Families Change Guide to Separation & Divorce

3.17 - Talking About Money

3.17 - Talking About Money

Mom: Okay, am I supposed to just… get it over with…? I gotta call Robert.

Hi, it’s me, Judy. Hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time again.

Dad: No, it’s okay, I can talk.

Mom: Okay, listen. Janice’s basketball team is off to a tournament in Victoria. Weekend after next, okay? The notice from school says that we need to pay $280 by this Friday. Now, I told Janice she can go, but it’s only if you can step up to the plate.

Dad: What do you mean, “If I can step up to the plate”? When did this suddenly become my problem? I pay my child support!

Mom: This isn’t about child support, Robert! This is about supporting our daughter’s activities. You insisted that she play all those sports, so now you can deal with it. It’s certainly not my problem.

Dad: It’s not my problem if you can’t manage your money, Judy! The only time I hear from you is when you need. And I always hear about things at the last minute. Janice never calls to talk to me about anything that’s going on. Why should I have pay for this?

Mom: Let me get this straight. You’re saying that you want me to tell our daughter that her dad is just too busy living his new life to care about his daughter’s basketball?

Dad: I’m not saying that. How dare you put me on the spot like this? I’ve got to go. Y’know some of us have lives to lead, you know.

That didn’t go very well… but it’s a fairly typical conversation between separated parents. How could that conversation have been handled better?

Research has shown that if you involve the other parent in the decision-making process, they are likely to be more willing to contribute to unexpected expenses. Also, it is important to remember that when you ask people for money, they often become emotional. This is especially true if the request is unexpected. As we saw in this case, the parent being asked is likely to go on the defensive. They may feel they have already paid their child support and shouldn’t have to contribute anything more.

The following strategies can reduce conflict around these kinds of unexpected expenses:

1. Do your homework.
Before you approach the other parent, gather all the financial information and any other important details about the expense: what the money is for, how much, and when is it due.

2. Decide HOW you want to communicate.
Decide upon the most effective way to communicate. For example, should you use the phone, e-mail, letter, voice mail, or communication book, or do you want to talk in person?

3. Timing is important.
Allow enough time for the other parent to digest the request and get back to you with an answer.

4. Invite consultation.
Your first communication should be to provide the other parent with information, and invite them to discuss the situation with you. Your goal is to include the other parent in the decision-making process.

5. Stay child-focused.
Your request should always stay focused on the needs of the child.

For example:
“Johnny is really excited about being selected for the baseball team, and it would be a really good experience for him to be able to go.”

This will work much better than:
“I need $200 to send Johnny to the baseball tournament this weekend.”

6. Ask for a reply within an appropriate deadline.
Ask the other parent to get back to you by a specified deadline.

For example:
“Could you get back to me by next Wednesday so that I can let the coach know at the next practice?”

This will work much better than:
“I need to know as soon as possible.”

Or even worse:
“What is there to think about — yes or no?”

7. Listen to each other without interrupting.

8. Offer possible solutions and be open to other solutions.
Don’t presume that your solution is the only one. There may be different ways to achieve the same goal. For example, treat the expense as a special expense and share it proportionately, or you can organize a payment plan.

9. Clarify the details.
Decide who will be paying for what, and when.

For example:
“If you pay the coach the full amount on Wednesday, I can pay you back next Friday.”

“I’ll pay the tournament fees now, if you will handle the soccer registration in the fall.”

10. Write up the plan.
After the discussion, write a summary of the details that each of you agreed to. This way, both of you have the same information and can track expenses.

11. Discuss and decide what information will be shared with your child.
If the two of you decide you cannot afford the expense, you should discuss what information will be shared with the child, and how. You need to present a unified decision to the child. Otherwise, you may be tempted to blame each other. This is not good for your child’s self-esteem and general psychological well-being. Your child needs to feel that he or she can rely on both parents and take care of expenses.

12. Build on your successes.
As communication between the two of you improves, there will be less chance of misunderstandings and conflicts between you and a better chance of a healthy upbringing for your child.

Using all of these guidelines, let’s see how this discussion could have gone a little better:

Mom: Right, I have all my facts together. I guess I’m ready to call Robert.

Hi, it’s me. Is this a good time to talk?

