Should I tell my kids I pay child support?
July 14, 2008 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Divorcedparentsfilter: When is it time (if ever) to tell my children about the child support I pay to keep both their houses going? Bonus for personal stories regarding same.

Basic facts: kids are twins. 9 years old. Very bright. Mom and I divorced when they were 3. Custody is 50/50. Mom has her issues, and has caused me a ton of trouble (restraining orders, lots of court appearances, nearly every one quashed) but all in all isn't NEARLY as bad as she could be. I've heard the stories. She never uses the kids in her fighting with me. This I feel lucky for.
I make a very good living, and thus, I pay a shitload of child support (over 100k/year). I don't begrudge this, as there's no way out of it. I pay guideline support, according to the statute, I've reviewed most of the relevant cases that deal with this; it is what it is, and I pay my fair share. (wish it was less, believe me, but there it is).
AAANYway. Money has always been an issue between the 2 houses. Mother has contended that the amount I currently pay is still too little (don't even get me started). Mother has a business that she runs poorly and then complains all the time about being poor. Mother spoils the kids. Buys them ipods, gameboys, psps everything. I don't so much. I'm not the spoiling kind. I want them to value the shit that they have.
And now that I'm paying this much, I hear things like "mom's thinking about getting a personal chef!" "Mom's husband bought me these cleats for soccer camp!".
I paid for those cleats. That's my money they're spending. I mean I know it's theirs once I give it to them. And I know that the money I pay goes specifically to balancing both households ability to have just this kind of purchasing power, but dammit, I'm starting to feel that it's time to tell the kids who exactly is doing the heavy lifting around here.

Another thing that mother does is constantly give the kids the idea that they don't spend enough time with me because I travel. This is false. For the record, I do travel a lot (30+ trips a year) but STILL manage to have the kids 48% of the time (I did the math when she claimed that she ended up with them 65% of the time, just the kind of bald-faced lie that I've repeatedly had to contend with). So: many times when I go away they act like I'm abandoning them, when the facts are: I'm not, they're seeing me just as much as normal, (I tell them this) and, just as importantly, it's these trips and my work schedule that PAY FOR EVERYTHING. (I don't tell them that) Mom wouldn't have her new Mercedes without my working like I do.

I'm starting to feel like they're old enough to process this information. That the money I make goes to support everyone in their lives. I didn't used to. I understand how my motives are also suspect. But I'm also feeling less like that's an issue as the time passes. Now it just seems like another fact that they should know about how their world works.

Personal anecdotes? Impressions?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should only give them this information in context. I'm not sure it helps you case to deliver the message, "I give your mom money". It might help your case to start to teach them about personal finance. As their understanding of finance grows, they will value money more, and want to know more about where it comes from and where its going.

You might want to start out by getting them to "help" you pay certain bills... not child support, but getting them to do the monthly gas/electric/water etc. would be an excellent start.
posted by ewkpates at 10:41 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

My wife's parents got divorced when she was very young; for the next 20+ years of her life, she had relatively little contact with her father, and her mother made sure she understood that her father didn't pay support, didn't help with college, and so on and so forth.

As an adult, my wife has reconnected with her father in a big way, and one of the things she now knows is that he did provide support, he did help with college, etc. -- and that he knew my wife's mother was lying about it, but felt it would be better to minimize the stress and maximize the stability, and so kept his mouth shut. It only came out eventually because my wife asked him point-blank (in a bonding moment) why he hadn't contributed.

Anyway, if you tell your kids how much you're paying, it won't really mean anything to them; best case they'll parrot it back to your ex and it'll cause more drama, and worst case they'll resent you for trying to buy their love (which you're not trying to do, obviously, but they're about to be teenagers and filled with angst, and teenagers often invent motivations for their parents to make it seem like they're worse off than they are, it's like a badge of pride to have a bad childhood.)

If you're capable of taking a long view of this, consider: when they bring up the money flying around in their other household, you can sit them down and remind them to appreciate what they have, because money is fleeting. If they complain that you're not spending enough on them, say that you love them, and that should be enough. Make it the kind of thing that you're "known" to say all the time, such that the kids even make fun of you. On the inside, know that you're teaching them a valuable lesson and financially supporting them without their knowledge.

Then when they find out about what you were doing when they're adults, you'll seem that much more awesome. When they're adults, that'll be the time that your financial support (and keeping quiet about it) will have a real impact, and you'll probably get much better grandchild privileges and such, too.

In short: right now the money doesn't really mean anything to them, so reinforce how much more important love and emotional support are. When they're adults, the money you spent on them without telling them will mean a lot to them, and you'll seem like a selfless and awesome person.

ps: I appreciate your attempts to minimize the unfairness of the current situation, even though it's obviously very frustrating to you. Just keep on being the best father you can be, and tune out your ex noise generator.
posted by davejay at 10:46 AM on July 14, 2008 [18 favorites]

I don't see why you can't tell them -- provided you're matter of fact about it and leave the drama out of it. It's a fact of their lives, just the same as the fact that you and your ex are their (I am assuming) biological parents, that you split up, that you live in different houses (and they have 2 homes), that there are legal ramifications to divorce and that you now share custody.

