Ex-wife asks for more

Dilemmas: Money troubles led to David's divorce - his wife said he was mean; he said she was profligate. He pays generously, he feels (just over the CSA estimate), towards his 13-year-old son's maintenance, but now his ex says she can't afford her share oed-for school trip. Should David make up the pounds 50 difference - he can afford it - or should he draw the line now?dilemma
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It's a sad fantasy that once you divorce, your marital troubles are over. With children on the scene it's quite possible for a ghastly marriage to continue just as unpleasantly in a new and tortured guise, with the same old scripts being played again and again - and from David's letter it sounds as if he and his ex-wife will be wrangling about money till their poor son's wedding day.

And what a dreadful thing to be wrangling about, some might think - money. The phrase "It's only money" is often trotted out on these occasions, as if it were "only money". But of course it's not. Nearly every wrangle about money between partners is really about love, and the feeling that one is withholding it and the other is squandering it on other people, or themselves. Even now at the back of David's mind is an irrational certainty that if he coughs up the fifty quid, he will be cast in the role of emotional milk cow, a sucker who sits in sad cafes alone, while his wife, he imagines, will be gloating over her ill-gotten gains and whooping it up with other men or indulging herself with expensive massages and crazy hats with never a thought for poor David. Because the argument is basically emotional, there is no "fair" answer that can be given in pounds, shillings and pence, and when, to compound matters, this no-win wrangle is having a deleterious effect on their son, it must be be stopped immediately.

There are several ways David could argue himself into accepting the situation a little more graciously. He could pay the money and congratulate himself on his generosity. It's lovely to feel you occupy the high moral slopes, and now is David's chance to scramble up there and sneer at everyone down below. Or he could rationalise the situation to himself by arguing that perhaps his wife has other things than money that she gives to her son. She cooks his meals, she makes sure he brushes his teeth and she looks after him when he's ill. Or he could try to understand that looking after children on your own has masses of hidden costs. Half the price of a child's basic upkeep never takes into account the extra expenses involved - the entertaining of other children, the cost of a baby-sitter if the custodial parent wants to go out. David could argue that within only a few years their son will have an allowance, and he'll be able to make extra cheques direct to him personally rather than to his mother or the school. He could say to himself that even if his ex were a wastrel who was spending her money on drink, drugs and rock 'n' roll, it's not his duty to make his ex a good mother to their son, it's his duty to concentrate on being a good father himself, and not let personal feuds with his mother get in the way. If his ex wants to use their son as a pawn, then so be it. David should not play her game.

Of course David may be right, and perhaps he risks more demands if he doesn't draw the line now. But this question is not really about lines being drawn between David and his ex-wife, it's about a child's sense of security. If for the next few years David's wife tries manipulatively to screw an extra couple of hundred pounds out of him successfully - well, really, so what? In the great scheme of things, how much does the odd fifty quid really matter if his son's happiness is at stake?

Whose child is it anyway?

I think David is confused. If his ex-wife did not have his child, she would not need the school-trip money. She needs the money because she is bringing up his child. David is not bailing out his ex-wife but taking responsibility for his son.

He should heave a sigh of relief that his responsibility is confined to cheque writing. His ex-wife's list of childcare responsibilities is somewhat longer: work, worry, nurture, care, reprimand, endless support and affection (endless housework!) - and writing cheques. C'mon David, it's your child, too!

Gabrielle Knowles-Riche

London N1

Don't be so mean, invest in your son

I can remember being in the same situation as David's son, and I can't help but feel that he must have felt considerable tension as the "piggy in the middle" of his parents' divorce.

In his letter David seems more concerned with not letting his wife get away with something rather than with his son's happiness. Surely being a parent means more than stopping at a chalk line in one's head which says: "That's my 50 per cent."

I bet David's son is probably getting the "your father's no good" routine from his mother. What better, then, than to make a magnanimous, unconditional gesture to your son? This would ensure your son went on his trip and would also deal a body-blow to any claims of meanness on your part.

Material things such as this are, of course, no substitute for parental love but David, as the absent parent, should bear in mind that treats do serve as tangible reminders of a parent's care. David wouldn't be losing pounds 50, he'd be making an investment.

Steve Smith

Croydon

Help your son, forget your wife

David has divorced his wife, not his son. He should stop thinking about her and trying to control her. He should never use his son to get at her. David has a continuing responsibility to support the child he has fathered. He wants him to go on a necessary trip and can find the whole cost so he should pay. David is helping his son, not being cheated by his ex-wife.

Rev Canon John Goodchild

Liverpool

Pay up and grow up

If David is paying just above the CSA estimation, he is paying very little. He doesn't say whether his ex-wife works or not. If she doesn't she will be more or less destitute: if she does, her income will be almost inevitably be far inferior to his (despite years of so-called equal opportunities women's incomes fall short of men's in nearly all fields). Of course he should pay the full cost of his son's school trip. He should also give him weekly pocket money and a twice-yearly clothing allowance. Stop whingeing and grow up, David.

Peter Owen

London NW2

Bickering over 50 quid

Two things jumped out of David's letter. First, everything is rationalised - "If I do this for him, how will my ex-wife react and what will be the consequences for me?" Second, I detect a distinct lack of generosity of spirit and of money when the welfare of his son becomes an issue. His view appears to me to be "Well, he's her son as well as mine. I am not rich, therefore she should pay her way. Q.E.D."

How do you think your son will react to all of this? Mum and Dad bickering over 50 quid? Do you not think he has suffered seeing his world shattered by his parents splitting up? Your decision in this scenario could make the difference between you having an ongoing relationship with your son or orchestrating a schism that may never be repaired?

For goodness' sake, grow up. Stop quibbling over a few pounds and consider the welfare of your son.

Chris Fry

Tonbridge, Kent

NEXT WEEK'S PROBLEM: REVELATIONS FROM THE PAST

Dear Virginia,

My fiance and I agreed we would each be frank with each other about our pasts before we got married. I wasn't nervous about telling him because I know that he has led quite a rackety life with lots of girlfriends, while I have only had two lovers. They were, however, extremely important to me. I was shocked, therefore, at his reaction. He was distressed, hurt, angry, and would hardly speak to me for two days. I feel I have done irreparable damage. I asked him to tell me about his past, to make things even, but he said he wouldn't dream of hurting me in the way I had hurt him. What can I do to make things all right? What should I have done?

Yours sincerely,

Irene

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send any relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, the 'Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171- 293-2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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