Money is often cited as the No. 1 thing divorcing couples fight over. Financial disagreements clog the courts and wrack up attorney bills — not to mention burn untold units of stress and misery for each party, their children and anyone within earshot.
This money-related financial tension carries over after breakups and divorce. Often, women tell me that they can't move forward with their lives because they are stuck financially because of money their ex owes. They tell me: I can't afford to go back to school / advance my career by traveling or taking additional responsibilities because there is no money for child care — because he won't pay.
He may very well owe you that money. Morally and legally, you may be entitled to it.
But sometimes you can be so right, you are wrong. After all, the average sum of child supported ordered monthly is less than $300, and total child support owed is actually paid just 40 percent of the time. What if you let that all go and focused on earning big, big money. I want every woman to understand what it feels like to be financially independent. Only then do you truly step into your power, and live your life in the biggest, most authentic way possible.
Signs you should stop fighting your ex for child support, alimony or other money
1. It's costing you more in legal fees than you stand to receive
Life is not fair. There are laws designed to protect women and children in divorce, and there is also the universal law of what is just. But there is also the legal system, and it is messed up, unfair and is designed to support mainly the rich. Unless you're Elin Nordegren and Tiger Woods, there is often a very low threshold to cross before it stops making sense to spend money on lawyers to get what you are owed. Do the math. Then take a deep breath. Let the breath go. And let that money go, too.
2. You're fighting for money he doesn't have
You can't get blood from a stone, as the old adage goes. Sure, he may owe you tens of thousands of dollars in back child support. You could have the courts take his car and send him to jail. But if you honestly know that he doesn't have that cash, do you really want to do that? Yes? What do you get in return?
3. You're building a lifestyle around someone else's money — that you may never get
When you create a budget based on money you get from someone else, you are dependent on them. This is never a good idea. For financial reasons, that money may never materialize — or suddenly disappear. Men's child support and alimony doesn't show up if he loses his job, becomes disabled and cannot work, dies, refuses to pay for whatever reason, or has another child and is allowed by the courts to pay less. Plus, don't you just want to stop fighting and earn your own money? Doesn't that sound really, really delicious — to never be dependent on him or another man again?
4. You're fighting for money in divorce out of spite
Anger and spite are normal. God knows I've spent a lot of time being pissed at my ex! But exuding all that negative energy to take revenge is not a good reason to fight for money — even if you're entitled to it. Good reasons include providing a better life for yourself and your kids and/or because the money is genuinely yours.
5. He needs the money more than you do
Maybe each of your financial situations have changed. Maybe you have indeed moved on and are now killing it financially. Maybe he lost his job and is struggling. Maybe you're both stable, but you see that the money in question could help him out a whole lot more than it could help you. And now that you've moved forward, and you are no longer spiteful and angry, you have the energy to do the right thing.
6. Fighting for money is exhausting and bad for the kids
Divorce is one of the most stressful, draining crises a person can go through. In many cases — especially if there are children and significant assets involved — it is worth taking your time with a good lawyer to negotiate a fair settlement. But until the mailman delivers the manilla envelope containing your signed divorce decree, you will likely feel that your whole world is in limbo. Letting some stuff go moves everyone forward — including the kids.
After all, the more conflict between you and your ex, for whatever reason, means the children suffer at the hands of it. He might legally owe you, but sometimes you can be so right you're wrong.
Co-parenting is your priority now, and that is hard to do peacefully if you are fighting over money.
7. You hold yourself back when you fight your ex for money
Deepak Chopra tells us that human beings have infinite energy, and I accept that to be true. But we are also physical beings living in the real world, and a girl only has so much energy to go around.
When you are dependent on his money, you are dependent on HIM. Dependence is never healthy. It holds you back, keeps you embroiled in a romantic relationship that is over, with someone who you likely don't care for much.
You have a choice: Spend your time, energy and power to fight with him, or invest that time and energy and power in yourself to earn far more money than he owes you from his 401(k). After all, when it comes to earning and building wealth, the sky is the limit!
My mantra: The best revenge is living well.
More thoughts on fighting for child support:
Dear Emma, WTF?!
My kids received child support from their dad for six months — three years ago. He is now in contempt of court and $30,000 in arrears. I’ve been to court three times this year, and have another date scheduled. I don’t have to go at this point, of course, but I do. I feel that I am the only advocate for my kids so I go for them. At what point do you just let it go? It’s exhausting. I’ve taken off so much time from work. I’ve tried to talk to him. He does whatever he can to hide from from his responsibilities as a dad, and we fight about it constantly.
This is a great question, and I’m glad you asked it. Yes, your ex morally and legally owes the kids and you that money. He’s not paying it now, and he probably won’t pay it in the future. Perhaps in your state you can punish him via loss of driver’s license, or even jail.
