Live, Love, Blend:
Much Ado About Child Support
Child support is a pretty simple concept, or so you might think. Parents divorce. Parent who doesn’t keep the kids pays the one who does. Money goes to off-set kids’ expenses: school fees & supplies, medical expenses, clothes, lunch money, new shoes… and the list goes on. Raising kids is expensive! But if you’re reading this you’re probably a parent and most likely you’ve been divorced, so this is not a news flash.
If you are a divorced parent, you’ve probably also learned that the child support system has gotten incredibly screwed up. What may have started as a simple concept has become a tangled web of red tape, arrears, subpoenas, tax withholding, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. What happened?! And what, if anything, can we do about it?
Asking what happened is probably a silly question. Many parents don’t want to pay. And I’m not just talking about the deadbeats. Very few people want to hand out hard earned cash to their ex! It’s not that they don’t want to help their child. Sometimes it’s because they want to control the way their ex is using the child support money. Other times it’s because they feel they are paying too much, or that the ex has more than enough money to raise the child. Whatever the reason, what it boils down to is the fact that the focus turns to the money rather than the child. When our focus is on the money, trouble follows.
Now I could tell you here that as long as you keep your focus on the child, all the money stuff will fall neatly into place. Sorry, it might not. I can say that I wholeheartedly try not to get absorbed by the financials, but sometimes it happens despite my best efforts. And in a blended family with so many moving parts (as most blended families consist of), child support stress can lead to other problems.
For example, in our household I am currently very frustrated that although my stepson moved in to our home full-time over the summer, we are still paying child support to his mother. Every time we call the Attorney General’s office to try to nudge the process forward, they send us the same set of paperwork. How many times do they need the same form?! And if you’ve ever tried to call and get information regarding your case, you know that the phone call itself will be an exercise in futility.
On the other hand, there’s the situation with my ex, who now has fallen so far behind in his payments that criminal proceedings are in the works (again). I asked what good it does to put someone in jail when they are unable to pay. The response was that I could stop all child support collection efforts, but that they would never be restarted. Surely I’m not alone in feeling like this is a no-win situation.
So how do you create a household budget with so many variables? How do I tell my husband we can only afford to pay half of his children’s expenses when the two boys I brought into our equation need 100% of our financial support? Is there any way to politely respond to a teenager’s request for more shoes, “go ask your mother.”? especially when you want to follow it up with “and while you’re at it ask her if she’s planning to buy you a car with all the extra child support she’s getting”. But of course, we cannot say these things out loud. We just try our best to meet their needs and let the grown ups work through all the red tape.
What do you do? As we work to navigate these challenges, I’d love to hear what works in your blended family. Or lessons you learned through the things that didn’t!