How Nice is too Nice?

January 6, 2011

In the recent months, WD and I have been attempting to carve out some time for ourselves.  Twice a week, we go out to dinner together.  The girls are handed a twenty dollar bill, and they walk around the corner to the side-by-side taqueria (Lemon’s tacos) and pizza place (Mouse’s small cheese pizza), and get themselves food.  Including sodas.  A treat.  Then they walk home and eat their respective dinners in front of the t.v.  Another treat.  Especially since they can watch whatever crap they want, instead of being constrained by their parents’ good taste.  Our restaurant is right around the corner (in the other direction) from our house, so we really aren’t gone long.  We met at the restaurant at 7:30 last night, and got home just after 9.

We almost didn’t go last night, because of the violence that the holidays did on our budget.  But we justified going (well, I didn’t need a justification, but WD did) by putting “financial planning” on the dinner conversation agenda.

With a raise coming with the new year, a little bit of bonus money languishing in the account, and the girls’ college staring us in the face, finances have been on my mind a good bit lately.  Hence their appearance on my list of New Years Not-Really-Resolutions.  I have been collecting recommendations for financial planners, and we plan to make our decision about which to use within the week.  Then WD and I will meet with him or her, and we’ll be further along on the road toward adulthood.  Or responsibility. Or whatever.

Semi-related to my financial picture is my Ex.  Not as related as he should be, probably, since I really feel like I am 100% on my own for paying for the girls’ college.  But he does pay some child support (although, apparently, not in January?).

It was soooo romantic for WD and I to start bitching and moaning about the Ex & child support on our “night out,” but it was part of the picture.  I did my best to keep it short …

My ex went to law school, but he does not practice.  And his salary is less than mine.  By a large margin (talking less than half).  It used to be that he made considerably more than me, both before and (obviously) during my time in law school.  At that time, the girls were also in child care either full time or every day after school (very expensive!!!).  He was paying a large amount on a monthly basis, although most of it was child care costs.

Since I graduated law school and started working in a Firm, and the girls have stopped being in child care, the Ex and I have amended our child support/visitation agreements.  We did not do this in the courts.  We did it “privately” – which may or may not be worth crap if we ever are forced into court.  We’ve always put the discussions in writing (email), and they do set out a precedent of some sort.  But still – our order is very different from what we do, in every way.

The biggest change was that I accepted a 1/3 reduction in total monies from the Ex on a monthly basis, and forgave him any contributions toward the girls’ extra curricular activities (he used to pay 1/2).  I proposed the change, feeling it was the Right Thing to Do.

We have had some disputes since that overhaul – about money and visitation (and sometimes, parenting) – and in a couple instances they were large enough disputes that one or the other of us threatened to bring our old agreement back to court.  This is complicated by the fact that neither of us live in the state where our agreement was drafted and became an order, and our situations have fundamentally changed since then. If we were to go to court, we’d have to first get our old order transferred to our new state, and then file motions for modification.  And he would have to come here.  All of that has always been too complicated to outweigh the benefit of resolving issues on our own.

Recently, while thinking about this year’s raise, I’ve been contemplating cutting him a bit more financial slack.  This may or may not be influenced by the fact that he has baby no. 2 (well, no. 4, considering Lemon was No. 1, and Mouse No. 2) due in March – around the time his baby no. 1 (really no. 3) will turn 15 months old.

Actually – I was more than thinking about it – I’d been planning on making this change.  I planned on writing him once the raise becomes official, and saying “you only have to pay x now.”

[if WD is reading this, he will be pretty mad to think I was “planning” on this without having first talked to him … but it’s true.]

But now we’re thinking about finances like mad, and I’m looking at my budget and figuring out how much I can stand setting aside each month to increase the girls’ pathetic college fund (come on, scholarships!), and feeling a little frustrated about it all.  And I thought – but why?  Why am I giving him a break?  Especially considering that I know – because he told me – that he does not plan to contribute toward college at all?

And then I felt bad.  And selfish.  And greedy.

So then I pulled out some child support calculators for my state, and crunched some numbers.  For the sake of an objective perspective.  To take my emotions (and love of being a “nice person”) out of it.

The formulas that the court in my state uses and that are available on my iPhone (for work purposes) and on the internet, take into account each of our incomes (my guess of his – he hasn’t provided me with current numbers in years – although I can safely assume it hasn’t gone down), the amount of the incomes that should be spent on kids, the fact that I pay around $600/mo for the girls’ various insurances, and our income differentials.  The result is that he’s right now paying $300+ less per month than what the court would likely force him to pay if we went before a judge.  (I had a moment of feeling horrible, because I forgot that my state provides a WEEKLY figure, so I thought he had been way over-paying.  But it turns out I had to multiply that # by 4 to get the monthly figure, and that he was way under-paying.)

That was eye-opening.

So I am too nice.  I was too nice back in 2007 when I voluntarily reduced child support, and I was definitely about to be too nice today.  (I am not at all inclined to claim he should start paying the additional amount that the calculator claims is appropriate.)

