If you haven't noticed, I encourage practical financial autonomy for all single parents. A critical element of autonomy is self-reliance. I explicitly encourage my readers and followers to strategize for economic independence so that they can take the reins on their financial destiny without outside influence. I do, however, want to be clear in my message. Financial autonomy doesn't mean that we should leave money on the table, ignore our co-parent's responsibilities under the guise of "independence," or allow the emotional elements of child support enforcement to discourage us from advocating for our children. Instead, we should provide our children a comfortable life while teaching them fiscal responsibility. We should require a consistent financial commitment from our co-parents and not allow them to control our lives with their money.
As I take this journey with you, it will become evident that I like to tell stories. I am the relatable friend, the one who tries to stop people from making the same mistakes as I've made. The one who will share her experiences no matter how embarrassing to help someone else level up! Today, I want to tell you a story and possibly teach you a small lesson about how financial autonomy can backfire.
Ready- here we go:
When I divorced twenty-one years ago, I'd already been a single mother for a year. At that point, I was on welfare, worked two minimum-wage jobs, lived in a homeless shelter, and was trying to navigate the court system to receive child support. The day that the judge ordered my ex-husband to pay $125 per week in child support seemed so victorious – until I realized that the order was worthless unless he made the payments!
For years, I struggled to make ends meet and was often angry with him because he would miss payments or not pay at all. I would get on the phone and call that man everything but a child of GOD because I was so frustrated with him! One day, after giving my ex a good tongue lashing, I had an epiphany - I was fighting tooth and nail for $16.66 per day! I decided that I had to be less emotional about receiving payments and better off not stressing myself over $500 a month. His inconsistency and lack of payment ruined my credit and constantly had me playing catch up. My finances were a mess because I kept counting his money in my budget. That was when I decided to become a financially autonomous single parent. I created a budget that did not include his support payments and figured out how much more money I would need to live comfortably. I spent years searching for better jobs, went to college to educate myself, and ignored the mounting backpay. I took these actions to gain peace, and at that time, I thought it was best for me.
In the meantime, this man had done everything that he could to evade child support. He would quit jobs if they garnished his wages, worked under the table and stopped filing taxes. I continued to ignore his actions and worked harder to gain the ability to govern my family without his help. My infinite wisdom of "I'm going to do this myself because I can't make him pay…" – caused me to make some huge mistakes. Let me list them out for you:
1. I didn't require his consistency and was not prepared for the future.
When I decided to rely solely upon myself financially, I didn't consider that I would have to retire someday, pay for college, or that my kids would want to participate in extracurricular activities. I worked hard to give my kids the best life possible, but I forgot to think about the future. I decided to alleviate the emotional hold that my ex had on me because I directly equated his lack of payment to his lack of love for my children. What I should have done was understand his lack of payment had nothing to do with any of us. I was running myself into the ground, working as hard as two people, and he was doing whatever he wanted to do.
Here I am 15 years later, building a rush retirement plan to make up for lost time and paying for two kids to complete college by myself. Luckily, I learned enough on my journey of financial autonomy to build the skills to make it happen, but if I had it to do again – I would have used the court system to make him pay every red cent!
2. I left money on the table.
I left a lot of money behind by not using the court system to enforce my child support order for fifteen years. Instead, I am owed $70K in arrears that he gets to pay back at $600 per month – which is nothing on the $30k per year that I pay in college tuition. Had I made him pay that $500 per month over fifteen years, I could have put that $90,000 into a high yield savings account and made an additional $15k.
Let's do the math:
If I'd decided to live autonomously, BUT also required him to pay, and I put his support payment into a savings account with a 3% interest rate, I would have $114,270 in college tuition for my children.
3. I didn't educate myself on the State and Federal Laws to advocate for my children.
I remember back to the day that my daughter decided to graduate from high school a year early and go to the same private college as my son. I was elated that they were going to college but had no idea how I would pay for it. That was when I realized that autonomy was not the same as independence.
I'd worked so hard to ignore my ex and become a "strong independent woman" that I never modified my child support order. Twenty years after the judge ordered my ex-husband to pay $125, the court order remains unchanged. Had I educated myself on child support laws, I would know that I could have gone to court and asked for more. I failed my children by not advocating for them.
I also didn't realize that it is not the job of the child support enforcement agency to advocate for my children. It wasn't until I realized that I needed his payments to supplement college fees and tuition that I learned that at any time, I could have filed a motion to say that he violated a court order. I would have never made those phone calls and stressed myself out if I had known that I could have let the courts handle it. Once I learned that I could file a motion, I did it EVERY TIME he missed a payment. Eventually, he began to pay.
4. I thought that independence was the same as autonomy.
When deciding to take care of my children in a manner of "self-governance," I didn't realize that I didn't have to give up on receiving support for my children. If appropriately utilized, the system does enforce child support payments. I didn't have to govern him; I had to learn to manage my FEELINGS about him. I was so hell-bent on being independent that it changed me, and that should have never happened. Looking back, I could have governed myself and my finances and allowed the government to handle him. I attempted to spare myself the chaos of his incompetence by moving through my own life as though his financial support wasn't mandatory.
I could probably list a million other ways that my decision has affected my life, but that is not the point in this blog. Financial autonomy is an excellent way to control your finances as a single parent. By not relying on outside sources to fund your expenses, you have more control over your finances. However, you are not the only parent in the equation; if the money that the court has ordered isn't enough to cover the bills, there are ways to make that money grow. As a financially savvy single parent, you have to think outside the box. I would probably be in an even better financial position than I am now if I did that. But hindsight is 20/20. I decided to tell you this story to help you make a better decision than I did.
I am not a financial advisor, nor am I a lawyer – so this is not legal or financial advice. Instead, it is a plea from me to you to do your research! Part of economic self-governance is analyzing your income streams and ensuring that they work for you. Financial autonomy does not absolve the other parent of their financial responsibilities. It is imperative that you not only require consistent child support payments (no matter how small) but that you also make a plan to use that money to your advantage.
Much love and peace to you,