Money Talks, So Should You

Blended Family Finances: What to do when child-support struggles arise

Sarah Kinbar
by Sarah Kinbar, Dimespring 30 (@bigblendedfam)

I find Twitter to be a constant source of great ideas and inspiration, and I like to read what other blended family moms tweet about their lives in general and finances in particular.

One stepmom recently griped on Twitter that her husband and his ex-wife have a parenting plan that spells out who pays for what, yet the mom isn't keeping up her end of the deal. The parents are supposed to contribute equally to extra-curricular activities for the children, but only the dad is paying. This stepmom is now threatening to pull the plug on dance and soccer because she doesn't want her household burdened with all the costs.

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In high-conflict divorces, you can't rely on everyone involved to uphold the parenting plan, and the courts do not have an adequate support system for these situations. You can try the expensive route of hiring a lawyer or a court-sanctioned parenting coordinator (P.C.), but that empties your wallet further and the results rarely match your hopes. So, you're left to your own devices to manage the problem.

If your ex isn't contributing according to plan, what can you do?

1. Step up. You don't want the kids to suffer because one parent doesn't keep their word when it comes to financial matters. Take a look at your budget and decide what you can afford to contribute. Choose an activity that matches your budget, and don't overextend yourself. There are many school-affiliated programs for kids that are free or inexpensive, so take advantage of them. If your child has his heart set on a certain activity that is our of your reach, gently and kindly explain that it isn't in your budget. We all want to give our kids the sun, moon and stars, but it's okay to set boundaries. Kids benefit from seeing their parents maintain a budget.

2. Step in. Consider your own talents and abilities and what you can teach your kids. If you're a decent golfer, for example, develop an organized plan for teaching your kids, and set aside time one day each week for lessons. If you can keep your cool while you instruct (not everyone's cut out for teaching), it will be a great bonding opportunity for you and the kids. Todd has been giving the kids singing lessons, and he's been taking them to a nearby public tennis facility to hit balls with them. These activities are every bit as fun and memorable as their more expensive counterparts.

READ: Crisis Button: I'm being divorced! 

3. Step away. A major conflict with your ex over finances and activities can spill over into other areas of your life and create a toxic co-parenting environment. Instead of being confrontational with your ex, make plans for your children that you can keep without your ex's support. If he or she ultimately decides to contribute, great. (If you have an ex that is eager to participate and contribute, coordinate on activities with him or her — this post is intended only for those who are struggling with a lack of help from the other parent.) You want your child to have consistency and structure no matter what the other parent does. Most importantly, never let your child know that you are disappointed in the other parent for their lack of participation of financial contributions. There is no benefit for your child to know this information, nor does it benefit you or your co-parenting relationship with your ex.

Is your blended family underwater due to the expense of kids' activities? Have you tried establishing a budget to manage extra-curricular costs?


Sarah Kinbar of Blended Family Finances is a mother of two and stepmother of two who writes about the extra-complicated financial situations that blended families face. Sarah is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.