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Question

I not only pay my ex-wife child support and alimony, but I also end up covering extra expenses that should come out of what I already pay her, such as school fees, extracurricular activities, Christmas gifts, and so on. She continues to mismanage the money I give her to the point where our kids call me anytime they need money for something. I’m the dependable one when it comes to money. Because my ex-wife can’t manage her finances, she’s constantly late on her rent payments and has had to move a few times. I keep things stable by giving her extra money to cover rent so the kids can stay in their same neighborhood and school. I want them to have a stable home and not have to keep switching schools and neighborhoods. However, she’s not changing her spending habits and it’s costing me lots of money. She knows I’m financially capable of bailing her out, so I’m worried that I’m enabling her. My kids are my priority, so I don’t care what it costs, but I have no idea how long this will go on. If I cut her off, then she’ll move somewhere that would be a worse situation for my kids. I recognize that I’m controlling my kids environment, but I don’t know what else to do.

Answer

Even though I don’t know the circumstances behind your divorce, I can tell your priority is keeping your children in a stable living situation. You’ve made it clear that your children are more important than your money. There is no reason for your ex-wife to change her habits, as you’ve made it clear that you’ll do anything to keep your children’s lives consistent.

I agree with you that moving your children to different schools and neighborhoods is disruptive. I completely understand your desire to create healthy living conditions for your children.

However, you believe you don’t have any other choices. This isn’t true. In fact, there are plenty of other ways this could play out. For example, if you didn’t have the financial ability to bail out your ex-wife, what would you do? How would you work to provide stability for your children if you couldn’t stop her from moving them around? You have plenty of other ways to influence their lives, but this is the one you’ve chosen.

You’re in a situation where you can control all of the variables because your ex-wife allows it. You both have an unspoken agreement that as long as you keep bailing her out, she will keep their environment consistent. Please recognize that you are choosing one of many options to support your children. You’re able to choose this as an option because you can financially afford it. So, if this is the option you feel gives your children the best environment, then own your decision.

Your focus can’t be on helping your ex-wife live more responsibly. She receives a set amount of money that she gets to manage. You have to decide what type of support you can give your children regardless of what your ex-wife chooses to do.

Please be aware that there is danger in believing that you’re trapped and don’t have any other options. If you believe you don’t have other choices, then you risk becoming resentful and bitter. This will poison you and then will eventually poison your children. Your children need a father who is emotionally healthy. One of the first directives the Savior gave the Nephites when he visited them after his resurrection was to avoid contention with each other.[i] When you feel peaceful about your choice, then you won’t carry this bitterness in your heart.

If you own this choice and move forward, you might work more closely with your ex-wife to figure out the best way to keep your children in a stable living environment. I’m sure there are sensible places to set limits around what you can do to support your children.

If you can’t shake the resentment, then perhaps this isn’t your best option. Yes, you’re worried about your children living conditions, but taking care of your finances, your emotions, and your relationship with your ex-wife also affects them. Keep all of those in mind as you decide what’s the best way to manage this situation.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

 

[i] 3 Nephi 11:29-30