You know the situation all too well. You’re the primary carer for your beautiful kids, and as they grow they need more and more things that cost more and more money. Child support doesn’t always cover what’s needed, so the next option is to start the dreaded conversation with your Ex – the conversation about contributing more money to support the kids. Uh-oh… Get ready for an earbashing and a bunch of horrible text messages! It seems like no matter how gently or politely you approach them, it always seems to result in someone losing their temper.
Of course these conversations are highly emotionally charged; relationship breakups mostly are. Even when the separation has been amicable, as soon as the topic of money rears its ugly head, all of the goodwill seems to turn bad. So why is it that the money conversation has such a high emotional charge around it? Why is it that it seems to bring out the very worst in your Ex?
Well, there are two main reasons why these conversations go the way they do. And yes, these reasons are from my own experience as well as the experiences of the many people I’ve spoken to about this over the years.
Reason 1: Because it’s YOU who’s asking. No matter how you frame the conversation, no matter how much you emphasise that it’s for the child, it’s YOU who’s there doing the asking. If it was your Ex’s best friend, or their new partner who was asking for this money for your child, do you think your ex would react that same way? Not likely!
Reason 2: Your Ex has no real visibility about how the money they contribute actually gets spent. They have no say in it. So the money conversation automatically makes them feel even more powerless and put out. They have no way to make the decision about whether this money you’re asking for is reasonable or not, and because the trust has probably been eroded between the two of you, they’ll automatically assume it’s unreasonable.
Those are the two main reasons, but of course every situation is different and there’s probably many more reasons you could come up with about why the money conversations always seems to go bad.
So how can this situation be resolved? How is it possible to have a money conversation with your Ex without it turning into World War III? How do you become an expert in emotional economics?
Well, the trick is to change the way you and your Ex think about Child Support.
In most cases, you as the primary carer for the child are the one who looks after the money. You manage the money that your Ex contributes, plus any other benefits you receive, plus the income you earn, and somehow you make it all work. But that’s actually the root of the problem, it is essentially a disempowering experience for your Ex because they’re just handing over money and not actually giving support. To them, it’s like throwing money down a well with no control over what happens to it.
So, empower your Ex! Instead of having a money conversation, have a conversation about which areas of your child’s life they will look after, and which areas you will look after.
For example, you might agree to look after food, clothes, medical and entertainment while your Ex looks after school costs, camps and extra-curricular activities like sport or dance classes. That way, you’re receiving financial support while also empowering your Ex to actually be involved in your children’s lives. Your Ex can deal directly with the school or whatever organisation money needs to be paid to, they don’t need to deal with you, and they can talk to the kids about how well things are working, if anything needs to be changed, and make sure the kids are happy.
Structuring your Child Support in this way completely takes the one-sided money conversation off the table and empowers everyone to step up and support the kids in a hands-on way, rather than you doing everything and your Ex just feeding money into the machine. Of course, your Ex may still contribute a monthly lump sum Child Support amount, but this can be agreed between you taking all factors into account.
Now, there is one important thing that really must be done for this approach to be successful, and that is for you and your Ex to create and agree on a Parenting Plan.
A Parenting Plan is essential because it spells out in writing who will take what responsibility, so there’s no argument about it. In most countries, you can lodge your Parenting Plan with the Child Support agency so they know about it and have it on their records. And, in future, if finances change, rather than having a conversation about money, you can now have a conversation about ‘updating the Parenting Plan’. You can usually find a Parenting Plan template on your government Child Support website, and I’ll be releasing one soon for download, so keep an eye out for that.
It’s not easy being a co-parent and keeping everything in balance. You’ve got your own stuff to deal with and the last thing you need is a hard time from your Ex. So maybe this approach might make life a little easier, and that’s one less thing you have to worry about. But do remember this:
You’re in a unique position, you have the opportunity to completely re-invent yourself, to completely re-invent your life, and to make it whatever you want it to be. And you can do it completely on your own terms. That is a very exciting prospect, is it not?
With Love from your Coach,