My husband’s ex has a much higher income than we do. My husband is often left out of financial decisions and then asked to split the cost. We can’t and don’t want to compete.
When my husband says he can’t afford to split but will contribute his ex tells the children their Dad doesn’t want to support them and isn’t a good father. My husband is constantly on edge that his kids will stop talking to him or not want to spend time with us. We have tried being rational with his ex and explaining that our financial situation is different from hers, but it hasn’t worked. What should we do?
My heart goes out to you and your husband. Being shut out of money matters and then asked to contribute in a way that either puts you in a pinch financially or at risk emotionally is a very tough predicament.
I understand that you’ve talked to your stepchildren’s mother and haven’t seen a change. I wonder, have you talked to the children?
Before I go any further, let me say two things. First, families have very different approaches to involving children in financial decisions. I get that; what I recommend may not work for everyone. Second, I am not telling you to share the details of the history of your financial disagreement or your full financial situation with the children.
Coparenting money matters bubble up often for divorced couples. While some couples have child support agreements and clear legal guidelines in place, others do not. Sometimes costs arise that fall outside of child support or are not addressed in the custody agreement.
As you know, the best solution is to openly communicate with your coparenting partner. For example, Caden was just accepted to a summer program that is well outside of our normal activity spending. Before telling him he was accepted, his father and I spoke about whether and what we could each afford to contribute to the cost. When we approached Caden, we simply said he’d been accepted and we could afford to enroll him.
Still, money matters can get sticky, and for some coparenting couples, discussions can fizzle out or become unproductive.
Our solution is to openly and continuously discuss how we make financial decisions with our children (even the eight year-olds). In our house, we begin talking about summer camp with what we’re able to spend on each child (we share that information with the other parent). If a child is interested in a program that falls outside the budget, she may earn the money herself, work with her other parent, or ask for the additional funds as a gift for her birthday or Christmas from relatives.
We don’t only talk about coparenting money matters in this house. We talk about our family vacation budget and involve the children in prioritizing how we spend that money. When we go to the movies we split a popcorn and talk about how planning ahead saves money (see our movie tips and tricks here). Eating out? We have the kids calculate the cost of their drinks and the tip.
We talk about financial planning too. My children know what I will contribute to their future educations and that they will be responsible for costs above that amount. We discuss the difference between a debit and a credit card and talk about the benefits of using your own money and the costs of someone using someone else’s.
We divorce money from love and experience. We often make the connection for our children that some of our favorite experiences have been free. We point out that they equally enjoyed the expensive family-moon cruise and the bare-bones camping vacation. We strive to help them see that life can be enjoyed across the financial spectrum.
Talking to the children about money helps increase their overall awareness and prepares them to make financial decisions as adults. We incorporate financial discussions in our every day life in an age-appropriate way. Still, some discussions remain off-limits.
We don’t discuss the details of child support. The children know that mom and dad share money devoted to their care and that there is plenty of money to keep them fed, clothed and safe. Their needs are covered. We don’t discuss who pays what.
We don’t discuss conflict. When we’ve faced disagreements with our coparenting partners (and like all divorced couples, we have), we’ve simply stated what we are able to contribute, rather than highlighting the discussion with the other parent up to that point.
We don’t talk about adult concerns. When I left my corporate job, I worried about providing health insurance for my children. I did not share that worry with the kids. Serious financial issues around safety and security are adult matters, and can increase children’s anxiety.
Financial circumstances are private, family affairs, and not all of what I’ve shared here will work for you. My hope is that some of this will resonate, and help begin a conversation within your family that brings you to a more comfortable place.
Sending you all the love and strength I have,