Dad: Um, oh hi. Hi, Judy. Yeah, this is a good time. Just give me a second to turn off the TV. Okay.

Mom: I just got an important notice from the school about next weekend, and I thought that I should bring this to your attention right away. There are some deadlines. Janice’s basketball team is off to a tournament in Victoria the weekend after next. The notice says that we need to pay $280 by this Friday.

Dad: $280? Well…

Mom: Don’t you think that it’s really important that Janice goes with her team? I don’t know how we’re going to pay for it, but I do know that you’ve always been supportive of her sports, Robert.

Dad: I know she loves her basketball, and of course I’m always supportive. But $280 is awfully expensive for a weekend trip. What does that include?

Mom: Um… it says that the $280 covers the bus, the ferry, and the hotel for two nights. It also covers Janice’s share of the tournament fee. But we also need to send money for meals and snacks, and there’s spending money as well.

Dad: Ouch! What we’re really talking about is another $100 or so. I don’t know, Judy. That’s a lot of money to come up with on short notice. What do you think? Any ideas?

Mom: I was hoping that we could share this the same way we share other special expenses - in proportion with our incomes.

Dad: Well, I don’t have a problem paying my share, but it’s impossible for me to come up with $280 by Friday. I’m going out of town and won’t be back until Sunday night. How about you cover what’s due on Friday, and I’ll pay you back after I get back?

Mom: Well, Susan, the thing is, I can come up with my share, which I figure is $120, but I really can’t afford the whole $280. Do you think you could possibly get $160 to me before you go? You could give Janice the balance before she leaves for the tournament.

Dad: I guess I can manage that. Maybe I can come over tonight and we can both tell Janice the good news? Would that be all right with you?

Mom: Sure, good idea! She’s going to be so happy to hear she can go. Why don’t I just write a quick note with the details of our discussion, so we know who’s doing what and when?

That went a whole lot better! What’s more, the conversation the two parents plan to have later in the evening will reassure Janice that her needs will still be met by her parents, even though they do not live together any more.

Unfortunately, there are many other situations in which unexpected expenses cause tension.

Mom: So I said to Dylan, like, get real, I’m fussy about who I spend my time with, know what I mean?

Darn, I’ve got another call coming in. I’ll call you back, Jen, okay? Hello?

Dad: Hi, it’s me. So, Taige has a birthday party to go to on Saturday in Ladner. And, um… you’ll need to take him out to buy a birthday present.

Mom: You’ve got to be kidding me! For starters, the weekend is my time with him. I don’t know about giving up half of our Saturday for some kid’s party. And even if I decide to let him go, Ladner is, like, a long way from Burnaby. You know I don’t have the money for gas. You take him to and from the party, and buy the birthday present.

Dad: That’s just so typical of you, Lucy! We both know you’ve got money for beer, but you never have money for Taige. This party is important to him, and you couldn’t care less about it!

Mom: I’ve already got plans for the weekend and they don’t include any kid’s birthday party! Maybe if you’d bother to, like, keep me informed, and think about my needs, things would turn out better. This is just like our marriage – it’s all about you!

That didn’t go very well at all! But it’s another fairly typical conversation between separated parents. How could that conversation have been handled better?

Child support is expected to cover usual children’s expenses. Conflicts often arise when the parent who pays child support is expected to come up with money for an expense they’ve not budgeted. It’s even worse if that parent is also expected to give up their time.

It’s important to involve the other parent in decisions that affect both their time and money. In this situation, the parents need to talk the issue through. This can help to break down the problem into smaller pieces. In this case the pieces that need to be sorted out are:

  • Will Taige go to the party at all?
  • Who will take Taige to and from the party?
  • Who will pay for the gift?

Using these guidelines, let’s see how this discussion could have had a much happier outcome:

Mom: So I said to Dylan, like, get real, I’m fussy about who I spend my time with, know what I mean?

Darn, I’ve got another call coming in. I’ll call you back, Jen, okay? Hello?

Dad: Hi, it’s me. Sorry to call you on your cell, but your land line doesn’t seem to be working.

Mom: Yeah, it got cut off. Some misunderstanding about the payment.

Dad: Oh, sorry to hear that, Lucy. So, um, Taige has a birthday party to go to on Saturday in Ladner. And before I RSVP I just wanted to talk with you about your weekend plans.

