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.
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