I hate that I have been divorced. I hate when something happens in a conversation with someone I’ve recently met that requires me to divulge this information about myself. For example: ”What do your kids do in the summer?” Or, “Oh, did your husband help change diapers when the girls were little?” Or even, “oh, you lived in California, what were you doing there?” Well, I was there while my husband went to grad school. No, not this husband. The other one.
It’s not a huge issue in my life, and I don’t try to hide it. It’s pretty much on par with the way I try to avoid the question of “and where did you go to undergrad?” Because I’m embarrassed of that, too.
I’ve considered myself fortunate that the Ex and I do not bicker too much. Whether it’s because we’re adults or (more likely) because he lives so damned far away, I’m pleased that we don’t invest too much time or energy in spatting with one another.
When something does come up, I prefer not to broadcast it far and wide. I will share with my closest friends, and I will share with WD. But I don’t bring it up with everyone I bump into on the street, or in the course of typical conversations with co-workers.
I don’t even tend to discuss everything on my blog. Because the divorce and the disputes therein are not who I am. They are not a part of what I consider my life to be.
But the most recent thing that came up is weighing heavily on me, and I’m going to use this cloak of anonymity to vent, and to try and think through the situation that I find myself in. Maybe some of my very few readers will even have some advice for me. To help me as I wrestle with my options.
Last week, WD and I went to talk to a financial planner. I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s time that we get a bit more organized in our finances.
My life has taken such a non-traditional path. My trajectory is so different from that of most of my peers:
- Work hard at building a career while single;
- get married in the late 20s/early 30s;
- continue to build your career as well as your financial portfolio;
- buy a house,
- have a baby or two,
- maybe buy a bigger house;
- tweak your career to accommodate your family, but not so much that you aren’t still adding to that portfolio,
- raise your kids with confidence that you can pay for their college and enjoy your own self once they get the hell out.
No. That was not me. I did this instead:
- put choice career on hold for the sake of getting married at the ripe old age of 21;
- continue to put choice career on hold for the sake of having babies at the ripe old age of 23;
- work at non-choice career to support baby-faced husband as he pursues his choice career;
- continue to work at non-choice career while said husband decides his choice-career is actually something different, and requires 7 more years of schooling;
- divorce said husband;
- continue to work at non-choice career for another 2 or 3 years while figuring out how to be a single mother and to pay off divorce-granted 1/2 of ridiculous debt accumulated during ex-husband’s non-working student days and while paying for full time child care for 2 preschool aged children and for a decent apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the country;
- decide to pursue choice career;
- get remarried to a great guy who also did not follow typical life-path;
- finally graduate from law school;
- realize your pre-teen and teen children are getting really fucking old, and you have very little savings to speak of because you’ve spent so long hoping that there will be enough money for food.
- freak out.
And that’s what brings me to a financial planner. At long last.
I’ve long-ago come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to ever buy a house. Not in this town I chose. This town that I’m now pretty committed to, both because of my kids’ community, and also because of my own. We’re also committed because of the great schools and other opportunities, the location, the culture, the politics. We love where we live. So we rent. For half the monthly cost than we’d be paying if we chose to buy a place with half the square footage of what we’re renting. (I’ve kind of come to terms with it. I still lust over houses. I sometimes have searing pangs of jealousy when someone buys a house. But it’s fine.)
But I’m not coming to terms with the fact that I may not be able to fund 100% of my kids’ college expenses.
When I went to college, my parents were able to pay for 100% of my college. True, through the power of the purse, they insisted upon that school (or one like it), and they refused to pay for the schools that were academically sound and that I was very eager to attend, based on both finances and on what they perceived as “moral depravity.” (i.e., there were signs up on campus about a pro-choice rally.) Back then, college cost $10,000/year. It was not a drop in the bucket to them, but it was not 1/4th of their salary. It was a single digit percentage.
Today, a year’s college tuition is 1/4th of my salary. Which I know puts me in better shape than most, but the reality is that I do not know how long my salary will stay at the level it is currently at. I may have a different job by the time Lemon heads to college in 3 years.
God. When I think about how quickly the last 3 years went by …
So – financial planner.
She tells me I need to seriously consider paying for half of their college instead of all. If I pay for all of it, I can retire when I’m 95.
She asks about grandparents, the Ex – can they help?
Nope. I say. My parents are way too stressed about their own retirement, in light of the fact that they didn’t start saving until relatively recently (because of their own kids’ college, etc.), and there is no way they are going to have money to contribute. The Ex’s parents might have a little money, but not much.
