How to Deal with a “Bad-Mouthing Spouse”

How to Deal with a “Bad-Mouthing Spouse”

In my practice of over a decade in divorce and child custody, one of the most common allegations I hear from my clients is that their spouse is speaking negatively (“bad mouthing”) about my client in front of or directly to the children.  If your spouse engages in this conduct, it can be infuriating.  Hearing your child say something like “Dad says I can’t play baseball this year because you took all his money” naturally makes you want to defend yourself and set the record straight.  Setting the record straight may include a response like “I took all HIS money?  He gives me almost nothing, and went out and bought a brand new car last week.”

Although this response, in your perception, may be totally honest, it places the children in the awkward position of choosing which position is true.  So what should you do?  It seems like you have only a few choices:  1) allow your spouse to continue filling the children’s heads with lies; 2) defend yourself to your children; 3) confront your spouse; 4) tell your lawyer and wait for it to be the subject of a petition in court.  I’ve never seen anyone choose #1.  Most people choose a combination of #2, #3 and #4 for several reasons.  First, it is difficult to get immediate relief in court on something like this.   Most judges do not consider allegations of one parent bad mouthing another an “emergency” warranting immediate relief, unless there are some pretty startling facts.  Second, it is equally difficult stand silent in the face of someone attacking you and allow him or her to drag the children into it as a manipulation tactic.   And third, you pay your lawyer good money to go to court and get you justice.  However, even using these tactics in combination, in most cases, only alleviates the problem for a short time, if at all.

In reality, none of these choices address the real problem:  your children’s negative perception of you, compliments of your spouse.  If you confront your spouse, chances are it’s not going to a pleasant conversation.  Plus, he or she may get satisfaction seeing you upset.  If you find yourself defending yourself to the children often, you are just as guilty of dragging your children into the divorce as your spouse.  Even if you ultimately get relief from the court, there is no guarantee your spouse will follow the court order, and if you suspect he or she is not, it is hard to prove in court.

In my experience (and my humble opinion), the following suggestions on dealing with a “bad mouthing spouse” directly address the problem and can at the same time, teach your children important lessons about listening to gossip that they can apply to other situations.

Financial Issues

Child: Dad says I can’t play baseball this year because you took all his money.

Mom: I wish Dad wouldn’t talk to you about financial issues you may not understand.  It sounds very negative and confusing.  I know you really want to play baseball this year, but the reality and truth is that neither Dad nor I have as much money as we did before the divorce.  It’s going to take a little while to get used to it, but we aren’t going to be able to do all the things we used to do.  But know that you will always be provided for and loved by both of us, no matter how much money we have or don’t have.

Boyfriends/Girlfriends

Child: Mom says your new girlfriend is a slut and a home-wrecker.

Dad: I wish Mom wouldn’t use that kind of language to describe my friends, and we don’t use that kind of language in this house when we talk about people.  My friend is neither of those things, and I expect you to be respectful of any person who is my friend, just as I expect you to be respectful of any person who is your mother’s friend.

Lifestyles or Habits

Child: Dad says you shouldn’t smoke around me or anywhere in the house because it will give me cancer.

Mom: I’m sorry Dad said that to you.  I don’t know why he would say that.  He and I do not agree on that, and I hope you know that I love you and would never do anything to hurt you on purpose.

Lies

Child: Mom says you got fired from your job because you are a drunk.

Dad: I’m sorry Mom said that about me.  I’m sure you don’t like hearing bad things about me, but you need to know that it’s not true.  Saying bad things behind a person’s back and calling someone names is rude and disrespectful, and we don’t do that here.  When people say bad things about me or call me names, just ignore it like you would if someone was calling you a name.

 

Although these suggestions will not necessarily cure the problem of your spouse disparaging you in front of the children, they do address the possible negative consequences of this kind of behavior.  The focus is to make your spouse’s bad behavior a “teaching moment”, without saying your spouse is a bad person.  It’s a fine line to walk, but it’s worth it for your kids.

 

How is child support calculated?

Child support is calculated based on the figure the court determines is the non-residential parent’s “net income.”  Net income includes income from all sources, minus the following deductions:

  1. federal income taxes;
  2. state income taxes;
  3. social security payments (FICA);
  4. mandatory retirement contributions required by law or as a condition of employment;
  5. union dues;
  6. dependent and individual health/hospitalization insurance premiums;
  7. dependent and individual life insurance premiums ordered by the court to reasonably secure payment of child support;
  8. prior obligations of support or maintenance actually paid pursuant to court order; and
  9. expenditures for repayment of debts that represent reasonable and necessary expenses for the production of income, medical expenses to preserve life or health, reasonable expenditures for the benefit of the child and the other parent, exclusive of gifts.

 

Once the court determines the net income of the non-residential parent, it applies the following statutory guidelines as child support to that figure:

1 child 20%

2 children 28%

3 children 32%

4 children 40%

5 children 45%

6+ children 50%

 

The court can also, in its discretion, require the non-residential parent to contribute to the reasonable expenses of the following:

  1. health needs not covered by insurance;
  2. child care;
  3. education; and
  4. extra-curricular activities.

