Dear Amy: I am a 37-year-old mother of two. My younger child is 6. His father and I were never really a couple, and we never had a plan for a future together. He is just a big kid who has never really grown up and taken responsibility financially to help me with our son.
He also hasn’t put his name on our son’s birth certificate, for fear that child support services will garnish his wages.
When we went to court, they came up with a good-faith figure of $180 a month for child support. In the six years of our son’s life, he has given me about $15 to $30 every two weeks, which is quite short of the amount he’s supposed to pay.
My family and friends keep telling me to go to child support services, start a case and play hardball because he’s taking advantage of my kindness.
We get along — my son has never seen us fight, and we’ve even taken family vacations together as friends. I am scared that will change as soon as his wages get garnished.
On the other hand, I work full time and provide so much for my kids that a little help with groceries and bills would be a blessing. What should I do?
Amy says: Surely when you deal with your own children you expect them to take responsibility for their actions and face consequences. You should expect at least as much from the father of your son.
Officially acknowledging that he is the father of this child is necessary. This is not for you or for him, but for your son.
You two have been to court before and have managed to keep things friendly. (This speaks well of both of you.) Obviously, he needs to pay child support, but you still have matters to negotiate, and if you do so successfully you will not need to play hardball.
Ask the court to assign a mediator to work with you. The matters on the table are his requirement to acknowledge paternity and the amount of child support he realistically can/will provide. Reducing the amount from $180 to $125, for instance, might encourage him to actually pay up.
If he is just refusing to pay, or if he is forgetting to make this very modest support payment, then he is both a deadbeat dad and a baby, and he should have his wages garnished.
Dear Amy: My mother is dying a slow and painful death from lung cancer. It is a difficult time for our family. On multiple occasions, the first thing people say upon learning this is to inquire, “Was she a smoker?” Am I overreacting, or is this incredibly insensitive?
Amy says: You are not overreacting. These questions are insensitive. However, this is definitely a connection people are very curious about.
You might be inferring a judgment on the part of people that because smokers’ behavior contributes to their lung cancer risk they somehow “deserve” cancer, but most people are just unable to suppress their own curiosity about the connection between smoking and lung cancer. It is the sort of question that thoughtlessly flies out before a person takes the time to be judicious.
If you don’t want to discuss it at all, you should say, “I understand you might be curious, but I really don’t want to talk about that. My mother is dying, and that’s what I care about.”