“My drive to get off child support led to insane career growth”

mom stop taking 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!


Want to close the pay gap? Get dads involved? 50-50 custody and no child support

Why you should never count on alimony

Alimony? Just say no.

About Emma Johnson

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.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.  Find out Emma's top Single Mom Resources here.


  1. BreAn on August 31, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    I love that this woman was able to get what she wanted. I would love not to have to pay child support. Unfortunately I had my children young and did not get a college degree. I pay for our health insurance their food and housing and at my low income level I depend on the child support.
    I’ve just started back to school and I’m still looking for other options because I don’t want to have to bug him every month to see where child support is.

    • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:12 pm

      So glad you’ve made this a goal, and that you are taking steps to find your own financial independence. Take the matter to the state and let him get the money from him.

  2. R on August 31, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Emma, thanks for the article. Thank you for your continued encouragement of single moms. I just started a grad program and a challenging new salaried job. I have a toddler I am raising with ZERO help from her father, and I wanted it that way. It has been so difficult and at times I have called him for emotional support, but never for money! I didn’t want strings attached, and now I am even more committed to that since reading your articles. I can’t wait until I get paid, get this degree underway to never have live in poverty again. Got to work for freedom!!! THANK YOU FOR YOUR ARTICLES AND INSPIRATION!!!

    • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks for your note, R – good for you and your perspective- awesome :)

  3. Nicole on August 30, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    Same here. My friends say chase your ex for what he should be paying. He pays around $300 per child per year! I explained that it’s just not worth the effort as he will lie and cheat to avoid it and if I “depend” on his money then what if something happens to the money flow and I am stuck. Far better to look after yourself and kids by yourself – if the ex decides to throw a few dollars the kids way then it is a bonus but certainly not something I “need”. I get that for some mums there is no choice and they have to chase what they can, but I am so grateful that I have a wonderful job and the education behind me that allows me to look after myself..

    • mm1970 on August 31, 2016 at 6:27 pm

      This is what a friend of mine did a decade ago. Supported her own kids. Ex was delinquent on child support.

      Ex got holidays and some weekends. He took the kids on a 2-week holiday – his week and her week. He at least asked first. She said it was okay for him to have the extra week.

      He came back and presented her a bill for half the vacation. She told him to stuff it. He took her to small claims court. First question out of the judge’s mouth “is he required to pay child support?” “yes”. “Is he in arrears?” “Yes.”

      Naturally, he didn’t get the vacation money, and the court garnished his pre-paid IRS taxes for his business. Dummy.

      • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:13 pm

        What a moron!

    • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      I faced similar pressure to chase child support – takes a lot of strength to have your perspective.

  4. Ryan on August 30, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    This article is inspirational and I’m really happy that your advice worked for this mom but what about non white single moms? A lot of your articles are from the perspective of college educated, white, upper middle class single moms. I work full time, go to school full time, and I live in Greater Nyc so I unfortunately, rely heavily on CS. The irony of my situation is that most of my management are white women, but only look out for other white women. Do you have articles on intersectional feminism and finance?

    • Anonymous on August 30, 2016 at 10:37 pm

      I had the same thought! I am a white woman but I do not have my college degree. I’m working hard no to achieve this – but in the meantime I am relying on child support. And why shouldn’t I? My have to pay for their daycare and health insurance and food while they are with me because my ex thought abusing me was a good idea… Shouldn’t he have some consequences?

      • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:17 pm

        Of course, no one says he shouldn’t. But if you spend all your time trying to hold him accountable / punish him, then you only compromise your ability to thrive.

    • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      Ryan – I really do write mostly from my own perspective: white, educated. Would you like to contribute a post from your POV? Keep in mind, all content on my site supports women who reject victim mentality and aim for or have achieved financial independence, regardless of their circumstances.

  5. jas hayward on August 30, 2016 at 10:57 am

    I let the child support go long ago because of the problems the father promised to cause me if I kept the order in place.

    • jas hayward on August 30, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Also in the long run I am able to depend on my myself financially because he never contributed.

      • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:23 pm

        Which, frankly, could happen to any mom – even those who co-parent with great men who pay every month. Death, disability, psychotic breaks, unemployment … very real threats.

    • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:23 pm

      Very common – fewer money exchanges between couples, less conflict. Fact.

  6. KJ on August 30, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Before having my daughter, I was a workaholic. While I enjoyed working, I missed out on a lot of things and still was not moving forward in my financial goals. I wondered how I would make it as a single mother being that her father clearly told me that he could not be able to provide financial help. Fast forward 11 months and I am making more money than I ever have before, while working less. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for not taking the father to court for child support, but I have never wanted the headache or the potential drama. Things are working out wayyyy better than I could have ever planned/imagined.

    • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      That is great -I’d love to hear how you did that!

