sought treatment that cost money. He would have had our children suffer. I'm sick of arguing with him over what is right. I do what is right and I leave him out of it.

Here is the thing, if you push for it, he's going to be an ass and make things terrible for you. If you don't push for it, he's going to be an ass and make things terrible for you. I've just decided to avoid him as much as possible and never push him, because when he feels pushed, he hurts my children to get back at me. It's $30. Don't push it. Not pushing it isn't giving him permission to be an ass to you. He is already doing that, no permission needed.
posted by myselfasme at 7:15 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

You MUST consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction with experience in these matters. Men like you describe are a prime reason I stopped doing divorce work (IAL). they are SOOO frustrating.

Comments above are right - if you don't know the likely outcome, take him to court and HE wins and YOU lose that will make things infinitely worse. Be careful here. His toxic personality will be fed by "winning" and "putting you in your place." I know it's surely not about the $30 this time or any individual payment but it IS about minimizing stress involved in dealing with a person you must deal with while you raise your daughter.

AND please get a referral to a good counselor (if you don't have one for her already) for her. No details from you about what help she needs. No effort to direct the counseling (I hear loud and clear that you are not trying to involve her in the drama) but the mere fact that her father says (and means it) that he hates her mother is enough to cause her real and lasting damage and you need to start trying to minimize that. And if you do this OF COURSE do not ever ask him to share this cost or even tell him yourself that you found her a counselor. He will go on a jihad to discover what lies you are filling her head with through your chosen stooge, counselor insertname.

There is no good solution to this so you must endure. And that sucks and you have my sympathy.
Good luck.
posted by BrooksCooper at 7:31 PM on August 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

There is a lot of good advice...

My advice is always take the high road. Don't nickle and dime the ex, save your energy for battles you feel you must fight -- if you really feel you must fight them. Not bringing your daughter back when agreed is a significant issue because it cuts into your custody time.

Never lie to your kids, but always tell the truth with kindness, and realize that children do not need to know all the ugly details. When the father says he wont' pay for something he agreed to such as the piano lessons, tell your daughter the truth, but don't embellish. Present the details as a matter of fact and tell her you are disappointed, but don't make him out to be the bad guy. She will draw her own conclusions. Do not influence her one way or the other by making excuses for him or placing blame.

Always be acutely aware of the example you are setting for your child. You don't need to point out who is right, the kids always figure out who is being honorable and who is being a flake.

Identify the times he is being a bully and call him on the behavior. Say directly: "You are trying to bully me and I will not tolerate it." If necessary, then hang up the phone until things cool off and he calls back. Or call your lawyer. Never set the example to your daughter of knuckling under to a bully.

Sometimes the courts can help a person like him see the benefits of better behavior especially if it means not losing quality time with his daughter because his behavior is seen as abusive.

Does your daughter have uncles and/or a grandfather on your side? A godfather? It is important to have good role models. And people willing to look out for her.
posted by old_man_in_the_cave at 10:39 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I advised upthread to just drop it because my ex was like yours and was in contempt of the agreement for financial and visitation reasons. I took him to court, the judge ordered him to pay and see the kids, and then it was up to me to get him to do so. But I couldn't make him. I could get the state to garnish his wages for child support, that was it.

In my state of MA, it came down to whether or not I wanted him jailed for contempt because he never paid what he owed (outside of child support, which was a laughable amount) toward raising our kids. I chose not to have him jailed as a deadbeat dad and dropped it.

I don't honestly know if it was the right decision. Over the last 13 years, he hasn't reimbursed me over $70,000 that he owes (camps, extracurriculars, medical bills, college). But I haven't had to talk to him at all and that's been really nice.

One tangential piece of advice I will give, because this was a headache the one time I took him to court. I had printed out all emails I sent to him. In court, he said he never received them. I kept track of all calls I made to him. He said he never spoke to me. And I couldn't prove that I had ever contacted him.

Make sure you send all communication via signature-required snail mail OR email that makes him click on a read receipt. Otherwise he can do the same to you.
posted by kinetic at 2:57 AM on August 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

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