Are you a bad single mom if you don’t accept child support?


In response to my recent Forbes column, ‘I Turned Down Alimony’ — 3 Women’s Stories, some readers bristled at one mom’s refusal of not only spousal support, but also child support — even though she was so broke post-divorce that she actually went hungry. Wrote one reader:

I don’t understand the woman who turned down child support. That’s not “her” money, it’s her kids’ money. And she cheated them out of it because of pride.

Well, yes and no. On one hand, I urge everyone to pursue an independent life after divorce — and that includes financial independence. Depending on the custody and visitation arrangements, it may be fair and sensible for one parent to pay the other to help support the children.  But as these women profiled in the Forbes piece shared, sometimes there are less tangible reasons for turning away what is legally owed to you — including state-ordered child support.

People turn down maintenance for many of the same reasons they turn down child support:

  • They sense it will facilitate a smoother divorce and better co-parenting relationship.
  • They don’t to be emotionally hindered — i.e. alimony would tie them to a person from whom they are trying to separate.
  • Financial dependence would hinder them professionally and financially — i.e. they are tapping into the very human need to flourish on their own merits.
  • They know that removing the financial burden from the ex will free him or her to be a better and more involved parent. This may mean extra income to visit the child (if the parent lives afar), afford a home large enough for comfortable overnight visits, or remove the need to work extra hours to afford payments — and more time spent with the kid.
  • The lesser-earning parent understands the realities of the other parent’s finances and realizes that standard court calculations are not realistic or fair.
  • Pursuing payment is way more headache than it’s worth — and that energy can be better funneled into earning more money and parenting.

While alimony is a polarizing issue, most people — myself included — feel very comfortable with the notion of child support, and that that money belongs to the kids. “Even if you don’t need it, sock it away. Your kid may need it someday–for college, for books, for activities. And they deserve support from both parents,” wrote that same reader on WealthySingleMommy’s Facebook page.

I don’t disagree with that, but child support is also complicated and nuanced. After all, there is a) no guarantee that the money does go to the kids’ best interest, and b) who is to say the paying parent wouldn’t put that money to good use on the kid’s behalf him or herself (for clothes, activities, medical care, or a college fund), or c) that the payee truly needs that money, and d) the payor can afford it.

But the best argument in this debate is that post-split payments are post-split payments. If one parent makes an executive decision not to pursue or accept ongoing financial support from their ex, does it really matter what pot that money comes from? Why delineate between an automatic child support calculation and a hard-won alimony negotiations if the money comes from the same source? If you decide that you and your children are best served by your financial independence and cutting monetary ties with their dad, splitting hairs over what those payments are called is merely a matter of semantics — not ethics.

Related on Forbes:

An End to Alimony Would be Good for Women

Stay-at-Home Mom Facing Divorce? Don’t Expect Alimony

‘I Turned Down Alimony’ — 3 Women’s Stories



Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

9 thoughts on “Are you a bad single mom if you don’t accept child support?

  1. I think the circumstances need to be considered. Neither my ex nor I receive child support. When we divorced, we made about the same salaries, had comparable living expenses, and a 50/50 custody arrangement. To us, it didn’t make sense to send money either way.

    There is a list of expenses we share, spelled out in the agreement. At the end of the month, one of us writes a check for the difference.

    Its not perfect – we don’t always agree on how much we should spend for various items (summer camp, music lessons, etc.) but we manage to work through it.

    Given our circumstances, a typical child support arrangement didn’t make sense and would’ve hindered one of us from a lifestyle perspective and ultimately that hurts the children.

    1. This is a great comment because it highlights how these things are so individual — yet child support calculators are fixed. Good on you and your ex for creating an agreement that works for everyone.

  2. I think it’s really weird that if you have a 50/50 custody split, that anyone would get child support. Splitting costs is different. Daycare, medical. I get child support, but 6-10 months out of the year I have them by myself. My ex comes in town the other 2-4 months and has them every other weekend. I pay for everything, though. Daycare, medical, camps, etc. So, really, every penny goes to them considering 70% of that childsupport is half of the daycare.

    1. I agree that is weird for a 50/50 split, and I think in many states default visitation is moving towards this schedule and no child support – but again, change is slow and each case is different.

      1. My neighbors had to waive child support. They do completely 50/50 custody. It shocked me that one would have to in that case. Ya, they really are moving to 50/50. But I could also see how annoying it would get to have to “pay up” at the end of the month. I know I’m paying more than half, but I’ll deal with that, just knowing what he is sending each month and not having to talk more than we have to.

  3. There are days when I dream of telling my ex to just forget about paying child support any more so that I could be completely free of him (and his alcoholic antics). I’m fortunate that I don’t actually ‘need’ child support.

    When we were working through our divorce agreement, I suggested he pay me no child support in exchange for me not paying him for his half of the house. He did not want that as he felt he would be on his own with nothing to his name. Now, I use the child support payments to pay down the loan I had to take out to pay him. And he recently told me he pays child support out of the lump sum of money I gave him! The only one who is gaining anything from this stupid arrangement is the bank that’s charging me interest.

  4. I agree with you that it’s a complicated issue and the courts don’t always dictate the best solution. I’ve known dads who have faithfully paid large child support payments every month, and I’ve known single moms who never get the money they are owed or who spend more than they would receive in legal fees trying to get that money for their kids. Sometimes you just have to let it go and move on, and sometimes you might choose to take a stand on behalf of the kids. I know one mom who wound up taking her former husband back to court once she got over her fear of disagreeing with him — he had hidden a considerable amount of money, and she and her kids were living off food stamps. (She ultimately prevailed, but it took a lot of courage on her part to continue through the legal process.)

    In my own case, my former husband, an entertainer, hadn’t made any money for at least 6 or 7 years before we divorced. And I knew whatever he made he would be able to hide pretty easily, so I didn’t count on child support. What I wanted was to keep a $amount equal to the net present value of what he would have paid and put it into an account where I could use it for expenses for the kids. I thought this was perfectly reasonable, but my attorney said the courts wouldn’t approve it, and I needed a different approach. In hindsight I wish I would have pushed harder for this option, but I didn’t at the time. What I got instead was … nothing.

    The legal agreement is that he had a year to find paying work and then we were to exchange tax returns, and based on his income, he would begin paying child support after a year. (I have sole custody.) I knew up front that meant I would never see a dime. First of all when most of your business is cash, it’s easy to look poor. And then there was the issue of having to interact and adjust annually – not happening. I’m fortunate that as the breadwinner I am able to provide, although it would have been nice to have some funds for college, travel sports, etc. However, not having to rely on him or depend on him following through is a relief because I would have been left in the lurch more often than not had I been relying on that money.

    I know many women who are in that position, and they and their kids suffer the consequences. But what are the courts supposed to do? Divorce is messy, and we all muddle through the best we can at the time. I don’t feel like I can judge anyone else’s decision to pursue (or not) child support; I can only decide what I will do in my own circumstances. Courts don’t always know best!

    Interesting topic to consider, for sure. – Joy

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