How to deal when you’re a mom who pays child support or alimony

What to do if you are a mom paying alimony or child support

Increasingly, it is moms who pay their exes child support and alimony, and their vitriol about the matter is often far more acute than when payer and payee fall along traditional gender lines.

Vanessa was stunned to learn that after her ex left her for a much younger neighbor, she had to pay him nearly $70,000 in alimony and child support. “During all the years of marriage, I always tried to support his tech business, encouraged him to invest my income in getting it off the ground, even paid his student loan debt. I eventually realized he had a really crappy work ethic, and was taking advantage. The kids were in full-time, very expensive daycare, and he didn't do his share around the house. How is it fair that I supported him all those years and I still have to support him! Doesn't he have any sense of being a man, and taking care of his family?”

Shortly after the separation, Vanessa was offered a promotion and is considering turning it down. “While this would be a huge career move for me, one that I've been working towards for a long time, it would also mean a lot more travel, which would be hard on all of us. Plus, the more I earn, the more I'd have to pay him, and that just makes me so furious!”

Related: How to argue against alimony

If you are a single mom who pays child support or alimony, it is very important that you never, ever hold yourself back professionally or financially to spite your ex with lower payments. Never illegally hide income (because committing crime is stressful, as is jail time, no matter how flattering orange may be on you!), or stall your career goals in order to be ordered to pay him less.

If you intentionally earn less to lower your child support or alimony payments, you live a smaller life rooted in anger by handing your power over to your ex. The world misses out on your talents, and you set a lesser example for your children. In the short-term, money may be tight as you support two households, but in the long-term, focusing on the big picture of growing your career and income will pay dividends in every single facet of your life, including your relationship with your ex.

If you are a mom who pays child support or alimony, here is how to manage any resentment:

Prioritize coming to peace with the situation.

Tell yourself: “Within one year I will have accepted that I must pay him, and have adjusted my mindset, budget and career goals to make this work for me.” Then, write down actions steps how you will do this. The more you earn may be mean you pay him more, but also that you will earn more! This will not only mean more money, but also that you will achieve career goals, take on more interesting and high-profile projects, interact with more successful and high-profile colleagues and fulfill your potential, living within your power, and not mired in resentment.

Stop talking about it.

Women paying alimony to men is a controversial and compelling topic, and your friends, family, nosey neighbors and prying colleagues will be enthralled. They will have all kinds of nasty things to say about your ex, and many of them will be very sexist— if not completely satisfying to hear in the face of your own likely anger. While understandably satiating for a time, shut this cycle of complaining and validation down ASAP. Move on.

Minimize interaction.

At a very minimum, automate any payments via automatic bank transfer so that you do not have to physically write and hand him a check, and you do not have to manually sending him the monthly sum. Offer to pay future support in a lump-sum by way of equity in a home, investment accounts, or a single cash payment. One single resent-ridden payment is ultimately less painful and incites less hostility between co-parents than payments made bi-weekly.

In her mediated divorce, Sasha, a music executive, and her ex, a sculptor, calculated how much she would owe him in alimony and child support payments for the 10 years, when their three kids are scheduled to graduate college. That sum totaled her approximate equity in the home they shared, which she relinquished en lieu of painful monthly payments. “Sometimes I get really angry about it, especially since my family gave us the down payment for that house,” she says. “Even though I have to start over in my retirement savings and currently live in a small apartment, I am so happy to be out of that marriage.”

Accept that this is the price you had to pay to get out of a bad relationship.

Whether the split was your ideas or his, it matters not in the eyes of the court. What does matter is that it wasn’t working for you as a couple, and now you are free to pursue a life and relationship that does work. Good things often come at a price. In your case, this is a financial price. As one divorce attorney told me: “I often have men come into my office, having saved wads of cash for years in a box in the back of the closet in order to be able to finance a divorce. It’s like saving for a boat or retirement home on the beach.”

sell engagement ring

Ask your ex to fund the kids’ college savings plans.

Part of Jessica’s agreement with her ex is that she pay him 28 percent of her annual bonus. He agreed this payment goes into their two children’s college 529 savings plan.