  7. Katie on August 30, 2016 at 4:21 am

    Ugh. You just changed my entire line of thinking. I have a slightly different wrench to throw in the pile. I have my Marketing degree and worked for my 1st 4 years out of college. I was laid off right before my ex and I moved across the country to further my ex’s airline career – he finally did become an airline pilot for a national carrier and I was a stay at home mom for 14 years. I left my marriage after 17 years when he became over the top abusive. Money is definitely his game of control and it drives me nuts. Even though he is an airline pilot – in order to get out of my marriage and finalize the divorce I had to choose my battles – I chose to prioritize the parenting plan to be the safest I could get it for my children’s sake and chose to stop the fight when it came to money. He told me he’d bankrupt us both before giving me anything. I just told him to keep the “big house” with the swimming pool and his money and just let me go. I was awarded enough support to barely live and qualify for food stamps. I was completely fine with this because I knew that my children were safe when they were with me (he only has 8 days a month) and also have the opportunity to see what a strong woman looks like. That can’t be bought.

    My oldest is a senior this year and my youngest is a freshman. My maintenance (I even dislike that word – being “maintained” – yuck!) is ending the end of November. I need to contact my attorney for what they call “post secondary support” which I believe turns into just child support in December.

    After the divorce, I took a job as a Paraeducator in my kids school district so that I could be home when they were home and be there while they desperately needed that emotional stability (I was dealing with suicide threats from my oldest – she is in a MUCH better place now). I could have gone right back into a full time career but felt this was better for my children. My position doesn’t pay enough for me to support the 3 of us on that income alone. I rely on my maintenance – but that’s a slippery slope because my ex knows that I rely on it – which gives him control. I don’t like that. I feel more comfortable now getting back into a career role but am caught in the “fear trap” at the moment. I’m 47 and stayed at home to raise my kids during my prime earning years (I don’t regret this decision at all) – but where do I even start? My skills need to be updated. I feel like I’m to old for any company to want. I know that I need to readjust my thinking and I know I can do it – it’s the fear of the unknown that is paralyzingly me.

    I’m tired of living pay check to pay check. I’m tired of having to tell my kids “we just can’t afford that right now.” I’m tired of my girls saying “well daddy can buy me that – he’s rich” (those are not the values I instilled in my children and trust me – they don’t get away with that talk with me), but most importantly I’m tired of knowing that I’m at the mercy of my ex for my livelihood. So…just as I tell my daughter who is a senior this year…you can be anything you want to be…you just have to apply yourself. Thank you for sharing your experience – it came at the best time in my life to read! You’ve given me some much needed hope and more importantly – the even more needed nudge to get my rear in gear. So here I go…jumping in feet first. :)

    • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      “have the opportunity to see what a strong woman looks like. That can’t be bought.” This!! I use this to motivate me all the time. Sounds like you are on your way … glad the post resonated. Lots of moms in your shoes. You got this!

  8. Kelli on August 29, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. This article came at a perfect time in my life as I am looking at what I can to cut all ties with my abusive ex who has always used money to control me and my daughter’s. I think we can spend so much time running down our exes for money to the point of exhaustion. I think it is great the writer spoke up and expressed her needs to her employers. #feelinginspired. Will definitely apply this to my own life.

    • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Yes, 100% agree!

  9. Jennifer Webb on August 29, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    I am in the same situation. At first, I was worried that I needed my ex’s child support but realized that I shouldn’t learn to rely on something that wasn’t reliable to begin with. I started my own architecture firm and don’t need his support. Any money that does come in is a bonus that gets put into savings.

    • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      Wow! Awesome.

  10. Normandy Halvorson on August 29, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Let’s not miss the reasons to celebrate and be inspired by this woman’s experience: she went into her workplace with boundaries in mind, she was so focused in what she wanted that she had the presence of mind to speak clearly and get it! She went into her work and advocated for her family.

    We view it as surviving (our minds are always racing as we worry if we can afford or y) that we are so critical of other experiences amd miss the big picture. What if we just gave ourselves the 5 minutes to accept it may have been a long time since we walked into our HR office and asked about our review OR educational opportunities — just do it.
    (**I need to probably adapt and take this advice as well**) I despise being in survival mode. . . I want to be a better advocate for my family. Thanks for the article

    • Emma on August 29, 2016 at 6:12 pm

      She advocated for her family AND herself — and by default, women everywhere! AGREED!

  11. Penny on August 29, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    I guess I am confused, how much you make has no determination on the child support you receive, at least that is the case in TX. I out earn my son’s father by lots and it has zero bearing on what he is responsible for in regards to child support. I don’t know women who actually get the child support ordered including me so this is a non-issue. My life, my budget, my kids are 100% on me.
    I applauded her having a plan and moving forward but money from an outside source should always be counted as a bonus if you get it and not factored into real earnings or lifestyle choices.

