An important part of most parenting arrangements has to do with money. If you're the primary residential parent, it's likely your ex is paying you child support and is responsible for expenses like medical costs, school expenses and more. Money is a pretty dicey area for a divorced couple to begin with, but when you mix money with parenting, you often end up with a powder keg. Use these tips to make things more manageable.
Understand your rights. Make sure you understand exactly what you're entitled to when. Find out how often child support is due and how much you will receive. Determine if it will be paid directly by your ex or through your state child support enforcement agency. Learn what to do if payments are not made on time (this depends on how payments are made -- if they are through child support enforcement, enforcement should happen automatically). Be clear on what expenses your ex is responsible for and if he or she is to reimburse you or pay them directly.
Keep good records. Treat your financial dealings seriously. Keep a log for child support payments and issue receipts for them if your ex pays you directly. If you keep receipts for medical or educational expenses for your ex to reimburse, keep them in a separate envelope with a log sheet that tracks dates, amounts and reimbursement. If your ex is to pay medical providers directly, make sure the billing departments have the correct address and information.
Don't involve your child. Child support and parenting don't mix. Your child does not need to be involved in the financial dealings (or disputes) that you and your ex have. Your child should not be asked to carry payments or messages between the two of you. You also should not discuss details or problems with payments with your child.
Avoid blackmail. If you're the residential parent and you're not getting paid owed child support, it can be very tempting to use something you can control -- visitation -- to compel payment. Don't do it. In the eyes of the court, non-payment has no impact on a parent's visitation rights. If you withhold visitation the court can decide you're using custodial interference, which can eventually be cause for a change in custody. And remember, visitation is something that is a benefit for your child. If you withhold it, you punish your own child.
Adopt the correct demeanor. Your financial dealings with your ex are business dealings. It can be easy to forget that because there are so many emotions tied up in the process. The bottom line however is that he or she owes you a debt which you are collecting on. You may feel hurt, cheated, demeaned, abandoned, angry, and more if there are problems with payments - and that's all perfectly natural. You're entitled to those feelings. But being emotional with your ex is probably not going to help the situation. Instead, try to approach things calmly and in a business-like way. "You owe me X. I would like payment by the 15th," is a direct and clear communication. "You lousy SOB, where the $#*@ is my money," might be what you feel like saying but it's not likely to be as productive.
Remember the purpose. It can be easy to lose sight of the purpose of child support and other reimbursements. The reason for all of it is so that your child is taken care of. Try to think of this money in a positive way and not as some punishment you are extracting from your ex. The money is a good thing that can do important things for your child, and is something you should both feel good about.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner, How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child's Best Interest, and The Complete Divorce Handbook. Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.