Can men and women be friends after a divorce? I think so. Not immediately, but over time, you might be surprised. But there’s one thing I think that keeps men and women at odds for a long, long time. It’s a source of resentment that breeds perpetual anger and bitterness. I’m talking about child support.
When someone has to hand over a child support check every month, a few things could be going on:
1. It can bring back the emotions of the divorce because it’s a monthly reminder.
2. It can cause financial anxiety.
3. It can make a person feel like divorce laws aren’t fair.
4. The person always kind of wonders if the child support check is really going to the kids.
5. The person might feel like the ex isn’t appreciative. So, he/she feels angry and resentful.
These child support issues go on for men and women in ALL financial situations. In other words, it’s not only in situations where people are struggling financially. I see it from very wealthy people. It doesn’t make a difference. Most people hate to pay for one reason or another. Which leads me to ask the ironic question…
Is paying child support really about the money?
Let me paint one scenario. A guy thought he and his wife and kids were relatively happy. The marriage wasn’t perfect, but it was okay. That was life. All of a sudden, one day, his wife says, “I want a divorce.”
He finds out she is in love with another man. The ground beneath the guy’s feet gives way. He now has to find an apartment and move out, not see his kids every night, AND the worst one, give his wife (who is happily in love and living with their kids full time) a check every month, otherwise he will be in violation of the law.
It’s pretty easy to see why he might be resentful. But, let’s look at it through the wife’s eyes. Maybe she was unhappy for years. Maybe she tried to get her husband to go to counseling and he wouldn’t go. Cheating is not justifiable. I’m not saying it’s perfectly OK to cheat and leave your spouse for another person. But child support isn’t about any of this.
Then there’s the situation where a wife was left by her husband. I see this a lot: at the beginning, the husband feels guilty and is happy to hand the child support check over to his soon-to-be-ex. But as the months go on, and the divorce progresses, he changes course and turns angry, bitter and resentful about having to give his ex money. He might say, “It’s been 8 months, she should have a job by now.”
He doesn’t realize the trauma and pain his wife is experiencing, and how hard it is to go from a stay-at-home mom to a working single mom.
I do want to clarify that these roles can be reversed. I don’t want to stereotype because every situation is unique.
The most important thing to remember is:
Child support is about innocent people: children.
Being a mom who received child support (and worked), I sometimes feel like ex-husbands think women are sitting around having a great time, collecting money, buying whatever we want and laughing about how great we have it. That was very much not the case for me, and for most divorced moms I know.
Now, I also know some moms who make no effort to work and feel entitled and still bitter about their divorce even if they are being paid a monthly amount of child support that is much more than they spend.
So, how can a couple reconcile child support and both feel good about the amount the one person is receiving?
If someone wants to feel better–less resentful and angry about giving his or her spouse child support, they might want to be more communicative and ask the spouse to talk about what he/she spends the child support money on. I’m saying communicate in a nice, courteous, productive way, not in an accusatory, judgmental way. Say, “I genuinely would like to know where this money is going, specifically.”
I have always wondered why divorced couples don’t have some kind of joint account in which each can see how the money is being spent. For example, each could have access to a ledger that both parents are using. Hockey skates: $200, Ballet lessons for April: $300, Doctor’s appointment co-pay: $35, etc. This way, each knows exactly how the money is being spent, and then attitudes completely change, the parents co-parent better, and they are kinder to each other, which has a huge positive effect on children. I think this kind of ledger should be mandatory by law!
Here’s the thing. Divorce (besides having so many other challenges) is expensive. It’s a financial stressor for most people. So, with financial stress and fear, comes anger and resentment.
But I hope people who read this will think about the fact that when they give their ex that monthly child support check, they are giving it to them so that they can house, feed and clothe their children, and provide the best life possible to the people they love the most.
Sometimes life isn’t fair, and the child support check you pay or receive might not seem fair. If that’s you, I understand and I’m sorry you have to live with an injustice. My advice is to try not to focus on what you can’t control, and instead focus on your life and your happiness.
I do have something to say to the person who is getting the child support check, and I want the giver of the check to hear this, too:
I know it’s hard to go back to work. Trust me. I’ve been here. Here are the obstacles…
1. First of all, it was so so so hard to find that first job after not working for so long.
You should learn LinkedIn, and how to network and use social media to put yourself out there professionally. Plus, when was the last time you updated your resume? That’s really hard, too!
2. Secondly, it’s hard to find the right fit–for your lifestyle and being a mom and juggling it all.
I had a couple jobs where I worked for less than a month and it just didn’t work out.
3. Technology has all changed.
It is beyond intimidating to those who have been out of the work force for so long. But, I can tell you firsthand, it can be overcome.
4. Stay-at-home moms lack self-confidence when it comes to working.
If you think about it, being a stay-at-home mom is thankless with no pay and no recognition. That weighs on a person and causes them to lose confidence and self-esteem.
All this said, women who are divorced should not expect and assume that they can continue being a stay-at-home mom and live off child support and maintenance alone.
Divorce definitely has a price, and going back to work is often part of it. Sad, but it’s the truth. But, as someone who lived it, going back to work changed my life incredibly for the better, in many, many ways.
It feels so much better to make your own money versus collecting a check every month from someone else. And, it feels even better to do both! (if you are making a lot less than your ex, of course.) It’s extremely empowering to hold a job, and just wait until you get a raise or get promoted! Work gives people a sense of identity that is separate from the kids, and makes you feel confident and smart and great about yourself. Trust me, I lived this, and I was scared as hell to go back to work.
In closing, the thing I want to say to men (and women) who have to pay child support is, I know it’s frustrating when you have to give a check to your ex, especially if he/she left you, and who you know for a fact isn’t even looking for a job (again, in certain cases) because she just doesn’t want to work. And, if he/she is mean to you and you still have to pay, I would imagine it’s infuriating.
The psychological aspect of someone having to hand the ex a child support check every month is just plain old mentally unhealthy.
But next month, when you hand the person who broke your heart and ruined your life the child support check, try to remember that you are handing it to your children, not him/her. And, when he hands you the check, just say thanks. It’s nice to be acknowledged and appreciated, no matter the circumstances.