But what about the Ex?
Oh. He can’t. He makes very little money.
We move on.
Later, I’m chatting with a friend about college expenses. She is currently married to a college professor, and is wondering aloud why we both made choices to marry people who make so little money. Why did we not marry investment managers or even fellow lawyers.
While I was chatting with her, I found myself – FOR THE FIRST TIME – questioning the Ex’s salary. I mean, he’s been a professor for a very long time. He has tenure. While still chatting, I employed my sweet friend Google. After all, the Ex teaches at a public university – his salary is likely public record.
Why is this the first time I thought about this?
I guess because I really did think we were adults.
Google tells me, no.
The Ex makes 2x the amount he has told me that he makes.
Meaning, the amount he had been letting me believe he makes, and then that amount again.
The amount he had been letting me believe was low enough that I said, “oh, never mind the child support guidelines, I understand things are tough for you, you can pay $300/mo less than that.”
And when he made tenure, and I said, “did you get a raise with that?” Did he say “yes, approximately $40K!” (And that it was on top of an already-much-higher number than he’d been leading me to believe.)
He said, “Only about $3K.”
Huh. Because according to the website, the first # was the right number. Not the $3K number. The $40K number.
And last year, when I kind of put his back to the wall about who gets to claim Lemon for tax-purposes, he surprisingly caved on the issue. Now I know why. Because if he fought me on that, and we went to court, he would have to submit financial records, and then I would know that he’s been lying to me.
I was pretty upset. Not tears upset (I’m not a cryer, after all), but angry. Because he and I were in the midst of a very cordial email thread (wherein he told me that no, his parents won’t be contributing to college, and either will he), I just told him what I saw. He basically said, “yeah, well, fuck you” in response. First, he tried to say that he didn’t tell me because “it didn’t come up.” Which is, of course, bullshit. He didn’t just “not tell me” – he lied on multiple occasions. He let me fill in erroneous numbers for our little child support calculator without correcting me. He outright lied about whether he’d received raises more than once. Of course, I obsessively checked my email history to gather proof of these transgressions.
He left it as, “So, have your lawyer contact me.”
And then I slipped into a funk. For at least a couple of days. Mostly feeling disillusioned over the fact that I’ve prided myself in being fair, and in being, even, kind. And in response, I’ve been lied to.
I am no longer in a funk, but I still haven’t done anything about this. I know now that when taking into account my salary and his salary, he should be paying more than twice the child support he currently pays. But you know what? I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to open up a court file here in Massachusetts. I don’t want to take him to court, from 1/2 way across the country, to get more money out of him. Is it my fault he has two new babies? No. But I still feel like if I drag him to court to insist on some higher amount of child support (any such increase would, of course, go entirely to the girls’ fledgling college accounts), I’m a jerk. A real jerk.
I know that when it comes down to it, the court cannot (will not) make him contribute toward tuition. And even with his true salary being 2x what he had told me he was making, it’s not a huge salary. He likely cannot pay for half of their college. So increasing child support to the appropriate level and using that increase to supplement the savings is the most I can expect. I can probably also extend child support past the girls’ 18th birthdays, until they graduate from college.
But even if I do get this increase … it won’t help tons in the overall picture. In the three years between now and when Lemon heads out the door, the increase maybe will have accumulated to equal 1/2 year of college. One semester. But there’s two kids. So …. ?
Is it worth it? I just don’t know. I really do not want the fight. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want the fact that I have been divorced to take up that much of my time and thoughts.
Not one person I have spoken to thinks that it is appropriate for me to let this go. Every single person thinks I should take him to court and get the higher number. Of course, if I were to talk to his mother, or perhaps another divorced non-custodial parent, I would get a different perspective.
Also to note, if I were to get the increase to the levels that the MA guidelines state as the true level, he would be paying considerably less than 10% of his gross salary to child support. Which means, yeah, he’s currently paying about 4% of his gross annual salary toward child support.
Another thing – I do not know that his salary is all he makes. He also has several speaking engagements per year, and participates in many other professional endeavors. Those could be supplementing his salary in a significant way. And since I know that he does not feel like it is his responsibility to ensure that he’s providing Lemon and Mouse with support appropriate to his income, I know he would not volunteer this information.
For now, I have asked him for his last 2 years’ tax returns. I don’t know if he’ll provide them. I’m guessing if his salary is it, he’ll send them. If there’s more, more to hide, then he will not.