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!”
Many moms report they successfully negotiated out of paying child support and alimony by way of a mediated divorce, or out-of-court negotiations. Hiring a skilled family lawyer can be one way to go. Other families successfully negotiate and file their own divorce and family court settlements, sometimes with the help of online divorce products. CompleteCase provides all the divorce forms you need, plus online storage and instructions for filing in your state, for a flat-fee of $299. Learn more about CompleteCase >>
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.
First, child support basics:
Do women pay child support?
Yes, women pay child support, contrary to popular (and sexist) beliefs. Child support law and calculators are different in every state, but typically, the lower-earning parent is entitled to child support payments from the higher-earning parent.
How child support works
Each state has a child support calculator or a formula applied to one or both parents' incomes, and the number of children they share. Household income can be considered (including if there is a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, grandparents or roommates) living in one of the homes.
Child support calculators can be adjusted if the paying parent has children with another parent.
There is often an income cap for one or both parents combined. For example, in Texas,
The noncustodial parent’s income is capped at $8,550 per month, though a judge can order additional child support based on the parents' income and the child's needs.
What is covered under child support
Typically, child support payments are intended to cover the basic living expenses of the child. These include:
What is not covered by child support
Usually, family courts separate these basic living expenses, with “extras” for which another calculator applies, to make payment of these expenses more equitable, based on a percentage of each parent's income (the higher-earning parent paying a larger share).
In some states, these expenses are lumped together with the basic child support payment. In other states, these are calculated separately, or the parents are expected to work between themselves to track, divide and pay for these items.
Extra expenses might include:
- Childcare — daycare, nanny, after-school care
- Medical/health insurance
- Out-of-pocket medical expenses (doctor and hospital co-pays)
- Extracurricular activities like sports, theater, music, art classes and teams
- School fees, including private school tuition
How is child support calculated?
Again, every state's child support calculations are different and often include the discretion of the judge.
If you can settle your child support payments outside of court, either through an attorney or directly with your child's father, the negotiating parties can decide whatever sums they please.
However, child support guidelines of the state in which you reside are usually a starting point in any discussions, inside or outside of court.
Child support payments nearly always are paid from the greater-earning spouse who does not have primary residence, to a lower-earning spouse who has the children the majority of the time, also referred to as “primary custody.”
Typically, these delineations fall along gender lines:
The higher-earning father has the children every-other-weekend, and the mom has the children the rest of the time.
Think that is sexist and uncool? You'll enjoy my manifesto calling for 50-50 shared parenting and no child support.
There are many places around the United States where child support payments are tied to amount of time spent with the children. In other words, if time-sharing is equal, no one pays any child support. Or, (using gender stereotypical roles here) the father chooses to spend more time with the kids, he is then ordered to pay less support, on a sliding scale.
Other states, like New York, require a higher-earning parent to pay more to the lower-earning parent, no matter how parenting time is divided.
Here is an example of how one New York family's child support payments were calculated, even though they have the same income.
Sarah and Omar have four children.
Sarah, the custodial parent, and Omar, the non-custodial parent, have identical annual incomes of $67,500.
Their combined annual income is $135,000.
Per the state guidelines for four children (detailed above), Omar and Sarah multiply their combined income by .31 (31%). The result shows their basic child support obligation is $41,850 annually.
Sarah's income is 50 percent of the combined parental income.
The amount she is expected to pay as the non-custodial parent is calculated by multiplying the combined child support obligation of $41,850 by .50 (50%).
Sarah must pay Omar $20,925 annually or $1,743.75 per month in child support.
Child support calculator
You can find your's state child support calculator here.
As one example, here is New York's child support guideline calculator:
- 1 child: 17% of combined income
- 2 children: 25% of combined income
- 3 children: 29% of combined income
- 4 children: 31% of combined income
- 5 or more children: at least 35% of combined income
In New York, when the combined parental income exceeds $148,000, the court does not have to apply the child support formula to the entire amount. In these cases, the court usually follows the formula for the first $148,000 of income, then adds additional support based on the custodial parent's ability to provide for the children.
Child support payments and enforcement
In every state, you can have child support paid through a central payment center, or child support enforcement services. This is advised in most cases, as it documents all the payments from one parent to the next, keeps tally on arrears, and can be set up to automate payments from a bank account or paycheck. Benefits include documentation and ease of use. Also if you choose to pursue unpaid child support, your state's child support enforcement bureau can use this system to withhold funds from paychecks, tax returns and be used to revoke a driver's license or even enforce jail time.
Some parents are able to work out child support payments amongst themselves. They may choose to transfer money between their bank accounts or through a paper check mailed or handed to the other parent.
Even if you use child support enforcement to receive or pay regular child support, out-of-pocket expenses like medical care, extracurricular activities and childcare may need to be reimbursed for regularly.
Often, parents track these expenses through a co-parenting app, email or Google docs.
Is child support taxable income?
Child support is not considered income for the recipient. In other words, the child support payor pays regular income and other taxes on their income, and then pays a portion to the other parent.
If you are a mom who pays child support or alimony, here is how to manage any resentment:
Come to peace with paying your ex alimony
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 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.
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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 with your ex
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.”
Don't perpetuate the family court drama story
Family and divorce attorneys love child support and alimony. Why? Money is the No. 1 reasons parents return to court time and again. This doesn't benefit parents (fact, per Census: the average sum of child support ordered by family courts is $400, and less than 40% of what is ordered is actually paid).
Maintaining the tension with your ex by way of bitterness and arguing over money does not serve you, your kids' father, or your children. Also: your friends and family are sick of hearing about all the drama.
Lawyers, however, pay their mortgages, car payments and vacations by way of all this drama.
Aim for low-conflict, even if paying seems unfair (and I believe you! It likely really is unfair!).
CompleteCase helps couples file low-conflict divorces for as low as $299, including phone and email consultations from a family attorney. Learn more about CompleteCase >>
Accept that alimony/child support 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.”
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.
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 full-time 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.”
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.
You may find you are eventually ready for a serious relationship.
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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.
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.
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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.
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:
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.
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.