Mom: I already have plans for the weekend. I was going to hang out with Taige around the house, watch some videos…

Dad: I know this is your weekend with Taige, but he really wants to go to this party - it’s his best buddy, Jacob.

Mom: Oh yeah, I like that kid. Too bad he had to move all the way out to Ladner. I guess I don’t have a problem with Taige going to Jacob’s birthday party, but I just don’t have the money for gas or a birthday present. And anyway, my car’s in the shop again. So Dave, the thing is, if we agree that he should go to the party, you’ll have to drive him there and back.

Dad: I appreciate you letting him go, even though it cuts into your time with him. And I don’t mind driving him.

Mom: Cool. But what do we do about the birthday present?

Dad: I could give him $15 towards a birthday present, if you could help him pick up a gift on Saturday morning. I think $30-$35 is about right for a birthday present his age. You know Jacob is the same age as Taige – nine. What do you think?

Mom: Mmm, okay, $30 should be plenty. I guess I could manage to get $15 together.

Dad: Okay! So it’s arranged. I’ll bring Taige over the usual time on Friday night, and then if you take him shopping Saturday morning, and I’ll pick him up around noon to take him to Jacob’s, okay?

Mom: Yeah, that works for me. Oh, hey, could I say goodnight to Taige?

Dad: Sorry, Lucy, he’s already asleep. It’s 10 o’clock.

Mom: Yeah, so it is, okay! Gotta go.

That’s better! This time around, Taige will have an enjoyable shopping trip with his mother, and also go to his best friend’s birthday party. Taige will see that his parents share the cost of the gift, and also share the time commitment. This will reassure him that his parents can still work together to ensure that his needs are met, even though they do not live together any more.

Unfortunately, there are also situations in which the need to share equipment for young children can cause tension.

Mom: Hello.

Dad: Hi, it’s me.

Mom: Oh. Hello. (It’s Allan!)

Dad: I was just checking in about Saturday. I’ll be picking Murray up at 10.

Mom: You’d better make sure you have a car seat when you pick him up.

Dad: Nadine, do you know how much those things cost? I can’t afford to get one by Saturday. Why can’t I just use yours?

Mom: Here we go again! You always got money to go out with your buddies after work, but you never have the money to buy things for your son. Your own son! Buy a car seat, dammit. It’s not safe otherwise!

Well, that certainly didn’t go very well! But unfortunately, this kind of conversation is all too common. How could that conversation have been handled better?

One of the great myths of separating and divorcing couples is that it is cheaper to live as a single adult than as a couple. The reality is after separation, both parents usually have to rebuild their economic lives with reduced resources.

In this difficult financial situation, an important task still remains: both parents still need to contribute towards the children’s expenses. So it makes sense to work together to avoid the cost of duplicating children’s toys, clothing and furnishings, so that your child’s basic needs are met.

Keeping these thoughts in mind, let’s see how this discussion could have gone a lot better:

Mom: Hello.

Dad: Hi, it’s me.

Mom: Oh. Hello.

Dad: I was just checking in about Saturday. I’ll be picking Murray up at 10.

Mom: And… the car seat?

Dad: Nadine, I’ve told you that I can’t afford to buy a car seat. I’ve got expenses. I don’t see why the car seat can’t go with Murray.

Mom: You know, Allan, it’s a lot of work having to take out the car seat every time you come pick up Murray. Besides, it’s my car seat.

Dad: I don’t know why you seem to think the car seat is yours, Nadine! If you remember, we bought it for Murray when we were together.

Mom: All right, I guess so. Anyhow, I the important thing is that Murray is in a car seat. What would people say if they thought you couldn’t afford a car seat for your son!

Dad: Yeah, but it’s really a safety issue. Murray’s safety, right? Do you agree with that, Nadine?

Mom: You’re right, Allan. I know. Okay, look, I think that for now we can agree to share the car seat we already have.

Dad: Thank you. I think it will be a lot better for Murray if we can share the things he really needs. Just till we are both back on our feet, financially. It’s not easy on either of us. Kids have so many needs.

Mom: Yeah, it’s not easy. I was thinking, perhaps when you bring Murray back, you could join us all for New Year’s dinner?

Dad: Thank you Nadine, that sounds good. I don’t have any other plans. And I think Murray would really like that too.