If you truly cannot afford your current lifestyle while making these payments, downgrade your lifestyle. Yes, it may seem unfair, but accept that this is your situation, at least temporarily, and embrace it. Focus on the fact that that a smaller house is easier to clean, has a smaller impact on the environment, and teaches your children about materialism and your values. Replace resort vacations with road trips to spend time with family and friends, and appreciate how these relationships are deepened because of it.

Don't cry for me, I'm a black single mother

Remember that alimony and child support were huge, wonderful feminist coups.

How would you feel about a situation like yours if the gender roles were reversed? While alimony reform is ripe for reform, our current laws were designed to protect women and children who really had few other financial options. As the system slowly evolves to reflect current opportunities for both genders, there is a middle, gap generation that must pay the price. Just as in any revolution. You are a revolutionary for this cause, a model for other women on how to divorce like a feminist.

Focus on how your kids benefit from this payment — and how you benefit by default.

Anne, who owns a seven-figure-per-year public relations firm, today successfully co-parents with the father of their two-small children, whom her ex had stayed home with fulltime for four years. Before that, he worked in restaurants as a chef, earning barely above minimum wage. Anne happily pays rent on her ex’s two-bedroom apartment, as well as monthly maintenance to him directly. “I see it as an investment in my children’s quality of life, as well as my own,” she says. “If I didn’t pay him, he’d be making $20,000 per year as a line cook, and my kids would be staying in squalor when they’re with him. This way, he continues to be very involved in their lives, which is great for them, and helps me enormously as I run my demanding business.”

Who gets what in divorce? What each of you are legally entitled to

Peel away the layers of the resentment, which are rooted in what happened during the relationship.

Jessica recognizes that her ex had little motivation to build his writing career because she never demanded he be financially responsible to the family, including take over child care duties when he was between jobs. Resentment towards others is nearly always rooted in resentment for ourselves, and the role you played in co-creating the situation.

If are bitter about paying your ex, explore why and how the situation came to be, and own any part you played in it. Did you enable your ex’s lack of motivation? Did you co-create a situation in which you felt more powerful because you earned the money, or had the higher-profile career? Did you dream of saving your low-earning spouse from a flailing business? These are all common and very normal scenarios. Aim to understand the root of what happened. Forgive yourself. And aim to forgive him, too — even if he cheated. 

To be part of the solution for other families, find the advocates for alimony reform in your state, and get involved.

If you truly believe you are paying too much, weigh carefully the costs of revisiting the issue legally, and do your best to approach this as a practical process, and not an emotional one. Ask yourself: Am I seeking reduced payments because I believe legally that is the right thing to do? Or am I really trying to punish him for being such a dickhead?

Likely, you truly believe that child support and alimony are sexist ways that have legislated women being financially dependent on men. You are an outlier that illustrates how messed up that is.

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

Find ways to be an activist for family court reform. Share your experience with other divorcing moms and dads and attorneys. Be part of the change you want to see.

Don't linger in family court.

If it is a matter of returning to family court to amend child support payments because your ex’s income has increased, or yours has decreased, or one of your kids has aged out of your agreement, make hasty work of the process, and calculate the time, energy, likely conflict with your ex and other negatives before launching a campaign for revisions. Likewise, if you are seeking to reduce alimony, consider the likely large legal fees and related time and stress in your future against the likelihood that payments will be reduced. In other words, apply the time / money / energy equation with a level head.

Never tie time with your children to payments.

In some states, child support payments are calculated based on how much time the kids spend with one or the other payment. That system is rife with issues, including that paying parents often fight for more time with their kids in order to owe less in support, but then fail to see their kids as ordered by the court agreement. The result is not only disappointed kids, the frustrated other parent, and a clogged family court. This system reduces kids to collateral. Do not be part of the problem.

Hard as it, do not threatened to stop paying your ex.

As you co-parent, there will be lots of reasons to fight. You may never completely rid yourself of resentment about paying him, and that is very human. But try your very, very hardest not to threaten not to pay him. There are likely serious legal ramifications if you do not. And there are definitely negative consequences to your relationships. In otherwise: Try your damnedest not to threaten.

Refocus your rage into fuel for earning more.

In most states, child support and alimony payments are capped. When it comes to how much you can earn, the sky is the limit. I have seen so many fabulous cases of people who harnessed financial stress after becoming single moms to gloriously successful professional lives.

