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Collecting Child Support From My Ex-Wife Doesn’t Make Me Less Of A Man

The following was syndicated from Medium for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at

Divorce truly is the gift that keeps on giving . . . .

As a divorced man receiving child support I’m in kind of a backward situation. But these things are becoming less gender specific so it really shouldn’t matter. See, I was a stay at home dad and sacrificed my career for my kids. So when we divorced I had no job, but wanted 50/50 shared custody because that is what’s best for the kids.

My decree states that I will receive a small sum of child support to help offset expenses for my 3 kids. We split all the major expenses amicably, following the orders of the decree. I went back to work at a significantly lower salary and we agreed to a reasonable child support payment following the state’s calculation methods.

But now the ex and I are both remarried. The balance has shifted and my household makes more money, although I actually make less than my ex-wife or her new husband. But, my ex believes she shouldn’t have to pay the child support any longer. She asked me to ‘be cool’ and just ‘let her’ not pay me. I’m having a small crisis over the issue. Partly because it renews old boundary issues I had in that marriage, but mostly because I feel like that decision is out of my hands.

On the one hand, we’re both remarried and have our separate lives. Yet, we are still joined through the kids and will be forever. On the other hand, there are laws involved that are out of our hands. There are acceptable and legal options to change the custody order and, as I understand, even if I permit a change she still legally owes the kids the money.

How much do I have to consider her feelings as we continue to co-parent?

I have to make plenty of decisions with my children’s’ mother and would like to minimize these interactions as much as possible. The case of child support seems like one we don’t have to, and may not be legally able to, do together.

I recently lost my contract job. Since I retired from being an academic professor I have not been able to find work remotely resembling my former career. I started a small business but cannot pay myself a salary. I have found short-term work and unsatisfactory jobs but nothing I can call a career. Theoretically, I could go work at a fast food restaurant. I have options but I also have hope that I will find something meaningful and rewarding.

Anyway, I am thoroughly exhausted trying to get her to pay me because it always results in me having to listen to how greedy I am. I have had enough of the attacks to my character and accusations about my intentions. My ex doesn’t know this, but since I married I put the money in a separate account for the kids. I believe in the system and intend to use child support for the children, regardless of what my ex-wife might tell you.

I have talked to my lawyer and understand my options and the intent and extent of the law. I don’t think my ex-wife has made that effort. I am torn between informing her about the seriousness of this issue and the options available to us both, or just going to Child Services and asking them to deal with it. The thought of having a mediator receive and disperse payments is dreamy.

My lawyer also informed me that legally I have 20 years to collect any unpaid child support due the kids. Which means after 8 more years of non-payment I could call up Child Services and let them know she hasn’t paid — and they would go and collect the unpaid child support. I wouldn’t do that, even though I’m not ‘cool’ enough to ‘let her’ not pay me.

I also believe, after talking with my lawyer, that if either me or my ex-wife asked the juvenile court system to reassess our case that I would probably get more child support because the calculator doesn’t consider new spouses incomes. I don’t care to initiate that process but either of us could.

My real conundrum is that I am justifiably suspicious about what the repercussions might be whether I ‘am cool’ or get Child Services or the Juvenile Court involved. I already fear my ex does not talk well of me in front of the kids. I don’t think she’s terrible, but I sense that she may not have the same wounds on her tongue as I because I don’t believe she bites hers as often. I fear this will worsen if I do not behave ‘in a cool manner’ over this issue.

Though I don’t necessarily need the money for the kids, I admire the system for seeking to be equitable. I am proud to hold a separate account for them should they need it now or in the future and will use those monies on their expenses and not my own. I appreciate the states’ rules and laws regarding this issue and wish to honor them by obeying them as I am supposed to. The courts were not involved with my divorce decree but I relied on the state methodology to ensure it was equitable. In fact, I ultimately agreed to a much lower support payment than I believed I would have received had we gone through juvenile court. Just to ‘be cool’.

I have talked to my lawyer and understand my options and the intent and extent of the law. I don’t think my ex-wife has made that effort.

Am I a douchebag for wanting to follow the rules and either follow the decree conditions or go to juvenile court to amend them? Some will surely say so. I think my ex is correct that I could get away with ignoring the non-payments forever. And by doing so would honor my ex-wife’s desires but dishonor the state legal system. Which matters? More or less? Why can’t I just ‘be cool’? Doesn’t what I want matter? How much do I have to consider her feelings as we continue to co-parent?

I have looked deep inside myself and I do not feel spiteful or vengeful and do not believe I am trying to ‘get back at her’ as I have been accused of doing. I feel like I am already being (and have been) ‘pretty cool’ about this whole thing. And I don’t appreciate being having to make this decision. Does that make me a jerk?

Or, is my behavior justified in trying to obey the laws and rulings of our society and to ‘do right’ by my children. At the end of the day, it is my kids whom I want to honor the most and child support, presumably, is intended to do exactly that. Aren’t I ‘being cool’ by following the rules in this case? Shouldn’t I not give a shit about being cool?

You know … I do not enjoy making co-parenting decisions with my ex-wife but I do so because it’s best for the kids. We do pretty well navigating the blended family, co-parenting waters and I would rather make all of the parenting decisions together without the aid of the government or third parties. But sometimes the old behaviors come in to play and she is aggressive and I am not. I want to please and she wants to be pleased. I work on these habits that contributed to our divorce in the first place, but they can come back to life and interfere with my ability to co-parent. It’s like they say, they know how to push our buttons because they installed them. If anything I wonder if my ex-wife is taking advantage of my need to ‘be cool’ in this situation.

So I’m stuck with a few discussion topics. Should I invite a third party in to deal with this aspect of my divorce? Should I go against my personal beliefs to maintain the peace? Will it matter whether I’m ‘cool’ or not? Is it possible to handle this in such a way that everyone wins? Does my behavior change anything at all?

Chris Burcher is a husband, father to 4 girls, mandolin player, craft brewery owner, and new path seeker. Check out his website and Medium page.