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Ex-Husband Jailed for Non-Payment
Q: I have been separated from by ex-spouse since December, 1994 and divorced him in April, 1996. I have two children, an eight-year-old son and a fourteen-year-old daughter. I've always let my ex have the children whenever he requested, even with short notice. He sees them every weekend and at least once for breakfast during the week. However, he has never paid child support. When we were separated he would give money from time to time, but nothing since the divorce was final. He's been arrested for non-payment. My children are having a hard time with this. The eight-year-old is very upset and shows it. We've talked, but he seems worried. My daughter doesn't say much but she seems worried also. What can I do?
A: You have obviously tried your best to keep them connected with their father, despite his lack of financial support to his family. You cannot pretend to kids this age that their father being jailed is not a big thing. You can quell their fears by calmly and honestly telling them why he was arrested, how long he will be jailed, and why you hope it will never happen again.
If you choose, and this is suggesting compassion from you that I think might be unreasonable to expect, you may talk about your ex as someone who has had major problems handling his finances and economically contributing to the family. Say that the law had no choice but to let him know how serious his problem was; they had to arrest him because he was showing he couldn't help himself. Explain that you are hoping he'll get the help he needs to be the responsible person you know he wants to be down deep.
Tell your ex how you have handled explaining his arrest to your kids and also tell him that your explanation can't continue if his behavior doesn't change. I know you could be seen as the villain here, because if you didn't report the non-payment the cops would not know about it. Don't own that villain's role. If he puts you in it with your kids, that signals a shift in how you can represent him to his children. If he truly had concern for his kids, he would reassure them this will never happen again, live up to his financial responsibilities and resume a good relationship with his kids.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.