Saturday, December 7, 2013
Q: Do I have to let my ex see our 4-year-old son if he is behind on his child support? He does see him regularly -- two or three times a week and every other weekend -- but the ex has been out of work and is so behind on his support payments that I think it's wrong that he sees our son so often. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Visitation and child support are two completely separate issues, and it's very bad ex-etiquette to hold your child hostage until dad pays up.
I do understand how important it is to receive child support on time, but if dad was paying, then got behind because he's out of work, it's not because he's flaking on the payments, it's because he's like thousands of others in this economy and he just doesn't have the money.
You, of course, are not alone in your feelings that support and time with a child are linked, but legally, they're not. You can't prevent your son from seeing his father based on the fact dad's not paying support.
Plus, you have to consider the impact of keeping your child from spending time with his dad. Your son is used to being with his father almost 50 percent of the time. At some point you thought dad was a good enough father to agree that much time was in the best interest of your son. Now, because you are frustrated that dad cannot pay, you are proposing that it's not in your child's best interest to spend time with his dad.
Very short-sighted -- and very bad ex-etiquette, indeed. I just hope you are not saying anything to your son about his father's inability to pay. Child support should not be your child's concern and should not be discussed with him -- ever.
So what can you do to get your support payments on time? Truth is, if dad's not working, not much.
Lately I have heard from exes on good terms who said they barter for home repairs, yard work or car repairs (dad was a mechanic), and they report that took off some of the burden for a while. Since support is supposed to be for the child, keeping the car running so he or she can get to school or practices is in the child's best interest.
However, if exes are not on good terms, attempting that sort of negotiation is ridiculous. Plus, if child support is court-ordered, agreeing to something in lieu of support may not affect the amount of support owed. Get legal advice first!
Finally, if dad has been out of work for a while, he may want to petition the court for a reduction in support so the back payments don't continue to mount. That may not make you happy, but you did ask "What's good ex-etiquette?"
Good ex-etiquette rule No. 1 is "Put the children first."
Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at: