You’re in the home stretch, dads (and step-moms). The final child support payment happens this calendar year. Twelve months, nine months, six months, three months, one month left! Last child support payment! Woohoo!
Of course, like most loving fathers, you’ve happily provided for your children. But let’s be real. Child support, particularly large awards, isn’t exclusively spent on food, shelter and educational expenses for the kids. It’s pocketed by the parent whose name appears after “Pay to the order of.” There’s neither oversight nor accountability for how child support is spent by the recipient — typically the mother on behalf of the children.
For many men, child support is really another form of spousal support. This is especially true of dads who share children with narcissistic, borderline and/or undiagnosed garden variety entitled, hostile dependent, voluntarily unemployed/under-employed moms — many of whom are college graduates or have advanced professional degrees. A fair number of my clients are dragged back to family court, year after year, by exes seeking child support increases. Tax records are subpoenaed in the event dad received a 3% raise. Demands are made for the step-mother’s tax returns. Sometimes the money spent on legal fees is greater than the potential child support increase.
Oftentimes, the support increase isn’t based on the needs of the children, but rather the pathological entitlement of the mother.
Even worse, many of these women may have been inclined to a 50/50 custody share if there wasn’t a financial incentive to have more than 50% custody (or mightn’t have fought as hard against it). In most states, more custody equals more money. Some women do their damnedest to retain physical control of the children to maintain financial and psychological control of their exes. The parent who controls the kids can control the other parent. Children make the best hostages and weapons for angry, spiteful, extortionist exes with an axe to grind.
This is why so many dads look forward to their children’s eighteenth birthdays with anticipatory glee (even though they’d give anything to have had more time with their kids during childhood). In such cases, the end of child support means liberation from a controlling, malicious, money grubbing, demanding, meddling, exploitative and manipulative ex. Child support typically stops when kids turn 18. After which, the payer is free to ignore and/or tell the payee to go pound sand to infinity and beyond, and then ignore. Many clients continue to financially help their adult kids with college expenses, transportation, cellphone plans, etc. However, it’s their decision now, not the courts.
All those old manipulations centered around why you had to give the ex more money (beyond what was court ordered) “for the sake of the children” can now be ignored (notice I keep using the word “ignore”) or responded to with one of the following:
- Not my problem.
- Get a job.
- Get another job.
- Live within your means.
- Find someone else to leech off.
- All of the above.
As tempting as replies one through six may be, the best response is to tell the ex her money issues are no longer your concern and then ignore. Better yet, BLOCK. Now that the kids are technically adults and no longer governed by the custody order, they’re free, theoretically, to have relationships with you without mommy in the middle. Mommy will likely continue to try to be the gatekeeper. However, she can be ignored on this front, too. This may require a firm, but loving discussion with your adult children regarding what kind of relationship they want to have with you moving forward, but more on that later.
So congratulations! Your court ordered financial obligation to
the ex the kids is nearly over! Don’t pop the cap on your celebratory micro-brew just yet though. Hostile dependents like the ex usually don’t relinquish control and unearned income with dignity, maturity and gracious acceptance. When has she ever been dignified, mature and gracious when told no or required to do her own work? After all you’ve been through with the narcissistic, borderline, histrionic or garden variety entitled, control freak ex, did you really think it was going to be smooth sailing?
Control issues, abandonment issues and entitlement issues, oh my!
Just because child support is going away doesn’t mean the ex’s issues are going away, too. In fact, her issues are likely to become heightened as the end of child support looms into undeniable view. You can pretty much count on her making an Orc-army-at-the-Black-Gate-of-Mordor-like effort to keep the cash flow flowing in her direction.
There are four underlying dysfunctional personality characteristics that drive narcissists, borderlines et al, which I call the Fearsome Foursome. They include:
- Professional victim identity
- Control freakery
- Emotional reasoning
Professional victim identity. You see this in the narcissistic or borderline ex’s endless blame-shifting. Nothing is ever her or his fault. Even if their pathology occasionally permits the rare admission of bad behavior, their defense mechanisms are quickly deployed. If you weren’t so [fill in their favorite accusations, distortions, lies and projections] they wouldn’t have to yell, lie, cheat, take you to court to gouge more money from you, etc., etc., etc. Therefore, it’s all your fault and you deserved it! Since it’s all your fault, you OWE her. In perpetuity. Even if she’s re-coupled numerous times. She gets to move on with her life and owes you nothing. You owe her forever.
