The importance of setting financial boundaries with your ex.
I am constantly asked by clients what to do about their ex putting them under financial pressure. In many cases my clients feel they have become nothing but a human cash machine, and that their former partner is punishing them through their financial obligations. Often this feeling is complicated by feelings of guilt and a genuine desire to help.
Teenage: “I need some money for Spring break!”
Parent: “OK, how much?”
Teenager: “$150 a day should be fine.”
Parent: “I can give you $30.”
Teenager: “You’re such a looser. No wonder Mom says you’re a deadbeat dad!”
That’s a fictional exchange – but it’s not so fictional as you might imagine. The numbers and the tone are representative of how some teens will play their divorcing parents. You need to be prepared for such behaviour, and to use good parenting skills if it emerges. Caving to this kind of pressure is appalling parenting, and just teaches teens that it’s fine to manipulate people who care for you.
Here’s something to keep in mind. The financial arrangements at the end of marriage are not meant to punish you – it’s a means to support the needs of the children of the marriage – and that is all. In Canada spousal support is becoming less common, though the rules around the support of children are strict, and rightly so. However, many an ex will play this to the full, loading their former spouse with expenses that can be frivolous or even entirely fictitious, as a means of bringing them pain.
There are many problems with this. First of all, the moment you allow the former ex to behave like this, you are being manipulated. You are no longer proactively managing the situation, but are reacting to your ex’s actions. Both men and women are guilty of this kind of manipulation, so don’t focus on the gender here. If you have an obligation, you have to meet it. However, should you allow your ex to play you, you pretty much deserve everything you get. It’s not going to be pretty.
The second problem is one I see increasingly. The children of the marriage see how your ex partner plays you. If they are young teens they will start to learn from this, and when they want some pocket money they will start to do much the same. Without the inhibitions of an adult, teaching a young teen to manipulate their non custodial parent (or anyone) is a very dangerous thing to do. The lessons they learn will play out in future, and it will likely end up being how they treat their own partners in years to come.
You can see that there are some very good reasons to set the boundaries very clearly around how child support and extra support payments are made. Many people find that the request is very casual. There’s little in the way of forethought. So, if it’s just another $130 for ballet shoes, it gets asked for, provided, and likely forgotten. This is a huge problem. It’s not the sum that is involved, it’s the cumulative effect. When you are not accurately tracking the requests, it soon becomes very difficult to remember exactly what you have and haven’t paid for. Worse, everybody else forgets too. It’s important to have a system with which to track payments of monthly child support, and all those extra payments that often just get quietly forgotten.
When those small requests start to add up, and things reach a point where you feel you have to do something about it, there’s a very good way to bring some technology to the rescue. It con sound a little harsh, but the reality is that many parents who are being manipulated get to a point where their response is going to be harsh – or even to simply shut the tap off altogether. Faced with those options, the approach I’m about to detail starts to look not only fair, but really very sensible.
Whether it’s the ex-wife, ex-husband or the teenage kids, this approach works very well. Here’s what you do.
1. Create a Google Form – the details about how to do this are here: http://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Form-Using-Google-Drive
2. Use the following fields: Name, Date, How Much?, For What?, Have you asked anyone else for this assistance?, When required?.
3. In the spreadsheet that gathers the responses you add a few more fields – Approved, Sum provided, Notes.
4. You then send an email to your ex and your kids and explain, without any emotional language:
“In future I am going to need a filled in support request from (Form URL), so that I can provide support in a timely manner, and record all the necessary details. I will not be able to help with support that is not requested in this manner.”
5. The sit back and wait for the explosion.
Here’s what will happen. First of all there will be resistance. However, if you refuse to pay for anything until the form is filled, eventually one of the people looking for support will use it. At that point you need to pay it very swiftly. The other people asking you for money will see this response, and before long they too will start to use it.
After a short while you will have a spreadsheet showing exactly who has asked for what, and how much you have provided. Additionally you can see if you are always the first stop for free money. If you are the only one being asked to provide help, you seriously have to ask if this is fair and equitable.
Documenting support payments is important. You’ll protect yourself, and your lawyer will thank you. More than that, when the kids grow up, they will have the basics of financial accountability that will serve them very well as adults.