Make this your story. Earn and invest and build wealth with abandon.

After all, you likely have little control over how much you have to pay. But you have 100 percent control over how much you can earn.

7 reasons NOT to fight over money with your ex

Remember: Everything is temporary.

You could lose your job or ability to earn, and the financial tables could turn at any time. Kids age out of child support, and exes become far more successful than you’d though he was capable of. Acceptance tempered with hope and kindness are your BFFs.

Rachel for a time received child support from her ex, but when she started earning more, and he lost his job, she was obliged by the courts to pay him support. She choses to pay him more than required, even though the years when he paid were riddled with skipped payments, and snide comments about how he his obligation was too much:

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I pay more than what the state has mandated, and wrote it as such in my modified custody order. I also buy more things on top of that because that is my child, and I want her to have a certain quality of life. I can say without a doubt that going through this modification has set aside a lot of the resentment between my daughter’s dad and me. He understands how expensive it is to raise a child, and that support doesn’t go far. I have no issues about it at all and I am very happy to give more when I can. I think my ex also appreciates what it was like for me when I was struggling financially. Now that we traded places we have a much better and very flexible co-parenting relationship. And my daughter is so much happier because there is less hostility between us.

What do you think? Are you a mom who pays child support or alimony? How do you come to peace with it? Share in the comments.


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,, 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. Amber on August 25, 2019 at 9:21 am

    I feel that while I agree with some of your article and points made, I don’t think the child support system reflects the current generation. We tell our little girls, “go to college, get a job, earn money…” Are we also teaching them about prenuptials? Or what student loans mean if you are married while taking them out? Or what marriage really means as a whole and the legal ramifications of you do marry a man who turns out to be lazy? The child support system was set up 40+ years ago when women stayed home. While both men and woman are now working in our current generation shouldn’t child support laws be updated??? Why is it only based on how much income you make but not how much it actually cost to take care of a child such as a standard set cost. People both men and women are being taken advantage of. I would never advise my kids to marry someone that does not already have a career. And stop telling girls they can be and do anything. Let’s teach them about life and what not to do. My situation is similar to the Authors. Married a lazy man who is now more educated than me, a lawyer, and cannot earn a decent living. Seems women are becoming men and men are becoming women…

  2. Julie Ann Humphreys on November 8, 2018 at 6:04 am

    I found this blog when I Googled “groups for women who pay child support”. Is there anyone interested in starting a support group? I currently owe $20,000+ in arrears, am not able to open a bank account or get a loan or apply for a rental property. Now without car nor job I live in my parents’ basement. It will be difficult to get out of this situation because I will pay child support without end because my child is handicapped. Could someone suggest some resources for me?

    • Meg on July 5, 2019 at 5:51 pm

      I would love to. I’m $32,000 in debt to child support. They take 60% of my earnings. I have two children in my care. I wanted adoption because I couldn’t give the child the life she needed. The father showed up to the hospital. I was railroaded into signing the birth certificate. I believed that we could make co parenting work. He took the baby home because the staff felt since I wanted adoption they weren’t comfortable. He filed with the courts the next day. I had the same job for 16 years. I made very good money I had all benefits paid and then three years later I was laid off. I can’t own anything because they take it
      All of my retirement is gone. No matter what I make they take 60%
      People say oh they can’t do that….but they do. I can’t do taxes with my kids socials they take it. It supposed to be for the kids so my other two get nothing while he lives rent free with his mom. Its absurd
      Women typically make less than men I have two other children to support. I feel so hopeless. I want to die most of the time. I feel its all just about money anymore. They will benefit more from me being gone
      And that’s a very scary feeling. I need a support group I need guidance. You are not alone I feel your pain anger frustration.

  3. Forest Wilson on April 13, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    My ex wife left the family for a child abusing felon, and two years later I filed for child support through the welfare department.
    She sent me an email lecturing how the money should be spent.
    Guess how much she pays? $5 per month per child.

  4. KannaChan on March 25, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    Aww, poor baby. Doesn’t like being treated “equally” when it’s something negative.

