A tale of two single parents

On the weekend I had one of my dearest, long-time friends for dinner. It was great to see her again.

We got talking about finances. Not explicitly, but just about how much it costs to run a household. Not just the day-to-day expenses, but the eventual need to replace a furnace, the windows, the roof, blah, blah, blah. Like me, my friend is a single parent. Unlike me, she has had a nasty divorce, and had to take the ex-husband to court after years of a gruesome legal battle. His job in law enforcement gave him some notion that he could just make up his own rules, or destroy his ex-wife by forcing her to extend the long arm of the law in the most costly way possible.  After years of an excruciating experience, she finally got court ordered child support. The back support that he owed was basically given to lawyers, plus a bunch more debt in order to settle the legal bill.

She lives in a cute little house that she owns. It’s an older house. Like most older homes, it has lots of things that it needs done to it. As the years go by and without routine maintenance, the list only gets longer and the needs can become more immediate. She recently had an infestation of mice. All this went on while her four cats (yep, four) rested their eyes and were generally uninterested in doing their feline duties to keep the place free of rodents.

We’ve had a conversation before about how all the single women we know could share a home and save themselves a fortune. In theory it sounds good. Things can get pretty murky in the details, but it could work. I mentioned that I’ve been living pretty lean lately. I felt bad as soon as the words left my mouth.

My friend lives very lean. She has a good job – in fact, her dream job, but the pay is crappy. She’s on the hunt for a part-time job. Her last kid at home will be heading off to University in the fall, leaving her living with those four lazy cats, and otherwise alone. The child support will stop, sadly. Stupid expensive lawyers got her a bad deal. It’ll be tough for her to hang on to her little house without a part-time income and/or renting out a room to somebody.

She mentioned what she paid in mortgage and municipal taxes. It seems a bargain to me, but I earn more. She lives in the country, I live in one of the most expensive real estate markets in Canada. Even though her cost of housing may seem affordable from my perspective, it’s too high for her. It really isn’t about how much we earn, it’s about how much we spend.

After the visit I felt bad for saying I was living lean, because her existence is much leaner than mine. I’ve apologized, and she’s kindly told me there was no need to do so.

She has no retirement savings, no RESP for her daughter, no emergency savings. I have all three, however meek or insignificant, at least it’s something. She has debt and is resigned to always have it. I have debt and know I won’t forever. She needs a vehicle and pays a fair amount of money to own one right now. I don’t need, nor own a vehicle.

Her child support is now gone. Mine will continue until my daughter is 25, or is finished post-secondary school, which ever comes first.

Her ex-husband will contribute nothing to her daughter’s post-secondary. Mine will.

Her ex-husband vowed he would put money in an RESP for their daughter and didn’t. Mine did.

This is not a woman with the poor me syndrome. She doesn’t complain, although I know she worries constantly about it. Makes me wonder if I worry too much about my situation. Perhaps I just worry out loud too much and I need to worry quietly.

All I can say for sure is that I’m still very thankful. Thankful that the path I ended up on wasn’t quite so heartless. I can’t do that much to be helpful to my friends, but I can still love them, support them, and whine less about money out loud.


4 responses to this post.

  1. MCM, I kind of went through / am going through the same thing with my ex (all child support going to lawyers) – when he occasionally did decide to pay since he doesn’t like to work and with most of arrears being forgiven twice. I’m not sure if the tax laws have changed but I would be surprised if they have, but I wrote off all of my legal fees for enforcement of the child support order. If your friend hasn’t done this, I would have her contact the CRA – or I could help her out too if she wants to contact me. She’d have to file a revised return, but that’s really very simple to do.

    Also, if her kids are going to post-secondary school, the dad still has to pay child support up until the time the kid graduates with their Bachelor’s. She should go back to court and get a new court order. I personally wouldn’t do it through a lawyer and would just do everything myself due to the cost. I didn’t bother doing this myself with my oldest son because of pure laziness and that it would probably have amounted to only maybe $200/month (my CS amount for the oldest before he turned 18) because the ex has always been self-employed and kind of hides his income (it’s a benefit of farming thing – land rich, cash poor).

    Sorry to hear about your friend though, it’s tough when the laws seem to work against the very people they’re supposed to help. I’ve learned to just realize I can only depend on myself and it sounds like she has had to do that too.


  2. Jacq, I really appreciate you sharing that with me. I’m not sure if she’s done that or not, but I will ask her. I super appreciate the offer of guidance too.

    Regarding the secondary school thing, taking him the court (the last time) put her in the hospital for stress. I think she’d likely rather eat it, than fight it. Her daughter that’s now in University has considered taking him to court herself. She knows her Mom is exhausted by it.

    The CRA path is a reasonably benign one though – and I will certainly raise it with her.

    You’re right (sadly), we have to depend on ourselves. It’d be nice to be able to truly trust that somebody else had our backs, but I’m afraid we’ve seen too much to suggest otherwise. Sorry to hear that you’ve had such a similar journey.

    I admire your resilience and strength.


  3. Here’s a place for her to start:

    Re. deduction of legal fees:
    She’s probably in the position where she can write the whole thing off as there’s no separation of legal fees usually for custody/visitation vs. CS.

    How to revise a line on your return:
    Apparently you can do it online now which is awesome!

    I know what you’re saying about the stress. When I went for CS for both kids, it was one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever had (likely the real reason for not wanting to do it again with the oldest). I broke down and bawled like a baby in court the first time 20 years ago when the judge told me “I should be grateful to get anything at all since he wasn’t paying at all and hadn’t for years”. I like to think there’s a special place reserved somewhere nice and hot for fathers that put their kids’ mothers through that stuff and don’t seem to feel a responsibility for their own children. I’ve thought of going to law school in the area of family law and working mostly pro bono because it bugs me so much and I’ve seen so many friends deal with the same thing. Hell hath no fury like a woman with a bad ex. 🙂

    I’ve thought of doing a post on this for a long time but wanted to make it packed with information etc. – it would probably have to be a 3 parter to do the subject “justice”. LOL


  4. […] however when I read about stories where a single parent undergoes extreme hardship because of a deadbeat that doesn’t care about their kids.  I’ve been there, done that and broke down and cried in a courtroom […]


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