I may have to pay my rich ex-husband child support. This is what my lawyer told me Wednesday afternoon. I spent the rest of the day trying to lasso my blood pressure and pull it down off the ceiling.
Let me be clear: I don’t believe child support should be a free ride. I don’t believe those monthly payments should end up in the pockets of cosmetic surgeons or Mercedes dealers.
And I don’t believe that the only people who should pay child support are men. I believe that the richer person should pay the poorer person child support. The issue isn’t about gender per se–although women still make only 75% of what men do, which is why they normally are awarded child support. When you factor in that many married women choose to leave careers to stay home with their children, then find it difficult to re-enter a post-divorce job market with dusty resumes, bygone skill sets, and networking contacts that have drifted away, the notion of income parity starts to resemble a Disney movie.
If I had Prince’s pots of gold at my disposal, and Prince were in my position, realistically able to earn just $50,000 a year, I would pay for all my kids’ expenses. I would not attempt to sue him to make him pay for private school “extras”–I have said repeatedly that I could not afford private school and if he wanted to send the kids it would have to be on his dime–such as MacBook Pros and field trips to other continents. I would not send him nasty texts insisting that he pony up bucks for a $2000-a-week summer camp for both kids. I would not arbitrarily stop paying $300 in court-ordered monthly childcare expenses simply because I felt like it. I would not dock money from child support when I felt he needed to be taught a lesson. I would not attempt to extract blood from a stone.
You may be thinking that I have illusions of largesse. I’ve never been rich (except by proxy, when I was married to Prince), so how can I speak with any certainty of what I would do if I were?Perhaps I should put myself in his position: how would I feel giving money to an ex that I want to smush beneath my shoe like a dying ember? What if I were convinced he were spending child support on luxuries for himself instead of school books and gym shoes? Perhaps I would feel, to borrow Prince’s verbal finesse, that he should follow whatever cockamamie order I hurl at him because “that’s what I pay you for!”
I could say that I wouldn’t feel this way because I’m a decent person, because I don’t like to play games, and because I believe in honoring my financial commitments. But that’s not really the point. The point is, in the case of co-parenting, money solves problems. When money flows like a chocolate fountain, children need not and should not be deprived. Being bucks-up takes away the need for heated conversations about splitting everything 50-50. When parents don’t hemorrhage psychic energy via ongoing conflict, they can focus on the prize: raising children in an amicable environment. Who is really being punished by yanking summer camp? Not me.
By now you may be wondering, if Prince is so rich, and Pauline is clinging to her toehold on the middle-class, why does she have to pay him child support?
Because Prince doesn’t work, that’s why. He has an office where he makes lots of phone calls and sets up deals that don’t come to fruition. He takes “business trips” to the French Riviera and Aspen. But he doesn’t actually make money. Until recently, he lived off a five-figure-a-month family trust allocation, plus rental income on two properties. Extras, such as lavish vacations, home improvements, and season’s tickets to basketball games, were gifted by his parents.
Then last year Prince decided to sue me for full custody of our son and modify child support. At that point, the monthly trust disbursement mysteriously evaporated, the renter of one of his homes moved out, and Prince said he could not find a new renter. He reported that his actual income from work the year before was $3000. Quite a creative sleight of hand for someone who spends his time remodeling homes and taking vacations. And, might I add, for someone whose father owns a multi-million dollar company and writes books on how to get jobs and be successful.
I’m not kidding.
So I made Prince take a vocational exam to determine how much money he could make, should he choose to work. He was imputed with the same income that I made at my last full-time job (which I left because my days were 12 hours door-to-door, I barely saw my kids, and one-third of my income went to childcare, so now I work part-time): roughly $50,000.
Now that Luca is living with Prince 100% of the time–and it is unlikely he will return to live with me in the foreseeable future–and Francesca may end up living with Prince 50% of the time, child support should be modified to reflect those changes. That’s fair. It’s also reasonable that I continue paying half of the children’s unreimbursed medical expenses. And to pay for things for the children that I’m able to afford, but that Prince doesn’t want to split: for instance, a one-week, $200 art camp for Francesca. If I can swing it, I foot the bill for child-related expenses rather than ask Prince to split them. I don’t need the hassle and I enjoy being able to provide for my children, even if I can only provide in small ways.
But to force me to subsidize the income of a rich person who is so miserly that he pays his legal fees out of our son’s checking account (yup, that came out in the deposition)–well, that’s just plain wrong. Not merely wrong, but upside-down, Alice-through-the-looking-glass, Orwellian-parallel-universe crazy.
It’s the same kind of crazy that has turned America from an all-men-are-created-equal enterprise into a highly stratified socioeconomic Armageddon that is eroding the quality of life for the majority of its citizens. It’s the same kind of crazy that allows banks and corporations, post-banking crisis, to bestow obscene bonuses on privileged executives while firing the middle-class workers who keep those corporations running. It’s the same kind of crazy that blinded the SEC from Madoff’s trickery that wiped out the savings of thousands of trusting investors. It’s the same kind of crazy that is making a college education out of reach for so many of our young people, and killing off desperately sick individuals who cannot afford health insurance. It’s the same kind of crazy that has created a 16% unemployment rate for African-American males, who then are scorned for resorting to criminal activities to survive.
In the case of rich vs. poor ex-spouses, the notion of a 50-50 split is unjust. And in my reverse-Robin Hood scenario, the very real possibility that I will end up subsidizing Prince Midas is a sick joke. My hope is that my lawyer will be able to make a case that Prince’s lifestyle demonstrates he lives far in excess of $50,000 a year and that there is no basis for my paying him child support. I can accept receiving zero child support. Perhaps getting nothing from him will tamp down some of his rage. But gouging my already meager income to pad the pockets of the man who just put a tiled pool and hot tub in his backyard? Hello?
Does anyone else think the Family Law gods have been drinking too much nectar? Or is it reasonable for me to pay my rich ex-husband child support based on a modest figure I no longer earn? Moms, dads, bloggers, divorced people, please weigh in. I would love to know your thoughts.