  5. MGTOW Forever on April 1, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Wow, so nice to see a woman getting nailed with alimony. So funny when the shoe is on the other foot. It hurts to see your ex just take what he is “entitled” to, doesn’t it. All those hours you put in to be successful at your job and then he just swoops in and takes his cut for the money your rightfully earned. I pay $5500 a month to my loser xwife and work 60 hours week and still raise my kids spending more than 50% of the time with them. I watch her posting to facebook how she is getting her hair and nails done, and going out to her fancy dinners. She doesn’t need to get a job cause she won the divorce lottery. Love hearing stories about women paying alimony!

    “Ah yes, “divorce”. From the latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.” Robin Williams

  6. Safer with MGTOW on December 11, 2016 at 4:41 am

    MGTOW. Google it, men. Empower yourselves and protect yourselves from women.

    • Kelly on January 13, 2017 at 3:34 pm

      I’m sorry but you must know men aren’t the only victims. My X placed an ex parte restraining order on me to gain leverage. I had no financial ability to hire lawyer and quickly found myself with supervised visitation and child support payments. I was able to obtain joint custody because our court psychologist validated my competancy, but I continue to struggle on a single income while he has remarried and completed his education. We revisit the order in 2 more years and hopefully I’ll have at least 50℅ joint custody. My head is still spinning when I think about how I ended up here. So, I empathize with many falsely accused and aggrivated men out there.

      • Sherell on July 28, 2019 at 2:54 pm

        What’s the status of your case now?

  7. Tyler Proctor on December 9, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    I was pleasantly surprised by this article. As I victim of a very gender biased system, I have spent tens thousands of dollars on lawyers and pay a Ludacris 2340 a month even though I have my kids 40 percent of the time and have joint custody. Personally I recognize a small need for child support payments in smallers amounts that actually represent the care of the child. Taking into account income differences and time spent caring for the childs economic needs. Still as a man I have an uncontrollable urge to be a breadwinner. I really enjoyed your gender neutral views but the goal should always be as close to 50/50 as possible. Thank you again

  8. konj on December 9, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    oh, now the alimony is “for him” and not “for the child”

  9. Anders on December 9, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    I find the mere fact that the author considered a statement like he should be a man in any way appropriate in this context more telling than anything.

    In fact, as I understand it, only a small portion of men who would qualify for alimony actually apply for it. In my country, Sweden, often praised (and lambasted) as a feminist Utopia, alimony was abolished thirty years ago, shared custody is the default, and child support payments minimal.

    Yet, the recent drive for alimony reform in Florida and other places were driven by advocates from among the 3% of alimony payers that are female. Sure, we hear men moan about it all the time, and there certainly are cases of egregious abuse of the system, but look at the top concerns of one of those men’s rights web sites, and onerous alimony does not even make the top 20.

    In fact, I would guess that feminism only started supporting alimony as a result of the inherent contradictions in supporting gender equality and acting as a lobby for women. Famously, NOW supported shared parenting upon separation in the 1970s, only to succumb to the pressure of many of its members in the early 1980s and oppose it. Giving women equal representation in public life involves both sticks and carrots. Avoid using the stick, that is give women the ability to continue living off a man’s income without social condemnation, why would we expect anything resembling equal outcomes?

  10. LJHova on December 9, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    “Doesn’t he have any sense of being a man, and taking care of his family?””

    I might have been inclined to sympathize with Vanessa if she hand’t said this. Telling a man to “be a man” is no different than telling a woman to get into the kitchen. The days of traditional gender roles and the ability to shame people who don’t conform to them are gone. There is no longer a definition of “being a man,” so her saying that suggests, at least to me, that there was more going on in this marriage than she is telling. Most likely, she was saying similar things to him all of the time and though I don’t condone his affair, I have to wonder if the “much younger neighbor” gave Vanessa’s husband the support that he really needed rather than chastising him for not “being a man.” I could be wrong, but that is my hunch.

    • Emma on December 9, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      You may be right – but she was just being honest about how she felt.

  11. Dave on December 9, 2016 at 9:05 am

    I’m of the feeling that whichever party opts out — especially if that party has a new person in mind — forfeits all claims to alimony, period. If there are kids involved, then child support is the only payment that the “left” party should have to make, since child support is for the child, not the other spouse. It’s absolutely ridiculous that a woman (usually) can decide to cheat on her husband, leave him for the other man, and collect thousands of dollars per month in support for herself. The law needs to be seriously examined.

