This post is for separated and divorced parents.
While Marie Kondo suggests you get rid of people in your life who do not bring you joy, your kids’ other parent cannot fall into that list. Like it or not, they are in your life forever.
At least until your kid graduates high school (and maybe college, depending on the state you live in, and terms of your co-parenting agreement), you are bound to your kids’ other parent in terms of navigating parenting time, medical and education decisions, and all the financial maneuvering that goes along with it.
While a court order or divorce settlement may offer some guidelines about who pays how much, and for what, there are likely many other financial decisions that must be made.
Here is how to navigate financial co-parenting challenges without winding up in court — or screaming at each other on the front yard.
Challenge: Managing daily expenses
One of your main goals is to avoid bickering over small things, and stockpile your argument juice for the big negotiations [a.k.a. negotiations]. Joking aside, even amicably separated parents want to avoid collecting receipts, busting out calculators and otherwise managing a heap of small expenses every month.
One family I know has a very warm co-parenting relationship, splits parenting time 50-50, and and the parents earn about the same. There is no child support or alimony paid. All out-of-pocket expenses for the kids are put on a credit card that is held in both the mom’s and dad’s names. Such charges include clothes, music and sports expenses, school costs, dental and eye care. Both parents pay half the bill at the end of the month and rarely discuss any of the expenses.
Another option is for both parents to put funds into a joint bank account, and access the funds with debit cards. This could be equal sums, or pro-rated based on income.
Challenge: One parent has more expensive taste for shared expenses
In the event that a spending decision falls on the parents to work out, and they cannot, default to an average common denominator set by a neutral third-party. For example, if there is disagreement over which child care provider should be used, with one parent preferring a more expensive center than the other, find the average cost of childcare in your area, and split the expense based on that number. The difference between the baseline and the more expensive childcare center is to be paid by the parent advocating for the pricier care.
Alternatively, average the expense of the two daycares in question, split it according to your agreement (50-50, or prorated based on income) with one parent paying the difference [for example, if one center is $1,000 per month, and the second $1,500, agree to split $1,250, and then the parent preferring the more expensive center contributes an additional $250 per month].
In short: If you want something for your kid that the other parent does not want to pay for, you pay for it yourself. The good news is that kids actually don’t need that much stuff. After all, the species perpetuated itself just fine without varsity hockey teams or Montessori preschool.
Challenge: Parents do not share money values
If your ex chooses to buy your kids Air Jordans on a random Tuesday, or eat all their meals at restaurants while going into debt, you may go bonkers as you work to teach your shared kids about budgets, saving, and frugal living.
Here is the hard truth about co-parenting, whether you are happily married and cohabiting, or sharing children with a person with whom you were never romantically involved:
You can’t control the other person.
If it is not an option to come to a friendly agreement about what you will teach your kids’ about the value of money, then you have to accept that you cannot change that. After all, that difference is likely one of the reasons you’re not a couple any more.
Without speaking poorly of your child’s other parent, model the behavior that you want to teach your children. Speak openly with them about the importance of working hard, living within one’s means, budgets, saving, investing and giving back. Put your kids on an allowance program, and insist that they contribute a portion to savings, charity, and the wait-two-days-before-making-a-purchase rule.
Ultimately, we can’t control anyone — including our kids. We can only share what we know, hope they make the best decisions for themselves, and accept our co-parent for whom he or she is.
Challenge: Unexpected expenses
Child support and cost sharing expenses are typically set by courts, and can be amended at any time via expensive lawyer negotiations, or painful court dealings. Instead, suggest with your ex an amicable way to manage unexpected expenses. These can include:
Tutoring or other academic expenses
Short-term expenses related to extracurriculars, like prom, traveling sports, a music camp
Suggest to your ex that each of you contribute a set sum monthly to a joint savings account to provide for these expenses as they come up.
Maintain transparency about expenses by creating a Google Drive folder (it’s 100% free!), where each of you can upload receipts.
Alternatively, there are a number of co-parenting apps that can be helpful for sharing expenses, as well as managing schedules and other co-parenting challenges: Our Family Wizard, and SupportPay are leaders in this space. Records on both apps are widely recognized by most family courts in the event you need to go that route.
Challenge: Kids only see one parent buying stuff
A typical child support arrangement is the dad sends the mom money, and the mom coordinates the payment of extracurricular activities, birthday parties, clothes and school supplies. The dad is resentful because his money also contributes to these expenses, but the kids don’t see that contribution.
A solution is to amend the support agreement so that the father sends less money each month to the mom, but is then responsible for coordinating and paying for a specific expense — such as clothes shopping.
The system in which both parents share a credit card for kids’ expenses, or contribute to a joint checking account designated for children’s out-of-pocket expenses for which both parents use debit cards is another solution.
Challenge: Money is lost in the mail
It’s 2019. No reason to continue with paper checks or cash, people!
When exchanging money with your ex, whether directly from and to each other’s accounts, a third-party account, or to babysitters, camps or other third-parties, use fee-free, electronic transfer apps like Zelle, Paypal, or Venmo. Funds transferred via these services is immediate, trackable, and can be set to auto-pay if applicable — minimizing communication, reminders and conflict — the key to happy co-parenting, no matter the topic!