Entitlement. The victim identity feeds into and is fed by a sense of pathological entitlement. It fuels her “the world owes me because I am special and because I have been wronged” belief system. Entitlement is why able-bodied adults believe they shouldn’t have to work to support themselves nor contribute to the children’s financial support in a meaningful or equitable way. Entitlement is also what allows a woman with these issues to be openly disrespectful and contemptuous of her ex whom the courts force to subsidize her choice to be unemployed or underemployed. This is often the same woman who snarls that she doesn’t need her ex and the kids don’t need their father beyond every other weekend and mid-week dinners. And, of course, money, cars and other material goods on demand and in addition to child support.
Control freakery. Reasonable adults understand that you can’t control everything, especially other people. You can make requests or try to influence others, but you can’t control them. The only person you can control is yourself. Narcissists and their ilk live in a fragile bubble where they are blameless, entitled victims and martyrs. Control freakery is how they (mis)manage their anxiety and safeguards their distorted reality, pathological entitlement and victim identity, which only exist in the bubble. By now, you probably recognize the maniacal, determined look in the ex’s eyes, the escalation in communications, threats, demands, name-calling, gamesmanship and victim-speak when you resist her efforts to control you.
This kind of person viciously defends against anything and anyone that might pierce her bubble with things like reality, logic, reason, facts and the word no. This is why they put so much energy into trying to control the children. It’s the most effective way to control you and your wallet. They’ll try to eliminate or destroy anyone who poses a threat to their control over you. That includes you, new partners, your friends and family. Even if the ex has remarried, you’re expected to remain in bondage to her, ready to comply and serve. She expects this to continue after the kids turn 18 and may become outraged and unhinged when it doesn’t.
Abandonment fears also drive control freakery. To be clear, ending a relationship isn’t “abandonment.” Divorce doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned your children either. It means the marriage between you and the other parent came to an end. The end of child support is experienced as another form of abandonment. This is, of course, nuts, but then all of this stuff is.
Emotional reasoning. It’s the fuel that keeps the Crazy train running. A rational, logical, fact-based individual wouldn’t be able to justify any of these attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. It’s only possible through the magic of emotional reasoning. Wikipedia defines emotional reasoning as “a cognitive error that occurs when a person believes that what [s]he is feeling is true regardless of the evidence.” Facts are meaningless to these folks. The facts are whatever the narcissist says they are at any given time and are subject to change at any given time. Typically, they alternate bullying, raging, throwing a tantrum, stonewalling, charm, flattery and making life hell until you concede and give them what they want.
What can you expect as the child support clock runs out?
You can expect many of the same behaviors you experienced while married and post-divorce to the tenth power. The final hours elicit the convulsive paroxysms of the entitlement-control freakery death rattle. Must. Retain. Control. There are many variations of this. The following are the most common that I’ve observed with my clients.
1) Escalation of neediness. She needs your help. Only you can help her. You owe her. What about the children? What is she going to do now? How can you just abandon her now that the kids are adults! She still needs you!
2) Escalation of guilt trips. You’re a bad man and a bad dad if you don’t keep the gravy train going, or put your life on hold to continue to be the ex’s step and fetch it/ATM.
3) Escalation of demands. The staccato drumbeat of demands often becomes more frenetic and frantic the closer you get to the final child support payment. I need you to . . . You have to . . . You’re obligated to . . . You better . . .
4) Escalation of threats. If one of these threats is to take you back to court within 6 months of the final payment, hang up on her. Okay, hang up on her after you stop laughing your ass off.
5) Escalation of money grabs. Expect to be nickeled and dimed for every possible child expense in addition to child support. There may also be big money grabs. For example, cars for the kids, or encouraging a child to attend a more expensive college. This kind of individual often sees their kids as extensions of themselves. As such, she may continue to try to gouge you via the kids. It’s about taking your resources from you even if she doesn’t directly benefit.
6) Escalation of parental alienation. Parental alienation usually doesn’t stop when the kids become adults either. This type of mother may try to stay in the role of gatekeeper of the kids in order to use their relationship with you to continue to manipulate, control and exploit you. Or, continue to put the kids in the middle by having them act as her money request emissaries hoping you won’t be able to refuse the children now that you’re refusing her.
7) Sabotaging the child’s transition to adulthood. Insisting the kids live at home while attending school to extend child support (in some state’s this is the law).