 

 

A residential parent can get non-guideline support (support either in excess or below the guideline percentages) when the court finds that deviation from the guidelines is appropriate, after considering the best interest of the child(ren).  Factors the court will consider include, but are not limited to:

  1. the financial resources and needs of the child(ren);
  2. the financial resources and needs of the custodial parent;
  3. the standard of living the child(ren) would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved;
  4. the physical, mental and emotional needs of the child(ren)
  5. the educational needs of the child(ren);
  6. the financial resources and needs of the non-residental parent.

 

In cases where a deviation from the statutory guidelines is ordered, it is usually when a non-residential parent’s income is either very high or very low.  When a non-residential parent obtains a downward deviation from the guidelines, he or she almost always is unemployed.   It is very difficult to obtain a downward deviation when the non-residential parent is employed.  A residential parent may receive a deviation when he or she has an extraordinarily high income (the deviation would be downward from the percentage guideline) or when the non-residential parent has an extraordinarily high income (the deviation would be upward from the percentage guideline).

Music, Art and Alzheimer’s | Caregiver Center | Alzheimer’s Association

Music, Art and Alzheimer’s | Caregiver Center | Alzheimer’s Association.

The Deadline Every Married Person And Financial Advisor Needs To Know About – Forbes

The Deadline Every Married Person And Financial Advisor Needs To Know About – Forbes.

A Married Couple’s Guide To Estate Planning – Forbes

A Married Couple’s Guide To Estate Planning – Forbes.

VA reduces paperwork for pension payouts – News – Stripes

VA reduces paperwork for pension payouts – News – Stripes.

A Novice Trustee Primer

A Novice Trustee Primer.

Cost of Divorce

How much will my divorce cost?

This answer may sound like a “cop-out,” but it depends on several factors.  If you have a large estate that has a mixture of property you want to claim is part marital property and part non-marital property, depending on the documentation available, your divorce will probably be more expensive.  If you want to use tactics to delay or are seeking to “make your spouse pay” for all the horrible things he or she did to you during the marriage, your divorce will be more expensive.  I’ve heard many clients say “I’d rather you [meaning the attorney, me] get the money than my spouse.”  However, when all is said and done, these clients have a hard time writing the check because it is so expensive, and “winning” did not deliver the satisfaction desired.

The best way to save money on attorneys fees is to “divorce” yourself from the emotional issues, if you can.  Illinois is a no-fault state, so no matter how many times  your spouse cheated on you, it will not be considered a relevant factor (unless your spouse dissipated marital assets).  Focus on an equitable division of the marital property, realistic maintenance (formerly called alimony), reasonable custody/visitation arrangements, and child support based on the statutory guidelines.

If cost is an issue for you, make sure you pay attention to how much time your attorney is spending on your case.  Remember, attorneys sell their time for a living.  Make sure you are getting your money’s worth.  Keep in mind, the average amount of time an attorney will spend in court on a contested hearing is 2.5 hours, although this is driven by the courtroom that your case is assigned.  Some attorneys charge higher rates for time spent in court as opposed to office time.  Office time can also become cost prohibitive if the issues are complex requiring extensive legal research and briefing.

The two real “hot button” issues that drag emotional issues into your divorce are child custody and support.  The faster you and your spouse can come to an agreement on child support and custody, the less expensive your divorce will be.  If custody becomes a contested issue, the court may require the appointment of a Section 604(b) custody evaluator a Section 215 mental evaluator,a Guardian Ad Litem, and/or a mediator, all of which come with significant price tags.  The appointment of one or more of these professionals in addition to each spouse being represented by an attorney can drive an average middle class family into debt and/or bankruptcy very quickly.  Appointment of a mediator is required in contested custody cases, unless there is a history of domestic violence between the spouses.

Pick your battles wisely, and remember, whether you win or lose, the result comes with a price tag.

Planning ahead — Nursing Home care costs

Are you prepared?  You’ve been saving for retirement for years. But if you or your spouse end up in a nursing home, how long will your savings last with $6,000 a month in care costs?

What can you do?  Unfortunately, most people don’t realize Medicare will not pay for long-term nursing home care.  Additionally, the State has enacted laws making it difficult to qualify for Medicaid benefits if you have any assets in your name.

Be proactive.  Whether you or your loved one needs long-term nursing home care immediately or sometime in the future, there are things you can do today to protect your estate and avoid having financial problems become your legacy.

Protect assets.  Your assets are the only thing you have carry you through your retirement years.  Fortunately, if you plan carefully, there are things you can do to qualify for Medicaid and keep your assets protected while receiving benefits.

Learn how to plan.  Even if you are in crisis mode, and must go into a nursing home immediately, there are ways to save up to half of your assets while still qualifying for Medicaid benefits.