Divorce can be an ugly business even when couples are trying to be reasonable over dividing their assets and figuring out parenting time. It gets much, much worse though when a party is intent on revenge and for example, your ex is playing financial games.
My current guest, Lisa Thomson was married for 18 years. Her now ex is a very controlling person so it was never likely to be an easy divorce. Not only was co-parenting challenging, but so were the financial aspects of divorce. Since Lisa had been a stay-at-home mom that made her transition to supporting herself even more challenging. Here’s Lisa:
My ex also quit his job and the little catch there was that he actually worked for my father’s business. He was at about the 30-year mark and he decided to leave the business and then consequently plead that he couldn’t find work. So, he basically took the summer off and golfed and didn’t pay child support.
I think in a way it was a vindictive move at the time and then two of the other key people that he worked with also left the company shortly after him and opened their own business. He was working there but he was hiding it, having the kids keep secrets about his work and things like that. Again, I think it was another way during the divorce to say, “Screw you, I’m not earning any money anymore, so too bad. You’re not going to get child support.” So, of course that led to some other legal issues and challenges that I dealt with.
I got a child support order and then I filed it with the enforcement office. Then he had to pay and he was very angry. Not having a job wasn’t an excuse, because we already had a court order in place.
Then, when he quit his job, we went in for a request to get spousal support back and the judge offered spousal support for a short-term until he could come back and tell him, “Okay, I’ve got a job,” or what his plan was. So, there were a few little procedures that I had to do in between to keep the money coming in, but he didn’t pay child support for maybe eight months?
I did have to go into my retirement savings at one one point. You do pay a tax penalty, but I really had no other choice.
It’s interesting, because when he wasn’t paying the child support, he would say things to the kids like, “Well, your mom doesn’t pay for that?” He was always pointing out to them what he was doing for them and what I wasn’t doing for them. It was really hard because not only do they use that control, they remove the financial security from you. Then, the next thing they start doing is they start using that as a reason why the kids should doubt you, doubt your commitment as a parent, because you’re not paying for their outrageous ski race program, for example, even though I was paying for some music lessons and some other things.
He wanted to make that a point until my son actually said to me, “Why don’t you pay? Why don’t you pay for any of our ski stuff.” At that point I had to explain to him, “You have to understand, I’m not getting any child support from your dad.” He had a lot of money. It’s not like he was suffering from financial woes. When he wasn’t working, he was golfing and traveling. During the trial, the judge took a look at all of his credit card statements during that period of time and saw that he spent a very large sum of money within four or five months basically on golfing and traveling.
It just shows that it’s not that he didn’t have the resources, he just chose to not pay at that time and then it was almost like he was trying to spend money on himself so he wouldn’t have to share it. There was some sort of mental thing going on there.
The Divorce Coach Says:
If you thought you’d be able to do your legal divorce yourself or through mediation, any financial maneuvers such as these mean that you need competent legal advice and sooner rather than later.
It’s important to understand the mechanics of both child support and spousal support for where you live and you need to stay on top of it, especially child support which may be modifiable for changes in circumstances. If you do have change in your situation, for example going from a high paying job to one with a lower salary, then you need to check into getting child support modified. If you do nothing and there is a court order in place, it likely means the child support arrears will accumulate and you will be liable for paying that.
My view on child support is that it isn’t your money. Technically, it may be owed to you but it’s money that is earmarked for the benefit of your child. You have a responsibility to keep track of what’s due and what’s paid and you have a responsibility to pursue arrears even if it means waiting for years.
Similarly, if you are paying child support, not paying it will undoubtedly hurt your ex but the people you’re really harming are your children.
The other important lesson from Lisa’s story is that having a court order for child support and/or spousal support and receiving those payments are two entirely separate things. While arrears will accumulate and you can pursue enforcement, arrears won’t pay the grocery bill or the utilities. So as soon as you know divorce is in your future, you have to start figuring out your financial plan. How will you financially support yourself?
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