“Paying Child Support Really Ticks Me Off!”
As a divorce mediator, I always brace myself a bit when it comes time in the mediation process to discuss child support with divorcing parents. As we walk through the factors involved with the child support worksheet and start plugging in numbers, the parent that ends up facing the obligation of paying child support seems to fall apart. It’s like watching someone going through the first four steps of the grieving process in mere minutes.
First it’s denial: “What? That can’t be right! The worksheet must be wrong. We have equal parenting time!” Then anger: “If you think for a second, I’m paying you money to support your frivolous lifestyle, you’re mistaken!” Next, bargaining: “Listen, if you want me to pay for school supplies or school lunches or something like that, FINE. But I’m not going to just give you free money every month!” And finally, sadness: “Isn’t this perfect? You’re the one who wanted the divorce and now I’m stuck paying. Story of my life!” Some shed tears, some mangle empty water bottles, some start to pace the room. But the message is clear from all, “The notion of paying child support really ticks me off!”
So Why do Folks React This Way?
The number one block to acceptance of paying child support is unresolved anger and the loss of control. “How do I know how he’s using that money each month?” “Is she just using the money to get her weekly mani/pedis?” “Our kids look like ragamuffins when they come to my house, so he’s clearly not using child support to buy them nice clothes!” “I notice she’s carrying a new designer handbag – I’m so glad the child support I pay could buy that for her!”
This loss of control is a real struggle. In some extreme cases, it’s enough to make the payor stop paying despite being in contempt of court and at risk for jail time! And I think most people can relate on the surface – who wants to willingly cut a monthly check to someone you don’t like very much and give them carte blanche control as to how to spend it? But child support goes beyond that.
It’s for the CHILDREN!
The cliché response is the reality – the money is for the children. And until the payor can learn to accept that, they will have a lot of heartburn. Often, when someone is told they have an obligation to pay child support, they don’t hear the word “child”. Instead, they hear “support” and picture the person controlling the money and cannot see past that…their ex getting “their” money. They simply cannot get beyond the anger towards their ex.
It’s sad to me that these negative emotions and anger cause for some to forget their responsibility to their children. I once had a prospective client who was a highly compensated executive declare she was going to request a change in positions at work so she would receive fewer bonuses and overall reduce her annual income by over $100,000…so she would pay less child support. (Little did she know it wasn’t that simple.) Can you imagine? Giving up $100,000 a year to spite your ex? And how would that change ultimately affect the children I wonder, when they learned that mom planned to take them out of private school? (She later mentioned a positive “downstream impact” of requesting a change in positions was that she’d have more time to spend with her kids…a shame that wasn’t her primary reasoning. By the way, she ended up in a long, drawn-out litigated divorce – she obviously wasn’t a candidate for mediation.)
We’ve also had clients who feel that the person receiving child support should have to give monthly reporting to account for how it’s used. One client suggested he would open an account in his name solely and give his ex-wife a debit card so he could see exactly how the money was being spent. These options may work for some co-parents , but ultimately, they represent a need for retained control.
I truly believe that child support can be one of primary reasons divorced parents whose relationship starts out close to amicable after a divorce, can easily become contentious, and for many years. The person paying child support needs to let go of their anger and need for control. Perhaps easier said than done, but a necessity. All that said, I’m not suggesting that anyone should pay an unfair amount of child support, nor is it okay if children are truly being neglected or uncared for in the child support recipient’s home. (I also think it’s horrid that there are people who demand child support despite having more than sufficient income to support their children. But that’s a whole other blog topic.)
Accept Loss of Control
What’s so wonderful about the meditation process is that divorcing parents can speak their feelings in a safe environment. They are able to express the anger and frustration over the loss of control. While it is not therapy, it does have a therapeutic impact.
So, yes, we do see clients react to child support with the first four stages of the grieving process…and we also get to see them move to the fifth…acceptance. That’s why we do what we do here at Smarter Divorce Solutions! It truly is Divorce Done Differently!