I was making this a me and him issue instead of what it should have been all along: for my kids.
Getting divorced was a devastating blow to me but I knew I could get past it. After all, I was a strong woman, had a great career, the house was mine before we were married so it was still mine, and while my kids were still young, my ex and I had daycare/preschool arrangements already in place. Not only that — my ex and I were friends. So why would I need to worry about child support?
At first I didn’t.
In fact, I'm one of those women that you love to hate: perfect divorce, completely civil … in fact I don’t think Gwyneth has anything on me; she just looks a lot better doing it.
My ex and I learned the importance of this the hard way when we were first married and my sister went through a horrific divorce. The judge thought of separating her two kids so each parent would get one so there wouldn’t be issues of support. Neither would budge an inch. The divorce dragged on for years with each parent becoming angrier toward the other.
In fact, we thought we were going to have to take in my sister’s kids at one point because it was so stressful on them.
Needless to say, we decided that should we ever have kids and needed to go our separate ways we would not fight, we would rise above and do it civilly. And we did.
In my state of Utah (each state is different so consult with a lawyer or legal aid about your specific state's laws), getting a divorce is simple. Once the paperwork is filed it can take about 10 days. (Yes, that quickly.) My ex and I found an attorney, saw him together and signed the paperwork that day.
We agreed on everything: the tax exemptions, the child support (normally states automatically set this for you), community property, everything. The only thing we had to do was take a class. After that, the paperwork would be submitted and we would be divorced about 10 days later. Fourteen days later, the attorney called to tell me I was a free woman.
As my ex and I hadn’t been living together for some time nothing really had changed. While child support was in my divorce decree, I didn't take it to the District Attorney because I didn't see the point in it. It would be a ton more paperwork to fill out. And so I didn’t, but it didn’t really matter too much because my ex was paying me what he was supposed to.
However, that didn't last too long.
At first it was gradual — he "had an extra bill to pay", "I’ll make it up on the next check", "my buddy had to borrow a bit of money", etc. I would brush it off because I was trying to be the best co-parent that I could be. I didn’t want to be mad and angry and yelling at him every time I saw him. (Though trust me sometimes I wanted to kick him.) Not to mention I wanted to show my daughters that Mommy and Daddy could still get along even if they weren’t still married.
That was probably the worst thing I ever did to both myself and to them — and maybe even to their dad because I allowed him to not step up to the fact that these were his children too and he needed to take care of them.
This continued on and off for almost five years, he would lose one job and find another, he’d find a job that was cash only, he’d pay me but not regularly. I soon became overwhelmed with not knowing if I was going to have money for the day-to-day expenses.
And each time he wouldn’t pay me I would say I should go to the District Attorney and get the wages attached but I would always find some reason not to — "the paperwork is too long to fill out", "I don’t want him to be mad at me", "he’ll just find a job that pays him under the table" — all the while not realizing exactly what the child support is for.
It isn’t for me; it’s for my children. I was making this a me and him issue instead of what it should have been all along.
Once I realized that, I went to the District Attorney and filled out the paperwork. It really wasn’t that long or hard and they have people that can help you out. It took about a month for the DA to send a notice to my ex’s work saying they were going to be taking the money out; and another 2 weeks for me to actually get my first payment.
Ever since then there have been no problems with payment and knowing that I will have the money that I need for my girls.
I am often asked how my ex felt when he got the letter and I reply that I honestly think he felt relieved. Not only would we never need to speak of money in front of our kids again, but there were no "excuses" now as to why he can’t pay. He was angry when he got the letter stating how much money he owed in back child support (almost $5k), but that was a decision he made, not me.
All I can think about is that I let him get away with not paying that amount when that amount could have helped my daughters out so much, especially when they wanted the extras such as horseback riding lessons and I was left to somehow scrape together money for it.
Now when people tell me they are getting a divorce, the first thing I say to them is have his wages garnished.
It's not about being nice or not-nice, it's about providing — because that money isn’t for you, it's for your kids.
This article was originally published at http://www.unomum.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.