You can't make comments about how your ex uses the alimony, but you can tell them that you pay -- I even think you can tell them how much you pay and the court's thinking as to why you pay. However, once you tell them, that's it. It's not an issue for constant or even now and then discussion -- it's just another fact for them to add to how their world works and is not to be used (although it doesn't sound like you do this or would do it) for leverage, emotional or otherwise, (i.e. I have to go away so I can send you to that soccer camp etc. If your mother worked, I wouldn't have to worry about working so hard to support you all) - again, it doesn't sound like you'd do this, but even in subtle ways, you can't let this happen.

As a society we're so funny about talking about money.
posted by nnk at 10:46 AM on July 14, 2008

I think they're still too young for this information.
posted by desuetude at 10:46 AM on July 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Don't talk about child support with your kids. Just don't do it.

You and your ex appear to have been able, in spite of your problems, to establish a working co-parenting arrangement. That means that no matter how you feel about each other and no matter how much you and/or she have moved on, you are still partners with regard to raising your kids.

The absolute best thing you can do for your kids right now is work things out with your ex so that you are communicating effectively with each other about money/custody/guilt-trips. That way neither one of you will be tempted to talk through the kids, which your post indicates is where you're headed.

Parents use the kids to reach the other parent all the time, and it's just a bad idea all around. Not only does it make the kids feel insecure at home, which is supposed to be the safe place, right? but it also teaches them how to play people, how to manipulate. They already know how you feel about their mom and the situation. They don't need financial details. What they need is for you and your ex to respect them enough to deal with your adult problems without involving them.

Find a marriage counselor / mediator / conflict-negotiator-type of professional and go their with your ex. If she won't go, go on your own anyway & learn how to communicate better with her and with the kids. Good luck.
posted by headnsouth at 10:48 AM on July 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Whoops, hit post instead of preview. Alimony brings up all kinds of issues that you probably don't feel comfortable explaining to nine-year-olds. Like why the court orders you to pay money...does this mean that you only provide money because you have to? Nine is a funny age -- articulate enough to ask for more information that one can actually handle.
posted by desuetude at 10:49 AM on July 14, 2008

I don't think the kids need to know this. Being a good parent involves selflessness. Later, when your kids are in high school and they understand more about finances and the decisions behind divorce, they will understand where all their stuff came from and be grateful to you (well, truly grateful might come even later).
Be the bigger person in this situation. If your ex is taking credit for now, let her. It will all come out in the wash later in life. Your 9 yr olds don't need to hear about all the finances, and I think you will come off looking petty.
Suffer now for a big win of gratitude and understanding later and don't get the kids involved.
posted by rmless at 10:54 AM on July 14, 2008

Kids should know as little as possible about their parents' finances. They'll figure it out. One day a few years from now, one of the twins will be recounting events from his/her childhood and say "Dad was footing the bill. Mom's a mess, she couldn't have done that!"

In the interim, it's important that you don't direct them to it, as satisfying as it would be (and it sounds like it truly would be)-- their image of their mom is going to tarnish more and more as they figure out how life works, but they should feel good about her at 9.

Also because it's not going to change their opinion on excess possessions. They're kids, so they're self-centered. Telling them that their crap was bought with your money is going to puff up mom's rep for a bit-- "Dad won't give us this stuff, but Mom gets the money from him and buys it for us anyway! Yay mom!"

As much as it sucks, you should wait it out until it comes to them.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:57 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

If giving that speech, or even thinking about giving that speech, makes you feel angry at their mom, you shouldn't do it. If you do talk about this, it should be about the basics that you provide them with money at both homes and about it being provided for them by you because you love them, etc.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:58 AM on July 14, 2008

Ask yourself this: (a) Will giving the children this piece of information make them better, more generous or responsible people in the end? Or (b) Are you angry about the way your ex-wife manages her money and her business and you want to tell the kids so they'll know this about their mom. If it's (a) then yes if it's (b) then no. From your post, I don't see a lot of (a) but I do see (b).
posted by bananafish at 11:00 AM on July 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm a child of divorced parents.

Don't talk to your kids about the child support until they're adults, or reasonably close to. While in a very real sense the money is theirs, the arrangement is between you and their mother. I get the feeling from what you have said that whatever you say to them will be countered by their mother. The absolute worst place to put children of a divorce is having to choose between their parents, between who to believe and who to be loyal to. It's just a bad, bad idea, period.

You need to talk to your ex. You need mediation to work out these issues with her.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:01 AM on July 14, 2008

My parents separated when I was 3 (I think?) and were divorced by the time I was 5 or 6. I'd say that 9 is still too young for them to grasp the concept of child support. When you're a kid, $20 seems like a lot of money; they simply won't understand what the money goes to, why it's paid, and it's unfair to expect them to.

Do continue to be a great father and take care of your children. If they're smart at all, they'll realize that you make a lot more money than mom, and piece together that much of their gifts and toys were indirectly bought by you. It doesn't always seem it, but money does not buy a child's love, and time spent and especially understanding your children is more important than anything. Too many fathers attempt to love with money.