Or am I now being mean?  And money-grubbing?  By allowing the amount to stay unaffected by my raise, and to allow him to continue to pay at the same rate despite our income differential and his two new babies.

Thinking objectively – I am not being mean.  Neither conceptually nor practically.  Practically:  Yes, he makes less, but he also lives in an area with a much lower cost of living than where I live.  He has not been supporting the girls for the past 9 years that we’ve been divorced to the extent that I have.  He owns his home, he travels extensively, his wife owns a condo in a warm & sunny locale.  He dresses in nicer clothes than I do; he had a flat-screen t.v. years before I did.  Conceptually:  It’s not my (or our daughters’) fault he had babies.  These girls still keep growing.  Up to 6″ inches a year.  They keep eating.  Their college years are still coming.

Also – he hasn’t even asked for this!  Really, this is all happening in my head.

And how do I feel about it all, in light of the fact that he’s cutting so far back on his time with the girls?  Do I think it’s unfair that he has to pay so much $$ toward people he never sees (even though it’s his choice?) or do I – like WD – think that he should pay more in consideration of the fact that he seems to be bowing out of his summer visits with the girls? That he’s dropping winter vacations and Christmases left and right?  (for the coming year, it’s because he’s spending a “year in Italy” and “has no room” for them there – only room for his wife and 2 babies.  Lower salary or no, he has a pretty rich life.)  Because now we have to cover the entire summer’s activity costs, instead of just a portion?

My thinking right now is that I will take all of my feelings of benevolence and use them to take the difference of current child support and what I thought about reducing it to, and dumping it directly into the college fund each month. Instead of the rent and ever-increasing food funds.

(Seriously, do 14 year olds EVER stop eating?  Ever?)

I am interested in other people’s thoughts, though.  In real life, no one has called me a selfish, money-grubbing bitch.

(paying for the girls’ food/clothes/college = money grubbing?  hard to imagine … but maybe?)





  1. I really like the idea of using the state guidelines as a baseline for yourself — nice to have an objective measure of what you’d be entitled to had you done it the court-route.

    Since you already voluntarily reduced once, and he’s paying $300 less than the guidelines would require (and probably an even greater difference considering you estimated his salary), I like the plan of dumping the ‘break’ you considered giving him into the college fund.

  2. Maybe it would help to think that it’s not you being nice. (And I think you’re being REALLY nice.) It’s you as mama bear getting your cubs everything they’re entitled to.

    I realize we’re in different states, but here, this would play out as follows:

    1) he owes you back child support for all of his underpayment (regardless of your extra-legal agreement). (As a baby lawyer I had this case, and I won it for the mom.) The state would collect for you.

    2) Unless he can make some really awesome arguments about why he can’t pay baseline, he’ll have to pay baseline.

    3) His failure to use his parenting time means more overnights on your side of the tally sheet, and thus he owes you MORE, not less, for support.

    4) Baby #4 would reduce his amount of support in the calculator.

    FWIW. 🙂

    • Well, regardless of what a judge would say, I feel that it would be very unfair for me to demand that back child support, since I affirmatively told him he didn’t have to pay it, so I would not do that.

      I think it is possible a judge would make him pay the guidelines (i.e., $300 more than he’s paying now), but our combined income is above the maximum for the guidelines, so he MIGHT have an argument to deviate, but not further off than I’ve already allowed (there is published guidance for those who are above the income threshold, so I’m not just making that up).

      My state does not do the percentage of visitation as a counterbalance to child support – although the guidelines won’t be used for joint custody arrangements. Our original agreement is in California, and they do make the adjustment.

      It’s funny to see our arrangement characterized as “more overnights,” since really, the girls just live with me. In 2011, they are planning on spending (literally) one week at his house. (Kind of shocking, actually … it used to be approximately 6 weeks/year.)

      And – subsequent babies do not change the guidelines at all here. My state is kind of funny in that, I think. If he had other kids first, and already was supporting them before mine came along, that would reduce my child support. But the courts seem to say “you have no business having more kids if you can’t pay full support for the ones you already have.” Kinda cold!

      I am sure, though, that we won’t end up back in court. Maybe I can envision dragging him in if I end up with reason to believe he has more money than I currently know about and he should be paying more for college, and if I’m desperate.

  3. You are definitely not money-grubbing.

    I would not cut him any more slack and I would put the money into the girls’ college funds without a moment of guilt.

    I’m pretty sure that in my state you can’t get any support after 18/high school graduation unless by private agreement. I would definitely take what I could get when I could get it, if I didn’t think my ex would be contributing to my kids’ college educations.

    And around here, visitation and support are completely separate issues. I pretty much agree with that concept. A parent isn’t responsible for renting his kids’ time (although my dad certainly felt that way) or making a financial apology for a lack of presence–the parent is responsible for supporting the human being that he/she helped bring into this world.

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