My ex-wife is a mess, financially speaking. After the divorce, her house that she won in the divorce was foreclosed on, filed for bankruptcy, owes money to pretty much everyone that tried to help her out, etc... Does not have a job, hasn't had one, well, ever, and probably never will, but if there is a get rich quick scam - she's all over it. Typically, I wouldn't care, but my grade-school aged kids are in the equation. I am not on talking terms with the ex, but the kids complain to me that there is no hot water, internet, electricity, etc... when they are with her. Pretty much everything has been turned off by various utility companies.

It's not that she doesn't get enough money from me - she does. I pay her almost $4k a month (child support + spousal support), but the way she spends it is the problem. For instance, according to the latest court filing, she pays $3850 a month for rent for a 4 bedroom apartment (basically 2nd floor of a house). At first, I thought it was a joke or just a way to pad her expenses, but then I checked Trulia/Zillow/Craigslist and that is actually the low end of where she lives.

EDIT: I understand the "lawyer" side of the equation and I have that under control. My question is merely about how to help a person who's completely out of it.

Obviously this is not a sustainable situation, but she won't hear of moving to a cheaper neighborhood (according to friends, whom she asked for money and they recommended moving). She's never been good at planning and budgeting. In fact, the refusal to be limited by a budget has played a role in our divorce and my currently dismal credit score.

So my question is what can be done to educate and help this person? Are there (hopefully free) scared straight type of programs available?

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    Based on her obvious neglect to provide the children with a livable home, you could ask a court for sole custody, in which case child support will be revoked and she will be unable to maintain this level of insanity. Scared straight indeed.
    – crasic
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 8:55
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    But what is the other side of the conversation? How would she state her case (without any opinion interjected)
    – MrChrister
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 17:33
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    @MrChrister I can only go on what her court filings state and what our common friends tell me (she won't talk to me directly ever, even if its about kids). Her line is that I screwed her, other people screwed her. Because she hasn't worked during the marriage of 10 yrs, she can't get a job now and she doesn't want to start at the bottom. She wants more money from me, because she feels she is entitled to the same lifestyle as before, e.g. stay at home mom with "buy anything at the mall" priviliges (when we lived completely beyond our means and I am paying for it now).
    – NeedAdvice
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 19:32
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    @lunchmeat317 Yeah, about a year and a half ago or so, I went to court and had them recalculate the child support. It was significantly reduced.
    – NeedAdvice
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 3:27
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    You can't "help" her. But once you turn off the money tap, you'll be amazed how fast she'll miraculously learn to "help" herself. Stop being too nice. Harden your heart, and get ready for her to get a real education. Do not let the kids get dragged into being part of her emotional blackmail schemes.
    – smci
    Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 1:02

7 Answers 7


I learned this from a business book on managing people, but I think it applies equally well here.

You can't put in what God left out of people. I know several people with this mentality about money and you simply have to make your sculpture out of the clay you have.

In this case, however, it seems that ship has sailed, considering it is your ex and you aren't on speaking terms. That would make it even harder, and it is debatable about whether it is your prerogative to even try.

Just focus on the kids and make it clear to your wife that she needs to be providing the basics (food, shelter, heat, etc.) and don't escalate that unless it becomes a danger to the kids.

In a non-judgmental way (towards your wife) I'd use it as an opportunity to teach your kids about financial responsibility and the dangers of overspending and get-rich quick schemes. It sounds like they have an example in their lives of the consequences of two very different ways of managing one's finances.

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    +1 for focus on the kids. That might mean showing them what compassion is as well as teaching them how to handle money.
    – MrChrister
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 17:34

You say you're not on speaking terms: so you do it via your lawyer. You're divorced: so IMO your obligations are:

a) To your kids
b) Purely financial spousal support (if any)

If she's irresponsible financially then maybe she isn't the best able to care for your children. Your lawyer ought to be able to tell you what the alternatives are (it's very state-specific so no general advice from the Internet, but if your lawyer can't do that then IMO you need a different lawyer who has more experience with divorce/custody cases).


I'm afraid your best recourse may be legal. I don't know that internet is a necessity, but the court would frown upon anyone paying $4K for rent but not being able to afford to heat the water or turn the lights on. $48K a year net should be enough for her to at least keep the kids with these things. I don't know that you can educate her. Her issue is very deep-seated and far beyond a good financial planning type session.