Teach your children the value of a dollar, with savings accounts, small lessons in investment, and control over their money. Again, this is for their own good, not to trump mom or to make yourself look better. Let her know that you're helping them learn finances, and don't make it look like anything but teaching them the value of a dollar.

Last but most importantly, never insult mom. She is still their mother and always will be. You may resent the child support, or the fact that it's probably supporting her as much as them, but that isn't something they want or need to hear. I never heard the end of it from either of my parents, and though I love them, it's one thing that I could have done without.

Remember that they will one day be adults, and look back and think, "Wow, dad was paying a ton of money to mom, and he never once complained about it to us, and STILL managed to spend so much time with us. What an awesome dad (even if he is totally dorky [let's be honest, parents are always dorky to teens/college students])"
posted by explosion at 11:03 AM on July 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

From talking to friends that have gone through this as children, the ones that seemed to get it had it explained to them when they were adults (18 or so and off to college). The ones that heard it as kids seemed to get caught up in the parental fight and favor one parent over the other and there were lots of claims of dad not paying that these friends still carry around as adults.

So I'd say suck it up, frustrating as it may be, and don't fill them in until they're out of the mom's house completely.
posted by mathowie at 11:21 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't tell them. Wait until they ask. It will come up eventually, and you'll look a lot more classy by not being the one to bring it up. What's important is that you get to spend time with your kids and that they're well-provided for, not who gets credit for doing the providing.
posted by booknerd at 11:23 AM on July 14, 2008

They WILL figure it out (they'll demand to know when they are in their teens or twenties), and they will be so grateful and proud of your example. Not of supporting them, because all kids take that for granted. But because you never brought it up.
posted by xammerboy at 11:26 AM on July 14, 2008

You'd be telling your kids this in order to make your ex-wife look bad. You can dress it up any way you like, but under the surface, you want your kids to know that your ex-wife doesn't buy your kids as many things as they currently think she does, that she doesn't spend as much time with them as they currently think she does, and that she doesn't provide for them as well as they currently think she does. The fact that those things may all be true is irrelevant. You shouldn't attempt to lower your children's opinion of their mother, even if their opinion of her is artificially high.

Love your children, cultivate a relationship with them, and teach them the values you want them to learn. If they ask, you may tell them that you give mommy money to help her take care of them, because you love them and you want them to have all of the things they need. But don't bring it up unless they ask. This isn't about "truth" or "facts"; it's about a complex relationship among adults that your children shouldn't have to think about.

When they are older, they will figure out that you have a lot more money than your ex and that you must have been paying her child support. You won't have to sit them down and tell them about it; they'll know. If they ask you questions then, you can answer them. But don't introduce this into their lives now. They don't need to be a part of your drama.
posted by decathecting at 11:27 AM on July 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

Somewhat similar situation (not as much money...I wish :-).

I never say anything about the negotiations between myself and the ex, even to the extent of trying to explain how she might be thinking when they are down on her. The ex is not so good at that and brings them into it sometimes. One of my kids (9 years old) gets anxious about the situation because her mum shares her anxiety. They have occasionally parroted something to me their mum has said. The only thing I have done is corrected them very simply, e.g. I do give your mum $x every month to support you. That's it. No more, no less, and no particular emotion. I'm just giving them the facts without judgments about how she spends the money (even though I have fairly strong opinions about it). I try to teach them about how I handle my own money and what I can afford separately from that.

I don't think it's fair to your or them to let misconceptions thrive, but at the same time, never bring them into the back and forth. They will work it out. They do work it out.
posted by idb at 11:33 AM on July 14, 2008

You pay your child support, you spend as much time with your kids as you can, and you keep your grown-up problems to yourself. It's that simple.
posted by HotToddy at 11:37 AM on July 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Kids are smarter than you think. In a few years they'll realize that mom's spending isn't in line with her professional income and that she's either in a world of debt or that someone else is footing the bill. Wouldn't it be better if they came to realize your contribution rather than your forcing it down their throats?

FWIW, even if you were with them >50% of the time, they'd probably still claim you are abandoning them, since they're nine and the world revolves around them at that age (and uh, probably for the next 10 years too). That's another reason why trying to explain your contributions won't really get you anywhere right now.
posted by ml98tu at 11:40 AM on July 14, 2008

My parents divorced when I was pretty young. I was maybe a savvier than average kid, but thought it was obvious that my dad paid for most if not all of the shit my mom bought. It wasn't until I was old enough to do the taxes that I realized the extent of it, but I sure as hell didn't start thinking my dad was some kind of martyr.

This is just the world you live in. If you're rich enough to pay 100k+ in child support, you are rich enough to stop being so friggin stingy! Like i'm sure doing the right thing and raising your kids seems like a hell of an inconvenience for you, but that's what being a parent is about.

I mean, if they ask about child support, or how mommy pays the bills, then explain it to them and try to keep the resentment out of your voice. But unless they're asking, it's either 1) obvious or 2) not important enough to bring up just to make you feel better.
posted by shownomercy at 11:55 AM on July 14, 2008

Don't mention this unless they specifically ask. And, even if they ask at this age, say something along the lines of what idb suggests "I do give your mother $x to make sure you have everything you need regardless of whose house you are in at that moment."