    • Mari on August 29, 2016 at 5:31 pm

      This is such an amazing testament! I don’t even know which category to attribute it to! A testament to women, single mothers, humanity, hard work?!?!
      How much I earn does impact how much child support I should receive -here in Washington state. All income is considered when DSHS (Dept. of Social and Human Services) does the factoring to how much is ordered to be paid. I am the custodial parent, so I get the child support. Because of WA law, I also get the responsibility of providing health insurance to my four children simply due to the fact that my birth date falls earlier in the calendar year. Luckily, I can do that. I appreciate the courage she took to look reality in the eye and make her statement – had she not she would have missed such an incredible opportunity! Child support gets paid or it doesn’t – if you can provide for your children on your own, do it. The rest is icing and I speak from that hard earned place of experience.

      • Emma on August 29, 2016 at 5:35 pm

        VERY well done! Thanks for commenting :) xx

  12. MI on August 29, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    It is fluffy article much like the fairytales us girls are given to read as children. The reality is, you should be able to get child support and work your career and NOT BE THREATENED by the father to a) lose custody because of cs b) have it lowered because it is considered high in his mind, but on a calculation cs uses as a standard c) be treated in an abusive manor because you need or feel he has the obligation. The important take away here is abusive men will financially, physically and emotionally abuse you…that IS illegal and wrong. If as a woman you can make it without cs in lieu of maybe losing custody because he simply will not be accountable then do it. They will be judged by the label they earned.

    • Emma on August 29, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      Where’s the fluff? This is a true story. As for fantasy fairytale – what you outlined is indeed the fantasy! The reality is that most men don’t pay support, and if they do, it comes between the co-parents, not to mention it holds women back financially and career-wise, which is detrimental in so many ways, micro and meta.

      • Monica Leftwich on August 29, 2016 at 6:43 pm

        Amen! It’s too physically and emotionally exhausting to keep up with why you’re not getting child support or why the ex is threatening to do this or that. It’s a life waster. Love your kids. Do you. Get money. Repeat.

        • Emma on August 29, 2016 at 6:55 pm


          • Tracy Harris on August 29, 2016 at 7:15 pm

            I read the story and just reviewed my child support application. I’m going to rethink my path and strive for a more solid working career which is best in the long run .

            • Emma on September 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm

              That’s awesome! Good for you!

  13. Anne on August 29, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Erica you have the most precious thing in the world, your son but you have to look after you as well otherwise in time to come you might feel you have given too much. What is it about men not wanting to give as much as they can to bring up their own fresh and blood, it really fails me. My husband decided the grass was greener on the other side but of course wanted to come back !
    That’s all many years ago and I am a Grandmother now and love every minute of it. My husband paid maintenance for a few months but when my boss died suddenly, – it was a small family business near home and I had been there ten years, – I lost my job and he decided not to pay any more maintenance ! We were really up against it. It was an horrendous year but we got through it and I did anything and everything I could. To be honest looking back I possibly would have taken a slightly different path. I was offered a very good job but not near home and I was concerned being a single parent and needing to be near the children incase anything went wrong. I would never let them know as it was my decision and I am as happy as the day is long and don’t regret what I did for a minute.
    Something the men don’t realise, he then disappeared so of course they get non of the great pride as your children do well and subsequently marry and have children and you become that wonderful thing a Grandparent. I never went back into my profession as I had been out a few years by the time the children were a lot more independent. I really do not regret a single thing but you need to think when your son grows up, you will still be a working woman and will want to feel that you have achieved a position in your work place, something you have worked very hard for.
    I wish you every success Erica, you deserve all the good luck that comes your way. You are a Mother and bringing up a child single handed. There is nothing harder and more important but it is the greatest job in the world.
    Take care, every good wish Anne x.

  14. Monica Leftwich on August 29, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Love this! My drive to not rely on child support actually helped generate money for me as well. I kinda made a challenge to myself to bring in enough money from freelance writing to completely replace my child support. And I did! Not receiving it also propelled me to get smarter about the money I am bringing in on my own, especially in managing my debt. Not relying on his support got my ass in gear to pay off nearly $16k in debt. The drive is REAL once you realize you don’t always need child support. Again, wonderful story, Erica!!!

    • Emma on August 29, 2016 at 4:59 pm

      “The drive is REAL once you realize you don’t always need child support. ” Love this! Good for you- your story is a great inspiration, too!

  15. Steph on August 29, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    I respect this woman and her story very much. The initiative she took to do better for her son and herself. Which, I think was there before the situation she was facing with child support. The father complaining about paying for child care and his reason to reduce it is just selfish. Generally, I do believe there are so many single moms who use the child support to support their lifestyle. Which I will lean more on the fathers side of the argument. This lady, I am on her side. Her story should be an inspiration. I hope her career plan works out for the best. Thank you for sharing this story.

    • Emma on August 29, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      I agree with what you wrote, though I don’t have quantifiable evidence about the lifestyle part

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