You can't help people that don't want help, period. It just doesn't work, and you will waste your time and energy while making the other person mad. Both sides end up in the same place they started except now they are frustrated with each other. In a normal situation I would advise to stop enabling her by giving her money, but the court has already decided that part.

There is no reason that she can't provide for her children on US$50k per year. In all honesty it sounds like she has a mental health problem and needs to see a professional. You, as the ex-husband, are probably not the right person to tell her that, though. If you really want to help her and are still on good terms with some friends or family members she trusts you could ask them to help her get help. They probably see the same mess that you and your kids do, but might need a little encouragement to act.

The other option is if you sued for custody, based on living conditions, the possibility of losing her children and the child support might provide a much needed incentive to clean up her act. You probably won't win over a couple of incidents of the power being turned off and you will be putting your kids in the uncomfortable situation of telling on their mother though.

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    Based on the comments to to question, this is 100% correct, as is the advice to get a lawyer.
    – MrChrister
    Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 6:58

Wow. Just ... wow.

We all must start where we are, I guess. The past is the past.

There almost certainly isn't a cheap way to fix this. You're already on the hook for $4k per month. Your money is enabling her behavior. You'd rather not enable her behavior, but the money is part of the consequences of your divorce, so into her bank account it goes.

Those who control how much alimony your ex-wife receives might reach the conclusion she needs more. That's not a hard conclusion for them to make. It's not their money.

The living conditions are hurting your kids, and that's unfortunate, but that's also part of the consequences of your divorce.

If it's deemed that your kids are better off not visiting her, then you might be relieved of paying child support (since you're supporting them at that point) but you might still be supporting her until some trigger is met, which might be never. (You know those details better than I do, of course.)

If she's already lost her house, filed for bankruptcy, borrowed money from people that she hasn't paid back, and gets a check from you each month and still has utilities shut off, she'll continue to deteriorate financially until she hits rock bottom. Then, and only then, will she see the need to fix her behavior.

Now, the (possibly) million dollar question for you is, "Where is rock bottom?"

Do what you can to make that happen sooner rather than later, because you'll likely be subsidizing her all the way down, and part of the way back up. You've lost most of the leverage you once had to change her behavior, but try every way you can. You might hit the jackpot.

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    If you decided to help her find the bottom, do so in a way that your children do not see you treating their mother badly, or you might suffer some backlash from them.
    – MrChrister
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 17:40
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    The alimony/child support is determined based on a formula and thus the powers that be cannot simply raise it because they feel like it.
    – NeedAdvice
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 19:47
  • @NeedAdvice: Struck through.
    – mbhunter
    Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 6:54

Back in the day, they had a highly effective solution for this type of crap, but it is frowned upon in modern society.

The second-best solution would be to get your lawyer to put together a case that she is unfit to be around the children and that visitation rights should be revoked. Unfortunately, this will most likely not solve her problems, and she will probably become far worse as she feels more alone, alienated, miserable, and embarrassed.

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    I think I am afraid to ask what this "highly effective solution" used to be.
    – NeedAdvice
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 19:37
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    Maybe a bit late to the party, but I'll ask... what was this "solution"?
    – user12515
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 3:11
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    I would assume this "solution" was debtor's prison and workhouses. Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 19:39
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    It has been almost 10 years! just tell us what the "highly effective solution" was.
    – rhavelka
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 14:27
  • @OneTruDragonGirl one wonders if that solution was "highly effective" or simply sweeping the problem under the rug at the expense of the impoverished and financially illiterate
    – PC Luddite
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 16:17

I am no expert by any means in divorce situations, but it seems like you probably have more than enough evidence (if you can back up everything you outlined here) that the living conditions an her place are not suitable for kids. This ought to be enough for you to gain sole custody of the kids. Maybe you didn't want to keep their mother in the equation for their benefit, but right now it's not to their benefit for her to be in the equation.

The honest truth is that you're not in a position to help her being divorced. You can't force her to do anything as things stand now. But if you take legal actions to gain sole custody you might be able to lay down some conditions under which she could regain partial custody of the kids. This might be the "scare" approach you're looking for if she cares about her children.

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