Managing payments for decisions made jointly, following the agreements spelled out in your Order of Child Support, means that you’re not only dealing with co-parent executive orders, but also co-parent financial orders. The back-and-forth conversation about money can be stressful and conflict-filled. Your legal paperwork may do a great job of describing the ‘what’ is and not always helpful with the ‘how’.
- How do we know what’s owed one another?
- How do we handle both of us wanting to buy clothes for the kids when one of us is receiving child support?
- Who pays for birthday party gifts?
- What about allowance?
Parents generally have lots and lots of questions even when there’s plenty of money. If financial concerns, tight budgets, and unclear definitions are added, it’s a recipe for ongoing financial conflict and distress.
CFOs: Co-parent Financial Officers
Children need protection from adult financial matters until they reach an age when having the right information supports healthy development and skill building. Sharing your financial stress with children, even unintentionally, makes them feel helpless about depending on you and leaves them questioning if they’re a burden. The feeling that often emerges when children wish they didn’t need something from parents is shame. Shame hurts. Shame makes us wish we could go away. Children often feel shame around their parents’ financial stress. Protect your children by developing confidence in managing your financial stress. A clear message about what you can and can’t afford is healthy, followed by increasing confidence that you’ll take good care of them. We’ll go into more detail about age-appropriate involvement of kids in money matters below.
Parents take good care of kids when they manage the financial matters of raising children successfully and relieve children from anxiety, conflict, and stress about how things will get paid for. Fighting about finances is no different than fighting over your children in any other way. Fighting causes stress. Parents make not-so-loving mistakes when they share with children that their other parent is the one who won’t pay for things the kids want, when either use money as a messenger of love or caring, or attempt to lure the children into alliance through money or gifts. Money is a wonderful resource; use it wisely; teach your children well—and implement, “Your Mom and I/your Dad and I” when it comes to financial decisions that are based on joint agreements regardless of who is actually writing the check.
We-lynh and Chad recognized Kim’s love of dance. When they transitioned into a two-home family, We-lynh was uncertain her budget could support the three-times-a-week dance classes that Kim had enjoyed since she was four. Chad offered to cover tuition for the first year, which relieved a huge financial worry for We-lynh. Talking with Kim, Chad was careful to say, “Your Mom and I want you to continue with your dance — so, we have made sure you can re-enroll.” There was a small part of him that wanted credit for his generosity—he wanted to tell Kim that HE was the one paying for it—but he knew that making a display of money with Kim would be self-serving, not loving.
Divorce/separation impacts family resources. But other changes do as well: children grow up in one-house families where a parent loses a job, someone gets sick, a parent decides to change careers and goes back to school, etc. All of these life changes impact family resources. Helping children to adjust to budget changes with a positive, constructive, can-do all attitudes prepares kids and contributes to their healthy resilience when faced with adversity or change later as adults.
Our next step is to educate ourselves and co-design a plan.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK. For more information on Karen or her book, visit http://coachmediateconsult.com/co-parents-handbook/