Should I Keep the Peace for the Sake of my Son?

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Dear AskDesCamp:

I pay permanent alimony to my ex-wife and although we have been divorced for 12 years she never made any serious attempts to support herself. She was only 42 when we divorced and had a college degree. Recently one of my children let it slip that his mom has a boyfriend who lives with her in the house that I pay for and has lived there for almost four years.

My son clearly was not supposed to tell me this and from my reaction I know he is worried about the consequences of my having this knowledge. We live in different cities so I had no idea. My lawyer told me I should move for a modification and I plan to do that, so I felt it was important to tell my son. He is now begging me to “keep the peace” and not seek the modification so we can all get along in anticipation for his upcoming wedding in December.

I told him I don’t think I can do that so now he is very upset with me. My plans for retirement were delayed by at least 7-8 years because of the divorce and the market crash, and I feel strongly that I need to pursue a modification. Her boyfriend drives a new Mercedes, by the way, and works as a very successful broker. Should I seek a reduction?  An elimination?  Do you think I can get one?

What about my son, do you think he will get over it or should I just suck it up until his wedding is over?

-Perplexed

Dear Perplexed:

Nothing irks me more than this type of scenario: an ex-spouse welfare recipient gaming the system to keep the money flowing in because they think working is somehow beneath them.

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I can’t give you legal advice (please see disclaimer because I’m not your lawyer!) but I can tell you that I did some research on the state you live in and cohabitation of the recipient is grounds for alimony reduction or elimination. This is especially true given the length of time you have been paying and how long your ex has been shacking up with Gordon Gekko.

Do I think you should seek a modification? Absolutely. Do I think you will get one? Honestly, I just don’t know. Be prepared to spend a lot of time and money in this effort and don’t get your hopes up, because the system is broken and the judges are reluctant to take away the golden nipple from these women.

Let’s talk about your kid. He must have been really suffering for the past four years, keeping this secret for his mom so she could continue screwing his dad financially. He should have a healthy amount of animosity towards her for dragging him into her web of lies which she spun to avoid employment.

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She sounds like a real peach – I can’t imagine why you are no longer married to her.

I want to address his upcoming wedding (or in his case and for reasons mentioned later, the “pre-divorce party”). I don’t think your son’s issue is the upcoming wedding, I think his issue is not wanting mom and dad to fight at all, ever.  That’s natural and understandable. In addition, your son doesn’t want you to sue his mother because then she will know he let the lazy fat cat out of the money bag, so to speak.

Your job is to explain to your kid that even if you are engaged in litigation with his mom at the time of the wedding, there is no reason you cannot all be polite and get along for a weekend.  Give your son assurances that you will be honorable towards his mother and make the wedding as nice as possible and tell him you assume she will do the same, but if he has concerns about Mom’s behavior he should address that with her.

Now to your question of whether you should back down and “keep the peace” for your son’s sake.  When you called me this morning you told me he was the one who forwarded my blog to you because I have spoken about the benefits of positive post-divorce relationships between parents and how those good relationships are so very important to their children, regardless of how old those kids are.

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He must not be a regular reader, however, because I have certainly never advocated that one party bend over and take it up the rear simply to avoid conflict.  There is a vast chasm of difference between getting along with your ex and sublimating your own financial health to said ex just to avoid your son suffering upset.

A very wise man once sought to avoid a difficult conflict with an unreasonable and greedy person and having secured an agreement that they not go to war, came home and announced to his country thus:

“My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”

Oh, wait.  That was Neville Chamberlain.  He wasn’t such a wise man, was he?

In fact, he was a bit of a pussy, and soon after this “peace accord” with Mr. Funny Mustache, Europe was dragged into World War II and Chamberlain’s words would haunt him to his grave.

OK, I don’t know if that’s true, but I like to imagine it is.

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The problem with trying to establish “peace for our time” is that there is no provision for the future, and making concessions (such as not seeking a modification you so very much deserve) to avoid upsetting your son will only serve to reward your ex for her bad behavior and cause you tremendous frustration, anxiety and anger that will only increase over time.

My advice to your son is a very simple “grow up and stay out of it.”  He has no business asking you to not seek relief from this ridiculous obligation and it has nothing to do with him.  If he feels it is his place to instruct his parents regarding post-divorce legal matters, perhaps he should tell his mother that what she is doing to his dad is deplorable and she should agree to end the alimony.

Maybe it’s time, especially now that he’s getting married, to have a very frank conversation about what this albatross has done to you over the years.  Since he picked a girl just like mom (no ambition as far as you told me), he should probably consider a pre-nup.

Finally, I suggest before you hire a lawyer to seek this modification, you have a sit-down with your ex and tell her that you know this man is living with her, that you plan to file for a modification, that you know she has been taking great measures to hide her co-habitation from you and that you would like her to agree to a major reduction with an end date.

Perhaps she will agree that it is in everyone’s best interests to accept your proposal and avoid the time, cost and nastiness of litigation.

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If not, go for it and tell your son that you tried to keep things amicable.  Some day he will get it… I’m guessing about 12 years from now when he too gets hit with alimony. I wish you all the luck in the world, my friend.

-Robin