Spending

Kids and Divorce

Divorced parents must communicate and work together to raise financially responsible children.

How would you suggest handling finances for a 13-year-old who spends most of her time with her dad and me (the stepmom), but her mom has primary custody? Her dad is paying child support, but this child is constantly asking us for money. She also expects us to buy her clothes whenever she wants them, and the mom just comes unglued whenever we mention to this child that we are paying child support.

Should we give her extra money when she can't get it from her mother? Sometimes she won't even ask her mom because she sees us as doing better financially. For this reason, she feels that we owe her more than the child support that we pay her mother.

If it's any consolation, you are dealing with a classic conflict involving children and divorce. Although each family's circumstances are unique, every situation has certain elements in common:

  • Kids are not above playing one parent against another. They will try to take advantage of parental guilt or resentment toward an ex-spouse to extort money, clothes, and other stuff.

  • Bad-mouthing an ex-spouse won't win over a child to your side. Kids can be fiercely loyal to both parents. Your stepdaughter doesn't really care about your child-support arrangements with her mother.

  • Divorced parents still share an interest in raising financially responsible kids. Whether divorced or married, parents should never hand out money or buy clothing on demand, or let kids think you "owe" them something just because you're well off financially.

  • All parents, including divorced ones, should speak to kids with one voice. That means they need to speak to each other first, in a nonthreatening way, to come up with a plan for dealing with the situation.

In your case, Mom and Dad should decide what they are willing to buy for their daughter, and what she should be expected to pay for on her own. If Mom is already buying clothes, Dad needs to know that. If Dad wishes to supplement those purchases, Mom needs to know that.

And they both should agree on a fixed allowance for their daughter -- possibly with each contributing a portion -- which she has to use for agreed-upon expenses, such as entertainment.

The point is, each parent should know approximately how much the other is spending, so that their daughter can't double dip.

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