I'd say, wait until they have a need to know (ie: applying for college scholarship, or they ask specific questions). Otherwise please leave it alone.
posted by anastasiav at 12:01 PM on July 14, 2008

There seems to be a substantial sentiment of "no, don't tell them" on here. I understand the reasoning behind that, but really, I think it is the delivery that matters.

I don't know how you hand off the funds, but you might try to bring them in to it a bit. Next time you hand off the chilluns, give them an envelope with a check in it to give to their mom. They will undoubtedly ask what is in the envelope. You just say that it is something for their mom. If they keep on inquiring, you just tell them that you are giving their mother money so that you can help take care of them.

"When mom and I split up, we made a deal. I agreed to keep helping her take care of you guys."

Over time there will be more questions, and their understanding of money will mature. Eventually, you drop the envelope and have them hand the check over by itself (so they can see the amounts). By the time they hit high school, you can be damn sure they know exactly what is going on. As long as you take a positive attitude with them, and the money, they will see that you are doing something good. Leave it to mom to soil her own reputation. Eventually they will see that she squanders it wildly. Let them breed resentment for her over the money, not the other way around.

Kids are smarter than people think. If you stay positive with them and make sure that they know that the money is to help them, they won't take long to realize that mommy is spending daddy's money on herself.

Kids deserve to know if one parent or another is an irresponsible pile of trash. What they don't need is for you to tell them that. They need to figure it out on their own.

Best of luck
posted by milqman at 12:02 PM on July 14, 2008

From the other side, but I think it might be helpful. My sister's ex-husband rarely if ever paid child support. He owed a pittance; $75 dollars a week for 3 kids but still would refuse to pay until he got thrown in jail (by his 3rd ex-wife who he also owed support). My sister leaned heavily on my parents for financial help which they provided without comment to my nieces.

One year at Christmas, my sister's ex-husband spent about $1000 on gifts for his girlfriend. The ex-husband told my nieces that he didn't get them any presents because he paid their mom support. Didn't mention that he owed her back support of over $15,000 at the time. He said he paid for all the presents under the tree at my sister's house. It damn near killed us, but we didn't say anything. We just reminded the girls that their mom worked hard everyday to provide the best she could from them. No comments - EVER - about their dad's lack of payment.

When the oldest girl turned 15 she figured it out. She completely turned on her dad. I think she was furious about the lying and about the material things she'd missed. She set the record straight with her sisters. From that point onward, they basically refused to see him.

Here's the lesson - the kids will figure it out on their own. When they do, they will make their own assessment of your behavior and their mother's behavior.
posted by 26.2 at 12:03 PM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sounds like I'm in the minority here, but I don't see why the fact that you pay child support should be a secret. If you were still married, would it be too much for the kids to handle to learn that you earn money to pay their bills? What's the big deal?

I mean, don't harp on it and be a jerk or anything, but if you want to explain that you need to go to work to pay for the things they enjoy, it doesn't seem like a big deal to me.
posted by designbot at 12:12 PM on July 14, 2008

I pay a shitload of child support (over 100k/year). [...] Mother spoils the kids. Buys them ipods, gameboys, psps everything.

Eh, better that she spend the $100,000 on the kids than on herself. Every ipod she buys them is an ipod you don't have to buy them - and for an ipod classic that's $250 each in your pocket.

The only thing you're missing out on is credit in your children's eyes. And in a way it's good for you that they get all the material benefits of you buying them stuff, without getting the impression you're trying to buy their love.

When is it time (if ever) to tell my children about the child support I pay to keep both their houses going?

At some point in the near future they learn what child support is - such as, from rap music. At some point after that they will ask you or figure it out for themselves.

Until then, keep meticulous records of exactly how much you have paid, so that when they ask, you can state some very large number and back it up with evidence. This will also give them an unforgettable lesson in personal finance.

Sounds like I'm in the minority here, but I don't see why the fact that you pay child support should be a secret.

I agree that it doesn't need to be a secret, and indeed if they ask you should tell them. However, explicitly bringing the subject up with them so you can tell them would seem to serve the father's interests more than the children's interests.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:17 PM on July 14, 2008

If you're rich enough to pay 100k+ in child support, you are rich enough to stop being so friggin stingy! Like i'm sure doing the right thing and raising your kids seems like a hell of an inconvenience for you, but that's what being a parent is about.

I think the OP was making the point that he thinks the kids shouldn't have everything their little hearts desire, while Mom is showering them with iPods, video games, etc. It sounds like this guy is trying to be a good Dad, demonstrating good values to his kids and raising them right. Sure, he's feeling a little peeved about the financial situation - can you blame him?

I think I'll have to second DNAB's suggestion that he and his ex get mediation and discuss alternative ways of doing the money. Even if he continues paying 100k annually, perhaps they can discuss some of the big ticket items and present them to the kids as a collective gift? Obv the Mom gets to decide what to do with the money, but to say (for example): Your Mom and your Dad are sending you to soccer camp!
posted by arnicae at 12:20 PM on July 14, 2008

Do you want to be the angry, vindictive divorced dad that begrudges his kids the support they deserve?

