Article: Kids Stuck In The Middle Of Co-parenting Dysfunction: Who Pays?

Bailey (name changed to protect her identity) is a 17-year-old daughter of divorced parents. Like many other kids of co-parents, she’s stuck in the middle. Bailey recently had a flat tire on her way home from dropping off a friend, and called her friend’s dad for assistance because she was still very near her friend’s house. Her friend’s dad arrived at her broken down car, expecting to help change a flat tire; but, what he discovered was more surprising!

Bailey’s friend’s dad inspected the blown out tire and described the surface of it as looking “as smooth and thin as a piece of bologna.” He asked her to pop the trunk and was told there was no spare. He circled around the vehicle, and noted that every one of her tires was in imminent danger of meeting the same fate. They were all worn and in terrible shape!

The dad suggested the teen call one of her parents to tell them what happened and to let them know she needed new tires. She proceeded to break down in tears because she predicted the expense of tires would start a fight between her parents. Neither parent wanted to be stuck with the expense of the tires and insisted that the other parent was responsible. The poor girl’s parents would rather play the ultimate game of chicken to force one another to pay; but their own daughter was the one paying the price!

Bailey is not the only child of divorce who endures the tug of war between divorced parents. Countless other kids have their needs compromised because adults fail to behave like adults. At the heart of these disputes is a shared belief between exes that their child’s other parent should have to pay for what is needed, and they’re not about to “give in” and let their ex “win” by fulfilling the other’s responsibility!

In many of these cases, both parents are court ordered, in the parenting agreement they share, to divide costs related to their children’s needs including extra-curricular activities, medical costs, and others. The percentage each parent is responsible for differs from case-to-case, so the only way to know one’s share is to review the court documents.

Some cases may stipulate that the parent who pays child support pays all extra costs. More often than not, both parents share some of the responsibility, often 50/50.

The battles that result in children’s needs being placed on the side of the road often originate with repeated bad experiences wherein usually one, sometimes both, parents repeatedly fail to pay their share, leaving one parent repeatedly stuck with the costs the other parent won’t help with. Eventually, the parent who has regularly picked up the slack decides to boycott paying to “force” the other parent to do their share or to make up for previous expenses.

Other times, co-parents squabble about money because of resentments about child support or anger leftover from the divorce that they just can’t let go of!

The frustration of having one parent not pull their weight is legitimate. It is understandable that a parent in this position might feel like somehow trying to even the score or “make” their ex be responsible.

One divorced mom admitted that she has found herself in the position where she is no longer willing to pay because her ex has put her in bad spots on numerous occasions. She cited the fact that she singlehandedly paid for three of her four children to go on their school trips to Washington D.C., an expense of about $800 per child.

Though court ordered to pay half (and having an income nearly twice hers), her ex refused to pay a dime for any of the trips, leaving her to scramble to do so. Her fourth child plans to go on the trip next year, and she has stated that she refuses to pay any more! Will her son get to go? She doesn’t know, but she’s tired of being the one to do it all!

A divorced dad shared a similar frustration with. His ex often refuses to pay her mandated share of child-related costs. She, and the kids, came to realize that his soft spot for the kids would prompt him to always jump in to rescue the situation whenever it looked as though she was not going to come through. He finally decided to set some boundaries, starting with paying his half for an item, making her and the kids aware that his half was paid, then refusing to get involved if she refuses to pay up, even if it means he loses his part of the payment.

So, what is the answer?

Parents have chosen to either refuse to pay anything at all, as in Bailey’s situation, to stop paying after being burned one too many times, or to pay only half no matter whether the child gets what they need, or not. In all situations described, the children are at risk of losing out on what they need or want because one or both parents refuse to cooperate!

If you find yourself in a similar predicament, consider what your actions could mean to your child. In Bailey’s case, her parents refusal to help her buy tires means that she is at risk to be in a car accident or stranded by the side of the road, all because neither parent wants to “lose” to their ex. Bailey’s parents owe her safety and security, no matter their conflict with each other.

No one wants to be the parent continually stuck footing the bill for everything; but, someone must be the parent. As your child matures, he or she will come to know who they can depend on and who cares. If non-payment becomes a serious issue, it may also be an issue of contempt. You can document your ex’s failings and submit to the court, which could result in fines or jail time if the judge agrees!

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