8) The dreaded Hoover. Attempts to seduce you back into
bondage a relationship. When a client tells me the ex is flirting/attempting a Hoover, I have the same reaction as when I’m watching a horror film. Nooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!! Don’t open the door!!!!! Run!!! Get out of the house!!!!! LEAVE THE HOUSE NOWWWWWWW!!!!!!
What can you do to protect yourself when the ex is going batshit(tier) as child support runs out?
Ideally, you’ve already adopted the following suggestions in your post-divorce life as best practices. If not, there’s no time like the present to begin if you’d finally like to have your life and your hard-earned money be your own again:
1) Gird your loins and your boundaries. Boundaries are your best defense. So is practicing a limited contact-all in writing mode of communication. After the kids are adults, there’s really very little need for ongoing contact. So nip that nonsense in the bud. You don’t want to set a precedent. The message needs to be crystal clear: Her problems — emotional, financial, physical, professional — are her responsibility, not yours.
2) Deal with your codependency. Feeling guilty won’t kill you, but continued ex-related stress, a lack of retirement savings and adequate health care coverage just might. Tell her no. She can’t take you back to court anymore. Better yet, block her. If she finds other means to contact you, ignore her. What are you feeling guilty about anyway? Wanting to be healthy, to be free and to keep the resources you earned? Feel the guilt and say no anyway. Have faith that with time and No Contact these feelings will pass.
3) Stop worshiping at the altar of the Golden Uterus. “She’s the mother of my children” is an example of you guilt tripping yourself, so stop it. Yes, the ex birthed the kids, which is a biological act performed by dogs, monkeys, fish, birds, snakes, etc. This is also the same person who disrespected you to the children, undermined you as a parent, withheld the kids from you, denied you equal parenting time for a bigger child support payment and repeatedly dragged you back to court out of spite and entitlement. She incubated the children, so what? Good moms don’t do any of the things I just listed.
Stop allowing yourself to be manipulated and exploited out of the misguided fealty to the cult of motherhood and start taking care of yourself. You matter. It’s healthy and reasonable to put yourself first. Next time she tries to play the “but I’m the mother” card, tell her to petition the Smithsonian Institute to commission a gold-plated sculpture of her uterus. Then tell her to get a job. Better yet, stop taking her calls and responding to her emails full stop. Or, if some communication is required for college-related stuff, ignore the handout requests. Ideally, the children can communicate their needs to you now, not their mother. The goal is to remove mommy from the middle.
4) Stop using the ex as the money conduit to the kids. Again, a good goal is to get the ex out of the middle of your relationship with your children. If you want to help your adult kids with college tuition, school books, car payment, cellphones, etc., pay the institutions directly not the ex or the kids. Several clients have given money to their kids for college expenses only to discover they were giving a substantial portion of it to their mothers. This isn’t okay for several reasons. One, the kids were being dishonest. Two, the exes were using the kids to manipulate and exploit my clients. Three, it’s disrespectful and sneaky. If there’s drama about paying the institutions directly, odds are it’s an ex-related money grab.
5) Prepare for tough conversations with the kids. If your children are allowing themselves to be used or volunteering to manipulate you on their mother’s behalf, it’s time for a come to Jesus heart-to-heart. Some adult kids willingly become flying monkeys for their mothers. Sadly, they’ve likely developed similar personality traits (or disorders). Some kids don’t realize this is wrong; some will be foot soldiers for their mothers for the rest of their lives. Tell your kids as compassionately and firmly as possible that these behaviors are unacceptable. Their mother is an adult and it’s her responsibility to support herself. If your kids want to give her the money they earn that’s up to them. However, it’s not okay for them to guilt you or tie their relationship with you to your willingness to be manipulated and exploited by proxy.
Additionally, after years of child support and spousal support, you may be one of the many men who aren’t in a position to financially help your kids. If the kids were taught by their mother that your primary value is monetary, this will be a tough conversation. They may see your unwillingness and/or inability to keep the Bank of Dad ATM open for business as a lack of love. This is screwed up and I’m sorry if this is the situation you find yourself in.
Figure out what kind of relationship you want to have with your children now that they’re adults and your court ordered financial obligations are over. Discuss it with them. Ignoring it won’t make it better. Best case scenario, the kids will build healthier, less transactional relationships with you over time. Worst case scenario, they’ll disappear from your life if you’re no longer supplying them with money. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate, but is that the kind of relationship you want to continue to have with them?
Okay, now that you’re better prepared let the anticipatory celebrating recommence!
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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