Question: 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 my 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?
Answer: Visitation and child support are separate issues. It's bad ex-etiquette to hold your child hostage until his father pays up.
I understand how important it is to receive child support on time. But if your ex was paying, then got behind because he's out of work, you're not receiving the support because he's flaking. You're not receiving support because he's like thousands of others in this economy and he just doesn't have the money.
You are not alone in your feelings that support and time with a child relate, but legally, they don't. You can't prevent your son from seeing his father based on the fact he's not paying support. Plus, you must consider how your child will be affected if you prevent time with his dad. Your son is used to being with his father almost 50 percent of the time. At some point, you thought your ex was a good enough father to agree that that much time is in the best interest of your son. Now, because you are frustrated that he cannot pay, you are proposing that it's not in your child's best interest to spend time with his dad. That's bad ex-etiquette, indeed. I just hope you are not
What can you do to get your support payments on time? If dad's not working, not much. I have heard from exes on good terms who said they barter for home repairs, yardwork or car repairs (dad was a mechanic). They report that took off some of the burden for a while, and because support is supposed to be for the child, keeping the car running so he/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. And 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 your ex 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 accrue. That may not make you happy, but you did ask "What's good ex-etiquette?" Good ex-etiquette rule No. 1: "Put the children first."
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at email@example.com.