Money, Money, Money

Since we share nearly equal custody time with our children, neither I, nor my ex, pay child-support.  We are lucky to (usually) have the resources to maintain two separate homes. This may not be commonplace in the majority of divorce situations, but it makes sense in ours.  However, it doesn’t mean that money isn’t exchanged between us.

Here are some examples of things we each pay for individually:  clothing, food, entertainment, utilities, and so on. Things we typically split the cost of include: medical expenses and insurance (including copays and prescriptions), extracurricular activities and programs, after/before school care expenses, home security system*, seasonal clothing (coats, boots, etc.), shoes, and so on.

After someone vandalized some patio furniture in my ex’s backyard, I agreed to pay half the monthly cost of a home security system at my ex’s.  Admittedly, my motivation for paying this is the added peace of mind I get. The extra $25 per month is an investment in our children’ security – a small price to pay.

Don’t nickel-and-dime you ex; don’t be petty about small charges.  For example, you send $4 to school with your child for an upcoming school field trip.  You’re thinking, “hey, it’s an educational expense for our child, she should have to pay too.”  You can go that route if you’d like, but you can bet without a doubt, that next month, you’ll be asked to reimburse $2.40 of the $4.80 bottle of children’s cough medicine.

co parenting finances

Find an amount that seems reasonable for both of you.  You don’t necessarily even need to have any spoken agreement.  In my case, my ex and I seemed to have aligned somewhere right around a $10 threshold.  Simply said, for any qualifying charge of $10 or more, I would include it on my monthly reimbursement request.  The key to this working out for both you and your ex is that it’s kept consistent and reasonable.

The Expense Log

Keep and maintain an expense log of expenses you intend to split with your ex.  In the event you haven’t already noticed, money can be a touchy subject with anybody, let alone someone you may have done battle with over it.  Just as good fences make good neighbors, I would argue that good expense tracking makes tolerable co-parenting.

In this mobile-computing age of smartphones, iPods, and tablets, it’s easier than ever before to keep track of information.  If you don’t have a smartphone, I recommend that you get one. It’s the perfect tool to use for recording and tracking co-parenting related expenses.  There are many apps and tools available to track spending, and most can be adapted to suit your needs. Just remember that your expense log is only as useful as the information you put into it; record the expense as soon as incur it.  You don’t want to make a habit out of hitting your ex up for additional, forgotten payments long after the fact.

Depending on your level of cooperation and comfort with your ex, you may want to maintain a shared expense log online.  If possible, this is the most-advisable way to do it. A single point of reference virtually eliminates surprises, and keeps you both on the same (online) page.

The Free (And Easy) Shared Expense Log

If you aren’t already familiar with Google Drive, you may want to check it out.  Google Drive is part online hard-drive and part office software suite. You can create, store, and share spreadsheets, documents, presentations, and other files.  In addition to the myriad other beneficial ways to use this free online resource, it’s a great place to set up a shared co-parenting expense log. Should you want to go this route, here is a quick tutorial to get you started:

Setting Up A Google Drive Shared Expense Log

Setup a Google Spreadsheet and share it with your you ex. Use the spreadsheet to record expenses, payments, etc. Be detailed with your entries.

Money can be tight for the single parent.  If your ex asks to pay you a little later than usual, and you can afford to wait for a reasonable period of time, try to accommodate the request.  Try to be flexible if you can. You may find yourself in a similar position in the near future.  

Conversely, the worst way to ask for the money you’re owed is through, or within earshot of your children.  Your children don’t need or want to know about your finances, and they certainly don’t need to be your collection agents.  I have found that the best way to request money from your ex is via a simple, very business-like email.

The Reimbursement Request

Here is an example of a typical email message I’ve sent to my ex when seeking reimbursement: 

TO: Ex

SUBJECT:  August 2014 Payments 

Hi Ex,

Here are the payments I made in August:

  • 20.00 10.00 8/1/2014 Lilly – Dr. Walters copay
  • 10.00 5.00 8/1/2014 Lilly – Prescription
  • 95.00 47.50 8/5/2014 School registration fee
  • 25.00 12.50 8/5/2014 School activity fee
  • 26.44 13.22 8/20/2014 Jaime’s friend birthday party gift

$88.22 TOTAL

I owe you $28 (half of Lilly’s $56 art class fee), so the final total should be $60.22. Do you have anything else / am I missing anything?

Thanks, Jim

Don’t write anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable reading aloud in court.  Assume that every electronic interaction you have with your ex could end up in a judge’s hands someday; doing so will help keep you (and hopefully your ex) on your best behavior.

The email is very much like a matter-of-fact message you would send to a coworker.  It doesn’t matter if you feel like cringing or spitting in your ex’s face while you prepare an email like this.  The only thing that does matter is that you maintain a base-level of respect and decency. Keep it business-like.  

It may seem like overkill, but let’s take a few minutes to pick-apart this email.  It’s important to identify and really understand the higher-level communication that is occurring in it.

The Email Subject

I recommend putting a date or other distinguishable, searchable string in the subject line; you’ll want to be able to easily search for and reference these emails in the future (and there will be quite a few of them, as you’ll probably be exchanging such messages until your youngest child is 18 years old).

The Decent / Cordial Tone

There are two key components of the message that project a tone of both respect and cooperation.  The first is the polite greeting and closure (the “Hi Ex” and the “Thanks” for the closing) which sets a respectful tone.  The second component creates the cooperative tone. The line, “Do you have anything else / am I missing anything?” should, at the very least, give your ex the impression that you care (whether you actually do or not does not matter) enough to ask for their input.

You don’t have to go out of your way to be nice or fake to your ex.  You may very well despise your ex with all your heart and soul, but remember that you are putting your children first, and being a loathsome prick/priss to your ex only hurts your children.  That’s why I recommend you be a decent person who keeps the tone respectful.

The Trust-Building Aspect

One easy step in the right direction to rebuilding trust is the line, “I owe you $28 (half of Lilly’s $56 art class fee), so the final total should be $60.22.”  By identifying to your ex that you him/her money, and deducting from what they owe, you are displaying characteristic traits of equality, fairness, and honesty. In order to co-parent effectively, you and your ex will continually have to display those traits to each other. 

If your ex is consistently late paying you and it is making it hard for you to cover your own expenses, you’ll need to establish and formalize some ground rules.  This is not an issue that can wait; if you don’t address it as soon as it becomes a problem, it will likely get worse with time. Be decent about it, but make sure your ex understands that you are rightfully due that money.

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