If not, then don't.
posted by Miko at 12:46 PM on July 14, 2008

To follow up on what is apparent snark: I think you can discuss the issue without any resentment. I hope you planned on providing your kids a financial education anyway - this can be a matter-of-fact part of it. As you work with them on teaching them what it costs to live, how to pay bills, and the like, you can show them that you send money for their support. What I do really recommend is that you leave the resentment and anger out of it completely. Show them you do this with pleasure and comfort and out of a sense of love and responsibility for them. Your original post mentioned a lot of axes that you are busy grinding - and I suggest you keep those out of sight of your children.
posted by Miko at 12:51 PM on July 14, 2008

I'm a child of divorced parents that got dragged into every little issue of their relationship/divorce proceedings/dysfunctions/money issues when I was 11. It damaged my relationship with them permanently. I wish I had never known anything about their bullshit and could have just been a kid at that time. Trust me, keep doing the great job you seem to be and let this issue come up when they are adults - you've got their teens coming up when this all could be misconstrued. Kids of divorce do grow up, and they do learn the truth of a situation, and they will figure it all out on their own. If you're portraying your side of things fairly, then they will thank you for being the responsible adult. Trust me on that.
posted by saturnine at 12:51 PM on July 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Tell them but avoid the following vocabulary:

*Wish it was less
*Restraining orders.

Sit them down in your lap. Tell them exactly how it goes (9 is not so young they understand much more than you think).

Please keep it positive...think of it as a sensitive subject along the birds and the bee talk.

Finally be prepared to have the mom negate your discussion.
posted by The1andonly at 1:02 PM on July 14, 2008

If you're rich enough to pay 100k+ in child support, you are rich enough to stop being so friggin stingy! Like i'm sure doing the right thing and raising your kids seems like a hell of an inconvenience for you, but that's what being a parent is about.

Wow, imho that is quite unfair to the OP.

I'm going to go along with the sentiment here -- forget about the resentment and anger. What really matters here is that your children get the best possible influences in their early formative years, and that you pass on your values and principles to them.

You seem successful enough in life to know that money doesn't really matter in the end. Don't bother spending too much time arguing against any unfair accusations your ex comes up with; and don't come up with your own -- that is really a waste of time. You know the truth of the situation and that should be enough for you. When her accusations are accurate, work on those issues or clarify them -- ignore the rest. Not worth it.

You don't have to justify yourself against false accusations or feel resentful. You def. sound like you're looking for appreciation for everything that you're doing, and yes, someday your kids will know. Until then look out for yourself and your mental health too. Good luck!
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 1:04 PM on July 14, 2008

Please, please, please don't make your kids deliver your child support checks for you, in an envelope or otherwise. That puts them in the middle of an adult financial arrangement that should be between you and your ex-wife. It's the equivalent of telling them passive-aggressive messages to tell to your ex, which is among the top no-nos if you want to continue to have a civil relationship in the family.

Even if it doesn't harm your kids emotionally, it will make your ex-wife furious, damaging your ability to have reasonable discussions with her in the future. If you do decide, for whatever reason, to tell them about your child support, do it directly, not using this passive nonsense. This is a terrible idea.
posted by decathecting at 1:16 PM on July 14, 2008

If you were responding to demonstrated curiosity on the kids' part (when I was their age, I read a lot about divorce so that I could understand what was going on in my family, and thus had some understanding of alimony and child support), that might fine. Similarly, if you wanted to generally explain more about how divorce works (in the context of going back to court, or something), sure, no problem.

But reading your question, with all meticulous numbers (you see them exactly 48% of the time, etc.) and your statements regarding your ex-wife: As a divorced kid, it just brought me back to the middle of all those subtle parental fights. Showing the kids the numbers - well, they're not going to understand all that much about the details, or care about Excel graphs charting every cent that's gone to their mother. They will, however, catch all of the undertones present in your post: namely, your desire to share your negative opinion of their mother, and moreover, your desire to prove with numbers that your point of view is the right one.

My father had a similar opinion of my mother: he thought she should be sacrificing more, trying to move to a more lucrative field, etc. My siblings and I didn't hear too much about this when we were younger, and for that I'm grateful. We did hear it as we got closer to college: my father believed he'd paid enough already in child support and alimony to have covered his part of the college expenses. We were shown the Excel tables, the graphs, etc., to justify this. And you know? The numbers weren't the point then, for us, and they aren't the point now, for you. No matter who was "right", life went on.

It was a nasty situation for us, though. Plenty of reason to dislike the decisions of both parents - our mother for not trying to . In the end, the only thing that's made much sense for my siblings and me is to try not to take a stance. We will never know all the details of our parents' divorce, so there really aren't grounds to take sides. Moreover, there very rarely is a correct side in these sorts of things. You believe the kids' mother is lazy and unsuccessful, and riding on your financial coattails; she may be one of the sorts of people who would rather work to live than the other way 'round, and doesn't consider it worthwhile to spend a lot more of her time working (and travelling) when she's content with her lifestyle as it is, with income from her business, her new husband's business, and, yeah, child support and alimony. You think she's spoiling the kids; she may think she's giving them opportunities to do worthwhile things. Etc.

So please: don't drag your kids into the middle of this. You feel very much that you're in the right, but that's rather the nature of things after a divorce. Be a good father, answer questions honestly and truthfully - and definitely teach your kids about finances! - but don't use financial matters between you and their mother as a weapon. If you can't think of anything else good to say about their mother, tell your kids you know she loves them and is trying to do her best for them, just like you are. And yeah, consider going (back?) to mediation; finances aren't going to get any more fun over the next decade, and you need to have plans in place for dealing with increasingly large expenditures (private schools, activities, college, whatever.)
posted by ubersturm at 1:20 PM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

First off, thank you on behalf of all the women, ex-wifely or never married, who are raising children begat from self-focused jerks. You are appreciated.

Personally, I chose not to share the ugly uglies of my son's father's behavior WRT child support and general stupidity until my son was 17-18ish. No talk of the court orders, trans-state child support location and enforcement, dad's lame-ass attempt at suing me for full custody, broken promises, arrearages, wage assignments, yadda. Any conversations I had with other grownups regarding or involving his father took place out of kid's earshot.

I have a binder 4" thick with all the legal papers and grizzly details for my own record keeping but I've kept it out of son's sight. It's not that I like keeping secrets but a) my kid was a kid and I wanted him to not have to worry about grown-up issues for as long as possible, and b) I hoped my child would use his smart cookie skills to form his own opinion of his father (and he has, though I'm a little sad for both of them that his dad didn't get his shit together until v. recently and my kid's current opinion of his father is v.v. low). As it turned out, dad asked our son to keep secrets about dad's unlawful activities, things that ended up coming out and hitting the fan when dad was sent to prison for a couple of years.

Keep demonstrating your love for your kids, continue emphasizing that the material things will only carry happiness so far, and if you do choose to talk to the kids about their child support I'd suggest trying to keep it age-appropriate and as non-snarky as possible. Most kids pay a lot more attention than we think they do. Good luck.
posted by mcbeth at 1:26 PM on July 14, 2008

I am in a situation very similar to yours. I don't think you should tell your children unless they ask. I hope you can ignore some of the more unfair and ignorant sentiments expressed here and pay attention to the good and sympathetic advice.

There is very little compassion out there for Dads who want to support their kids and are subjected to the blunt instrument wielded by the family courts which operate under the sole assumption that fathers don't want to pay their fair share. I think if you can protect your kids from the transactional aspect of your relationship with their mother post-divorce- it's probably best for them. But, if they bring Mom's complaints to you, I think it's okay to say that you help Mom with money, that you are sorry she is running into difficulties, and that you will always support them no matter what. Feel free to mail me if you want to discuss further.
posted by mistsandrain at 1:32 PM on July 14, 2008

My parents separated when I was six, and they never discussed the fine details of the separation with me until I was in my 20's and even at that age it was weird, especially in how divergent their memories were about things like who said what, who paid how much, etc.

I completely understand your frustration, but anything you do or say will come across as sniping at their mother, and that won't reflect well on you, no matter what your intent or how delicately you do it.

Set a good example for them and understand that they'll form their own opinions no matter what you or their mother say.
posted by lekvar at 1:55 PM on July 14, 2008

My father skipped my son's first birthday party because he was pissy over a Sears bill my mother, his ex-wife, had left for him to pay.

Guess which one of my parents I still talk to.

(In other words- leave your kids out of it. They'll figure out what's going on eventually. Please don't make them pick sides.)
posted by headspace at 2:01 PM on July 14, 2008

They'll figure it out when they get older, I'd imagine. My stepdad has a 17-year-old daughter, and he divorced her mom when she was 9 or 10. When she was that young, she didn't really know what the deal was, because my stepdad was generous to a fault so she (my stepsister) wouldn't have to go through any more changes (his ex is still in their house that he's paying for, he pays child support, pays his ex God knows how much every year, yet he still pays for every incidental imaginable for my stepsister because his ex blows the money she gets like it's growing on trees, just on and on and on). The idea behind this was that his ex would be a better mom if she didn't have to work.

Instead this ex has not worked in over 20 years, she doesn't clean, doesn't cook, doesn't nurture her daughter, does absolutely nothing except sit in the house, chain smoke, and demand that her daughter bring her more Cokes. I'm not even exaggerating, that is exactly what happens all day, every day. The house is DISGUSTING, and the nicest parts about it are the new roof, new siding and new air conditioning system that my stepdad paid for. The best part is, if she ever sells the house, she gets the equity from it. Over the course of the settlement my stepdad will be paying over a million dollars to this pig.

But he never expressed that to his daughter. Things stayed the same for her, except for having two homes now, and that was the whole plan. Now that she's older and sees her mother sponging, being lazy, and supporting her boyfriend with her ex's money, she's wised up and has asked questions and knows what's going on. The downside is that she uses it as ammo in fights with her mother: "Well, it's DAD'S MONEY anyway!"

