I was so excited to call you on the air in Palm Springs with my problem. How unfortunate the phones weren’t working and we got cut off! You know the story: I am married to a man (Bill) with two kids: one is finishing his freshman year in college and the other is finishing his sophomore year in high school. My husband and I have separate finances for the most part and I also have a daughter in college whose father does not contribute to those costs in any significant way so money is tight.
Bill’s ex-wife is extremely mercurial and although we usually exist in a calm but negative state, from time to time she goes haywire for no good reason and initiates fierce battles and problems relating to the kids, usually over money.
Here’s the latest: she is threatening to stop her 50% contribution towards her older child’s college and to not pay at all for the younger child. She makes a tremendous income (more than both ours combined) and has three homes and four cars so this is not a fiscally-driven proposition but rather just an opportunity to wreak havoc upon our lives.
I love these kids but I will be forced to contribute to pay for their college if their mom refuses and I am worried, anxious and frankly pretty pissed. What’s your solution?
T. in Northern Cal
Welcome to the second spouse club, a non-unionized and unpaid group of do-gooders and masochists who ignore the statistics on second marriages and blended families and forge ahead into the morass of angry, bitter and uncooperative starter-spouses.
It certainly isn’t this way for everyone, but for many second spouses the ongoing baby-mama/daddy-drama can be vexing and put a tremendous strain upon the marriage. I feel for ya, sister.
A few salient facts for the readers’ edification:
1. Mom and Dad did not include college cost share in their final divorce judgment. Instead, they had a verbal agreement to share all college-related expenses 50/50.
2. In addition to providing his 50% of college money, Bill is a resident of California where the older son enjoys in-state tuition and the younger son expects to go to school. This saves the parents tens of thousands of dollars per year.
3. The ex-wife was remarried briefly and then divorced.
4. The son in college is excelling and working his tail off to get good grades. The younger child has never had that sort of drive but is extremely smart and could get a solid 4.0 if he made a bit more effort.
OK, T. here you go:
1. Your husband should initiate a conversation with his ex to understand why she is threatening to breach the agreement to pay her half for college. Maybe the kids are being assholes and instead of addressing issues in a more productive and transparent manner, she is exercising the old “Purse Strings Punishment” approach.
When I was in college I was quite the little uncommunicative bitch to my dad for a time whilst simultaneously thrusting out my grimy little beer and mushroom-caked paw for money. Lo and behold, Dad put me on a severe Fiet (financial diet) until I agreed to talk to him.
His closing of the wallet forced me to talk about the problem (his divorce) and open the lines of communication between us so I could continue to pay my rent (I did) and tuition (I didn’t, but that’s another blog for another day and explains why I took 5 years to graduate).
2. If there is no reasonable explanation for why she has decided not to live up to her responsibilities, I suggest your husband send her a letter laying out why college is important to the kids and reminding her of her promise to assist with the costs.
Unfortunately, this probably won’t get you anywhere but I think it’s important to make one last effort in writing before you accept that she cannot be shamed or reasoned with and has chosen to punish her children because she wants to see you and your husband suffer financially. Some people derive joy and pleasure from the oddest things, don’t you agree?
3. I’m going to take some flak for what comes next, but your step kids are at an age when they need to learn the harsh realities of life and how to advocate for themselves. No, children should not HAVE to beg their wealthy mother for help getting a college education simply because she hates their dad and his new wife.
However, any requests from Bill are likely to fall upon deaf ears: deaf ears made deaf because she is sticking her fingers in them and singing “lalalalalala, I can’t hear you!” at the top of her lungs.
Your description of her behavior over the years tells me she has made zero effort to move past the divorce and get along with you and Bill, which probably explains why her second husband ran screaming for the door after just two years. Since she won’t likely pull the stick of bitter lonely jealousy out of her ass anytime soon, her kids may have to dislodge it themselves. Ew!
I hope if they sit down with her and express how important it is for them to complete college without a mountain of debt, ideally with the help of a family therapist, she might see her way clear to figuring out how to make their dad’s life miserable in a more direct manner rather than using them as pawns. Maybe she could point out how much the younger one looks like his best friend Dave?
4. As to the older child already in school, make a plan immediately that assumes all of mom’s contributions will end today. How will you handle the shortfall? Can he get a job while in school to help offset costs? Does he qualify for loans or any scholarships? Can dad dig deep to give him a personal loan for the half his mother refuses to pay?
Is he good-looking enough to strip his way through college? Every stripper is in college or grad school, don’t you know…
Treat this like the emergency it is and assume the Egg Donor will not honor her moral obligations and previous commitments so you can be prepared in the worst case scenario, because it would be a damn shame for him to have to drop out of college.
5. As to the younger kid, he’s 16 now and should focus intently on making the best grades he can to increase his chances of getting a scholarship. He should also be working a summer job and a weekend job during the school year and putting that money aside for college.
Get that kid working and depositing his money in a college account he cannot access. In two years, his mom may have come around and realized her behavior was reprehensible and indefensible. If so, he will have a nice little rainy-day fund to see him through hard times or a group trip to Coachella.
In summary: try to reason with her, encourage the kids to self-advocate, plan for the worst and hope for the best. Does she have a large life insurance policy? I only ask so you can know what exactly “hope for the best” looks like and begin to use some visualization techniques…