"I Don't Have A Choice" is ALWAYS a LIE.
Helen* and I met recently to discuss bringing her case to conclusion by agreement. Helen and her ex have already agreed to shared physical custody. Because Helen makes a lot more than her ex, she will be ordered to pay him child support.
*I talk about "Helen" a lot. She's not a real person and she's not a real client. She's more like a composite character. I will never reveal an actual conversation that I've had with an actual client. Ever.
Helen is having a lot of thoughts about paying child support to her ex.
Helen has asked me a lot of questions about why she has to pay, and she doesn't really like my answers.
Helen is not asking these questions because she's confused. She's asking them because she's afraid.
The child support obligation, or the amount of the obligation, is not "making" Helen afraid.
In fact, paying child support is boring. I told Helen just that, but she's not buying it.
When I asked Helen why she feels afraid, she replied "because I'm trapped. What if I want to leave my job and pursue something else? What if I get laid off? What if I get sick?"
Here is what I told Helen, and what I want to tell you, my friend.
All of those things could have happened when she and her ex were together, but Helen didn't spend her days worrying about these possibilities. The truth is that Helen always had choices then, and she always has choices now.
She could choose to take a lower-paying job, or not work at all, and ignore her court-ordered support obligation. Sure she would bear the consequences of those decisions, and she might not like the consequences, but she has control over the choice.
Helen could choose the lower-paying job any time she wants to, still pay the court-ordered support, and make other adjustments in her life. She may not "like" doing that, but she still has control over the choice.
If Helen lost income due to an illness or involuntary job loss, then of course the Court would reduce or terminate her support obligation. Okay, so she would have to go back to family court to request that, but that option would be available to her to choose.
"Actually," I said to Helen, "the person who really doesn't have a choice -- like, between the two of you -- is your ex. He'll never have your earning capacity. Unfortunately for him, he has to rely on you to continue to earn at that capacity and he has to rely on you to choose to comply with the court order."
Helen paused. "I never thought of it that way," she said.
"I know," I replied. "That's why you're afraid."
The existence of a support order, or the amount of support that is ordered, are neutral circumstances. They do not create fear.
If you choose to think about a support order as a "trap" or "restriction," then. . . well. . . . of course that won't feel good.
"The way I see it, Helen," I told her, "is that you have beautiful, healthy children. You have such a good co-parenting relationship with their father that you're able to maintain shared physical custody, which is a great accomplishment by itself. . .
And, you have something that no one else can control but you -- you have the capacity to earn at a level that many people do not -- at a level that affords you the ability to provide a higher standard of living for your children. . . in your home and in their father's home."
And that really is a gift. Can you imagine travelling back in time, meeting your grandmother as a very young woman, and telling her that you're paying child support to your ex-husband? I know how hard my grandmothers worked. I know the jobs they believed were available to them. I know the opportunities they did not have to pursue higher education, a fulfilling and lucrative career, or a chance to do work outside of the home in a career that challenged them every day.
"Actually, Helen, you're a freaking bad ass, this child support obligation is a privilege, and your brain is lying to you when it says you don't have a choice."
I think Helen appreciated the "bad-ass" compliment, she's not quite ready to go all in on the "privilege" part, and she might even be a bit annoyed with me because she thinks I'm calling her a liar.
But I'm not calling Helen a liar. I love Helen, and I love showing her how her own thoughts are the cause of all of her suffering. I'll be as patient as she needs me to be while we examine those thoughts.
I promise you that "I don't have a choice" is ALWAYS a LIE, my friends.
As long as you have that beautiful brain, you always have choices.
Talk to you soon.
If You're Struggling To Peacefully Co-Parent After Divorce, Stop Telling Yourself This Lie. . .
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