So I think it really depends. Your children knowing about it could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing. I think you should keep going with the flow so that their lives aren't disrupted (comfort-wise) and once they get older and see more of how the world works, and ask questions, then you can be honest. If you explained it now, even though it's not your intention, it could seem to them that you're trying to pit them against their mother. And as yet another child of divorced parents, I can personally say that that is NO good and not something you want to happen.

So I agree - continue with the way things are, try to keep a cool head when fighting with your ex, and wait for the appropriate time to tell your kids what's going on.

Best of luck to you, it is indeed an extremely frustrating situation.
posted by slyboots421 at 2:15 PM on July 14, 2008

Knowing how I felt about my parents' agreement?

I would say they probably already know enough on their own. Enough, for them, could mean knowing nothing. Telling them how much isn't going to help anything- they will only resent their mother for not spending more of it on them, or resent you for making them feel caught in the middle, or any number of things. No matter your intent, or best efforts, they will likely wish they had never known. Money is an adult's game.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:57 PM on July 14, 2008

Unfair to the OP my ass.

If the question were "How do I get my ex wife to stop spending child support money on toys and put it away in a college fund" instead of "Should I let my kids know I am the only reason they have nice things", then I would be a lot more sympathetic. However taking credit for something which is probably pretty obvious to the average 9 year old smacks of immature credit seeking.
posted by shownomercy at 5:06 PM on July 14, 2008

I would suggest waiting until they are around 18 to discuss the specifics of the child support arrangement. I think they are too young to fully process it right now. Something to keep in mind is that around 16 or so, the discussion of financing college, financial aid, etc. comes up. Filling out those forms can be very enlightening at that age. They will start to see how real-world adult finances are structured and they also have an immediate concrete implication for your children. The suggestion of teaching them in general terms about finances, budgeting, etc is an excellent one. I would probably wait until 12 to get into exactly how that works though.

Far more worrisome is their misperception that you are not spending enough time with them. It sounds like you are a numbers person who likes to break things down into indisputable figures. That may be the right way to illustrate exactly how much time you do spend together. Maybe saying something along the lines of, "I really miss you when we are not together, too and I spend as much time as with you as my agreement with your mother allows. I went through our schedule to make sure we are together as much as we can be, and we are. See, here are the numbers." It also might help to make sure they understand that business travel is very different than any fun trips you might take, and most of the time it is not a choice to go, but a condition of your employment, like them having to read a book for English class. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's not. Sometimes you are required to read a particular book when you'd much rather read (or do) something else. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 5:08 PM on July 14, 2008

I don't know how you hand off the funds, but you might try to bring them in to it a bit. Next time you hand off the chilluns, give them an envelope with a check in it to give to their mom.
My dad did this to me, I think more out of convenience than to teach me anything but it was a BAD IDEA. Inevitably, I forgot about it occasionally, and then my mom was all pissed at my dad for not giving her the child support check and my dad was all pissed at my mom for not cashing it right away so he could balance his checkbook and meanwhile it was sitting in the bottom of my bookbag. And then when we sorted things out I felt terrible because I thought I had started another argument between my parents because I didn't understand at the time that I was just caught in the middle of a larger argument that I still don't really understand totally and probably never will.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 5:08 PM on July 14, 2008

I understand your frustration, but basically you come off sounding like you begrudge the money you pay. Until you can work through that on your own, please don't share your thoughts with your kids. Even if you try to keep it neutral, they will be able to tell that you have resentment about the arrangement. Trust me when I say it hurts to know that your dad resents supporting you. (And to them the fact that your resentment is mostly towards Mom will matter not at all. They will feel like it's directed toward them.)
posted by JennyK at 5:35 PM on July 14, 2008

As a guy who voluntarily paid up to 3x times court mandated child support for 16 years (because I could, and because I thought it was going for the benefit of the kids), I'd just suggest that child support can and has been used by custodial parents against the child it is supposed to be supporting, sometimes with apparently good, if misguided intentions. Not just in buying useless stuff, but in sending the kids to prestige schools that are wrong for them, etc. I can't think of a worse way to raise kids than through child support paid by one parent to another custodial parent, and if I had it to do over again, I'd have been a lot less generous, and demanded a lot more accountability, and kept hammering at the custody agreement legally, as a matter of principle. In failing to do so, I let my kids down, and relied too much on the representations of my ex, over my kids, even though their mother was and is a degreed, licensed social worker, working in the state child welfare system. In hindsight, I recognize now that it was easier for me to believe the representations of my ex, and not rock the boat, even as I slowly came to recognize that my kids were having problems living up to her plans for them, and that she had lost the ability to discipline them in reasoned ways, or admit she was having parenting problems before they became destructive to the kids.

