If you’re tired of the stereotype about moms who misuse child support payments, are you really helping things by appearing to perpetuate it?

An anonymous mom recently wrote on Kidspot about how she uses her ex’s child support payments as a bonus payment to the “play money” budget. Though the article is provocatively titled, “I use child support to get my nails done and I’m not sorry about it,” that’s not really what’s happening.

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The mom is well aware that some men have questions about how their child support money is spent. A friend of hers has even confided that he wouldn’t mind the payments if he was sure they were going to the children, but he’s convinced his ex is spending it on clothing and hair appointments.

The mom has seen similar arguments that invoke the “selfish-gold-digging-ex-trope” online and doesn’t like it one bit. She wrote:

It baffles me that so many still see child support as a generous gift for which custodial parents should be notably grateful, rather than a token contribution to the financial support of children each parent helped to create.

She argues that her ex’s child support payments are irregular and depend greatly on what kind of work he gets. So it’s her (more reliable) income that ensures the bills are paid on time:

At the end of the week when I get paid, on time every time, I take care of the essentials. First comes the roof over our heads, followed closely by food, then bills and finally those occasional expenses. One week it might be school shoes, the next it could be swimming lessons, a specialist appointment or a new winter coat.

If there’s anything left over, that’s the “fun money” she gets to use for her own needs. When the child support money comes in, it appears after the bills are paid and ends up in her “fun money” budget. So she uses it to do her nails. She wrote:

Yes, I do use child support to get my nails done, and no I’m not sorry.

Last time I used it to go out for the night while he had the kids, and I’m not sorry about that either.

In essence, the mom is arguing that money is fungible. She’s not really using child support to do her nails. She’s working from a pooled budget. The child support money wasn’t there when the bills were getting paid, so in essence, her ex “owes” her for paying it out of her income. She then takes the repayment and uses it as she chooses. She wrote:

Custodial parents, bearing the full cost of raising the children, should never have to explain away or justify their spending.

They have every right to receive child support payments, to claim them as their own, and to use them however they see fit.

Fair enough. But why manage the finances and present your stance in a way that feeds into the stereotype you hate?

There are ways to manage household income that would treat the ex as a contributing member of the family, not as a financial and parenting addendum. Even if it’s just on paper, budgeting the ex’s child support payments as a payment toward the children’s clothing, food, shelter, activities, etc. would be more cooperative and less needlessly confrontational.

And the mom is aware that this is an option. After all, her sister-in-law made a similar suggestion:

My sister-in-law says that maybe I should put it into a separate account for the kids. “After all,” she says, “it’s not technically your money, is it?”

But the mom says that it is hers to manage, which is inarguable from a practical standpoint. But it does nothing to work towards a better co-parenting arrangement or build trust with her children’s father. And shouldn’t that be the real goal?

An adversarial relationship over child support can easily leak into other aspects of family life, making the entire situation more stressful to children. The American Psychological Association tells divorcing parents that keeping both parents in close contact with children will help kids do better, as will minimizing the amount of conflict they see:

Do your best to keep any conflict away from the kids. Ongoing parental conflict increases kids’ risk of psychological and social problems.

From a purely economic point of view, the mom is right. It doesn’t matter if the $50 for her manicure comes from his support payment or her account, so long as the bills are all paid. But that’s not the only perspective that matters here.

Child support shouldn’t be about making a point to your ex or making a statement about all moms, everywhere. It should be a step towards a co-parenting arrangement based on mutual trust and cooperation.

Under the circumstances, is it really asking too much to set up a home budget that assigns child support to … well … support of the children? It may be just an accounting trick, but it’s also a show of good faith. 

At the very least, you won’t be perpetuating a stereotype by flaunting your newly-done nails and making it harder on other moms in the process.

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