    • LJHova on December 9, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      The problem with child support is that it isn’t “for the child.” The person receiving it is free to spend it however they see fit. That needs to change in my opinion.

      • Dave on December 9, 2016 at 1:55 pm

        I agree with this. Itemized receipts proving that the support was used for the child should be mandatory.

        • Emma on December 9, 2016 at 1:57 pm

          Will never happen. The courts are already overburdened with pettiness and administrative duties.

      • Emma on December 9, 2016 at 1:57 pm

        Maybe so … but never will. Requires too much time and cost that the courts don’t have.

    • Emma on December 9, 2016 at 1:59 pm

      No-fault divorce became the norm decades ago, thank goodness. Domestic violence and suicide among wives plummeted when it did. No going back.

  12. on December 9, 2016 at 8:34 am

    I find this article hilariously ironic. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, and it is she, not he, who has to pay ludicrous amounts of money to an able bodies spouse otherwise capable of earning a living it is somehow wrong, and needs to be corrected. Men have been dealing with this since the advent of the faultless divorce. Some, such as in the east are currently condemned to a life of financial servitude to their ex until they retire or die. Perhaps now that it is happening to women too more frequently this inequity will finally receive some actual attention, and be addressed.

    No matter the gender, paying for a spouse in some cases should be a very limited affair, in most it should not happen at all. There is some merit to child support where custody is not divided equally. However, this is also gender biased, and needs to be corrected with assumed 50/50 custody unless some compelling reason is found for this not to be the case. In short, child support should also be mostly negated as well.

    Our current family law system is horribly corrupt, biased, and is in need of a massive overhaul. Until such time as it is overhauled men will continue to be abused by it, and now more frequently women too.

    • Emma on December 9, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      Agree with everything you wrote here.

    • Joe M. on December 9, 2016 at 3:41 pm

      My sister is a SAHM to three children under 5 years old. Her physician husband, who she supported through medical school and residency by working as a teacher, makes $300k/yr. She recently found out that her soon-to-be ex husband cheated on her with a woman 10 years his junior. Sure, alimony isn’t always fair but this is the kind of case that it was designed for and he is going to end up supporting her for a long, long time.

      • Emma on December 9, 2016 at 3:47 pm

        Why is it fair? Because your sister’s feelings were hurt? Because your sister made bad financial and career decisions?

        • Joe M. on December 10, 2016 at 11:49 pm

          Why is it fair? Because when one partner invests in the other’s career and explicitly foregos their own career in furtherance of their partner’s career, the supported spouse holds an interest in the supporting spouse’s income. In my sister’s case her husband asked her to quit teaching after their first child was born so that he could invest more time in his medical practice. She was nervous to give up her teaching tenure and pension because she knew that she’d be vulnerable if they ever divorced so she had him put their agreement in writing before she quit.

          Fwiw my wife and I have a similar arrangement, although it isn’t in writing. I run my own business and she takes care of our three children. Having my wife at home to take care of all of the stuff that comes up with the kids is what allows me to do what I do. If I had to drop what I was doing everytime the school called because one of the kids was sick (2x just last week alone) or ferry the children to school and activities I would not be as successful. Furthermore, she worked in the early years of our marriage before we had children and provided the regular income and insurance that we needed when I was getting my business off the ground. Our marriage is a partnership and it would be unjust if I were to divorce her now with no acknowledgement of the investment she’s made in “my” business.

      • Rico on December 9, 2016 at 5:27 pm

        Your sister is an able-bodied individual. Divorce sucks, whatever the reason, and everyone gets hurt feelings. Her soon-to-be-ex husband should have to pay child support if she gets custody (which she will, because this is how these things work). Otherwise, she should be on the hook for supporting herself and her fair share for the kids.

        Women have long had an overabundance of power in the Family Court System. It’s time it was ended and made fair. Just because your ex is rich doesn’t mean you *deserve* a piece of it.

      • Gin on December 13, 2016 at 10:38 am

        Alimony shouldn’t be used as a punishment. From someone who’s husband pays to a cheating ex wife, how would you feel if your spouse cheated and then you had to pay them for the rest of your life. Alimony should be to help someone get on their feet and that is it. Not permanent servitude like here in Florida.

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