I don't suggest discussing the specifics of your child support payments to your children at their ages, but letting them know in general terms that you are providing for them because you love them is fine. Depending on the specifics of your agreement, you might even be able to use new tools like debit cards to get better accountability of the money you are contributing than used to be possible when I was making child support payments. If you get visibility of how your support payments are being used, you may see that just that degree of oversight alone creates a thriftier, more rational spending pattern. If not, your difference of opinion is with the custodial parent and the courts, and you should make your case there, not with or through your kids. If it becomes necessary in your judgement to make that fight, you need to do so in a disciplined, structured way, as you would carry out any serious business activity, and you need to do so in sincere pursuit of your child's best interests.
posted by paulsc at 6:46 PM on July 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I knew there was a monthly check. I knew, because of all the "hints" from dad that communicated it was taking big money out of his pocket. Every other weekend I got to personally experience the obvious difference in his spending power versus my mom's. I saw who was working the second job year after year, to provide opportunities for me that I never saw her provide to herself. I saw who sent postcards about lavish vacations several times per year, and who saved all year just to afford a brief couch-surfing visit to her parents and siblings. I saw which household was populated with roaches, and which had the killer view.

So it didn't take a genius to figure out that for all his hints, the child support couldn't be doing that much to put a dent in his lifestyle and had to be doing far too little to affect the lifestyle mom and I shared. The actual numbers didn't matter, and would have meant nothing to my young mind anyway. Nevertheless, from a young age the concept of child support was clear without anyone explaining.

As I got old enough later to be entrusted with responsibility, mom put me in charge of the grocery shopping. Our grocery budget was fixed, by necessity. The list left no room for discretionary purchases. It was my job to stretch those numbers far enough to work. It was a great lesson in money management, and a good workout of my algebra lessons. So when, some years later, I accidentally discovered what the child support amount had been, it came as little surprise that the reputedly sacrificial monthly amount hadn't even matched our weekly food expenses. What seemed so big to a swinging bachelor was nothing against the reality of expenses for schooling and rearing a child. From that perspective, it's sort of understandable how he'd believed he was justified in letting his sacrifice be known. But -- then or now -- I'd never have forgiven a suggestion of "who exactly is doing the heavy lifting around here." You must be pretty blinded by emotion right now to have forgotten how much each of you contributes to your children's lives other than the money. Your description makes it clear that plenty of heavy lifting is being done by both. Please don't lose sight of that, and don't risk losing your kids' respect by suggesting it is otherwise.

Consider re-examining why this even matters to you. I can't imagine any way for you to "win" this competition without reinforcing the very values that you clearly prefer not be fostered in your children. Would you want them to grow into the kind of adults who judge the quality of their personal relationships by tallying up hours invested and dollars spent? Let the numbers go. Communicate with your ex about your commitment to let that go and ask whether the two of you can do that together. There are so many better ways to communicate your love for them, and for them to recognize that they are loved by both of you.

I personally think it'd be helpful for you to look at child support differently. It's neither "given" to them, nor to your ex-wife. It simply belongs in the household pot. If you were happily married, surely the last thing either of you would want to do is apportion credit for each household/family purchase. "Your job paid for the lawn mower. Mine paid for its gas. Except last week, when I was on unpaid sick leave so your job paid for one week's fuel. My hours cleaning the house saved $100 in housekeeping fees, which effectively I'm the one who paid for our last romantic dinner out. My inheritance paid for the kids' first year of private school, your extra job will pay for year two." Augh, it'd be misery to live that way. And pointless.

So is this.

Married or not, you're in this together. Your kids deserve the best life that their parents are collectively able to provide them. It sounds like you and your ex have been trying to give them just that. Well done, then! This is not a winner-take-all situation. You both get full credit. Congratulations.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:07 PM on July 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Focus on values. Try to use positive statements. "I love spending time with you, so I schedule my travel to be with you as much as possible. I miss you when I'm away" "My work is interesting, and it helps me support my family." "Wow, those are great cleats. Let's go practice passing. "

Focus on who you want them to be. You want them to be people who love and respect their Mom, so encourage them to do just that. They'll remember the positive, loving attitude. If you share your bad feelings about money, they'll remember the bad feelings.

You are a bit bitter. No blame, it's hard to avoid, but it eats you up. Sucking up the child support, sucking up the misstatements, no fun at all. But when they're older, you'll get their appreciation, and it will be worth it.
posted by theora55 at 8:25 PM on July 14, 2008

All those just ignore it comments are pure bullshit. My youngest son said he didn't want to see me because their mom said they had no money for food because I don't pay child support. The state takes almost 1700 out of my checks each month in support on top of medical insurance for the kids. I'm so fucking bitter about the whole thing, I just grin when the children are with me, and ignore her lies. I finally got tired of the "how bad we have it at home, because you don't pay" bullshit stories they parrot from their mother.
I showed them the state website, and said "I have never lied to you", and they stopped. They are almost all teenagers, so its not as bad as a 5yo getting brainwashed about how daddy is a scum bag by a pissed off ex. I keep taking photos of abuse and giving them to CPS, yet she tries to play the victim and say she was in abusive relationship, abused child, etc, thats why she hurts the kids. I'm not sure how some people get away with playing the system, but the system sucks. I was just hoping my kids wouldn't have to experience this crap of an abusive parent, but when you get married in your teens you have no idea who the person you married will be in 15 years. Good luck, its hell and rips your heart out, just try to get through it.
posted by IronWolve at 9:24 PM on July 14, 2008

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