When considering whether to chase after unpaid child support, do simple math:
Write down …
How many hours you have spent chasing down that money?
How much time have you taken off work to drive to, and spend time in court and your lawyer’s to deal with this?
How much did those trips cost you in gas? Time away from work?
How many hours have you spent complaining about this issue to your friends and family? On mom boards?
How many hours have you spent arguing with him about this? How many hours have you spent arguing with him in your mind?
Now, how much ENERGY did you spend being so angry at him for being such an ass? Regretting choosing him as a father? Feeling sorry your kids don’t have a better role model?
Now, add it all up. How did those hours and watts of negative energy impact the rest of your life? Take away from your ability to enjoy your kids? Thrive at work? Relax during your free time?
Now, if you were to redirect that energy into earning and building your career and wealth, how much could you earn? A shit-ton more than $30,000. The sky is the limit to earning!
So, you do what you can. File what you need in court, and let them do what they will (which is probably a whole lot of nothing). You did your part to hold your kids’ dad accountable to them. Now you let it go, because you can’t control him.
You can control your own actions, time and energy. Focus on EARNING. BIG EARNING. Building a life you and your kids enjoy and are proud of. That is resilience, and that is about as fantastic of a role model as your kids could ever have.
The best revenge is living well.
Example of a mom who thrived after she stopped being afraid of losing child support
Erica, 32, a research biologist in Washington, D.C., is mom to a 3-year-old son (Erica asked I not use her last name). She sent me this email last week about how she stopped taking child support payments from her ex. So many lessons here. PLEASE READ!
I have a three year old son, and his dad has recently hinted he planned to take me to court to reduce his child support payments, which I depend on to pay for child care. His comments about how “his” money was supporting my lifestyle made me furious. I make my own money, and his share covers daycare for our son.
None the less, I freaked out and started running numbers about how I was going to make money work without child support.
Life works in crazy ways. Soon after I was called into a meeting with my upper management to discuss my career path. They wanted to promote me into a higher track. I currently get performance-based raises every year, and for the last three years I have ranked No. 1 in my track. This year, I was promoted up a level due to my excelling performance. But my upper management wants to move me into a more competitive track that is a better fit with my current career responsibilities. The upside would be a more prestigious title (and more respect from my majority-male colleagues), while my base salary would be the same. The big drawback with their proposed promotion is that I would not be eligible for the 10%+ raises each year.
As I sat in that meeting I kept doing the math about income vs. child support eligibility, worrying about how I would have to go back to court, argue to keep my current child support, so I could make child care bills, yet keep advancing at the same time. That’s when I remembered your article about not holding yourself back just to get child support. I realized how much easier my life would be if I could cut all financial ties with my ex — regardless of what he legally or morally owes me.
So, I put my big girl pants on and was brutally honest with my upper management. I explained that in the last two years I had become a single mother. I told them point blank that I did not want to be moved to the upper track they were discussing. I explained that I wanted the raises, and it is the money that motivates me.
Unknown to me, my lab director is a single mom who was allowed to work part time from home as her kids were growing up (which is unheard of in a science field) so she could remain relevant in her career and best take care of her family. She asked me what my five year plan would be if I was allowed to stay in my current track. I told I wanted to stay in my current track for three years, at which time I would max out my pay band. Then, I wanted the promotion to the higher track, with the fancier title. I cited papers, presentations, and travel requests I have been a part of and how my career is indeed advancing in my current track, and a “lesser” title isn’t holding me back professionally.
She applauded me for having a career plan that put both my son and I in an advantage to be financially independent. She then told me about a mentoring program, and asked me to be her mentee. I agreed, and told her I would love to learn from her because she is an amazing scientist and has navigated a field that is run by men which has put her in the race to be our next Institutional Director. She then agreed to my plan to max out my lower position before being promoted to an upper position. But she threw in a curve ball: she wants me to get my PhD in genetics. They will pay for everything, and I will start everything once my son is in school in two years. I will work part time at my current job and part time on my PhD, receive a stipend for my PhD and whatever my salary is (in full) at the time as well. She and I drafted everything into a formal career plan, signed the agreement, and filed it away with HR. We also set up quarterly progress and mentoring meetings so that I can start thinking about what research project I want to work on for my PhD.
I stuck to my guns about wanting to make more money right now and was thrown a huge curveball with a “free” PhD to begin in two years. It all scares the shit out of me. And puts me so far out of my comfort zone (the negotiating, the deal making, the PhD), but it also sets me up to be more of a rockstar than I already am in a male-dominated field! This all just became really real for me!
So, thank you for the real life articles about not holding yourself back because of fear of losing child support —and negotiating and fighting for what you are worth!
Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.