I like to think of myself as an intelligent woman, but sometimes I do some really stupid things. Such as marrying a man who I knew wouldn’t make a good husband. But, I did, because he was fun, charming, and we had a really great time in the early days of our relationship. Of course, we rushed into this marriage after only six months of dating (groan) and less than a year later we had a baby boy.
Fast forward seven years – we are thousands of dollars in debt, and not on the same page about anything. There were two straws that finally broke the camel’s back. He had a dream of having his own business. He had been working toward this dream for about a year. Unfortunately, he wasn’t bringing in any profit at all. We had come to an agreement that if his business was not bringing in a certain amount of money by a specific date, he would “happily” start looking for a job.
It was the end of November, 2004, and that date was drawing near. I knew that there wasn’t any money, but I also knew that he was still working on this “business.” (Isn’t a business that isn’t making any money technically a hobby?) When I asked him about his intentions, he informed me that he did plan to continue working on his business/hobby. When I asked him why he didn’t talk to me about this, he replied, “Because I knew that you would tell me to go get a job!” That was Straw Number One.
Straw Number Two was his solution to this problem. Bankruptcy! I wasn’t thrilled about that idea. But, as with Straw Number One, my vote in this marriage didn’t count. So, I packed up the kids and moved all of us from Colorful Colorado to Beautiful Texas.
During the divorce proceedings the judge naturally ordered my ex to pay child support to help raise our son. He was not paying the full amount, but he was sending something every month. Then, that stopped. That hit me kind of hard – but it also taught me a valuable lesson. As a single mom, I absolutely, positively, without a doubt should NEVER count on child support as part of my regular income.
Now, I know for a fact that there are men in the world who are wonderful fathers. They put the welfare of their children first, before any of their own wants or needs. Even if they’re out of work, they will make sure that their child support payments are made. But there are even more non-custodial parents who must think that the money is going towards mani-pedis, and not food, shelter and medical bills. Otherwise they would happily make these payments, right?
You might ask, and rightfully so, “How can I do this? I need that money to pay the rent, food and light bill.” I understand this. I’m not trying to say that child support is not important to a single mom or a single dad. But if you count on that money as part of your income each month, and it doesn’t come, what are your options? Perhaps you go into debt, by using a credit card to pay for items. Or, maybe you get behind on a utility bill, or car payment.
Creating a budget, and sticking to it, can help immensely with this situation. Most Americans don’t have a plan when it comes to spending, or saving, their money. A monthly written plan is simply a way of telling your money where to go. It puts you in control! You may learn that you do need to cut back in a few areas. The restaurant bill might be a little out of hand. You might need to get a Netflix subscription, instead of going out to movies. There are ways to make ends meet by cutting back a bit here and there. Then, when those intermittent child support payments do come in, they can go into a savings account, so you have an emergency fund.
What if it’s more serious than just cutting back on eating out? What if you truly can’t make your car payment, or pay the rent without the child support? The budget still needs to be worked out, and it will certainly help, but you might need to make some more serious spending decisions.
If you have a hefty car payment, you might want to consider selling your car and buying a cheap beater. If your rent is too high, you might need to really bite the bullet and find a less expensive place to live. I know a single mom who did this. She sold her house, and moved into an apartment with her son. She was so much happier, because the weight of her financial stress disappeared. She really believed it was worth it.
By giving the advice of learning how to live without counting on child support payments, please don’t think that I believe it’s ok for non-custodial parents to go against the legal and moral obligations of providing for their children financially. We should use all of the resources that are available to us, in order to get child support. Unfortunately, a lot of these resources cost a lot of money.
While you are using these resources to try to enforce the child support payments, ease your burden by learning not to count on those payments. Make a plan – write a budget. You will breathe easier! Diane O’Neil is a writer and mom from Allen, TX. She is the creator of the Don’t Do What I Did! workshop, which teaches teens with divorced parents how to have successful relationships. For more information visit www.YouWontLearnThisInSchool.com