WWYD – gift from ex spouse

I received this email from a reader.

Dear Mama H,

I hope you can help me out. I recently celebrated a significant birthday and my ex husband sent me a sizable gift card to an online store. We have been divorced for a number of years and I have since remarried. Our children live with me, and their father constantly gives me a hard time about his duty to provide child support. No matter that it has been years and that I have obviously moved on, he still feels emotionally tied to me.

I just want him to support my children, not send me gifts. My new husband said I should spend the money on stuff for the children, but another friend said that keeping it sends the message that it is appropriate. She says I should send it back.

WWYD – please help me do the right thing!


Hi Rachel.

If we were talking about my own ex husband I am not sure what I would do. We have both moved on emotionally, remarried and are living our lives peaceably and are not fighting about anything. Our issues are dead and buried. Yet, still, on some level, such a gift from him would make me feel awkward. What is the message behind it?

I am not sure what I would do in your situation – I like the idea of spending it on the children BUT as your friend said, that doesn’t get the message across to your ex that this was inappropriate.

Let me open it up to my readership – WWYD in this situation, readers? Has this happened? How did it make you feel? What did you do?

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  1. I wonder if the store sells things the children can really use? If so, a card saying something like, “Thank you, I will put this towards the child support you owe THE CHILDREN and buy them warm sweaters for the winter” might send the right message in return. ;)

    Child support really is a debt to the children, not the ex-spouse. So I think that converting the “gift” to a partial payment on the obligation is appropriate enough. Letting the ex know how it was used sends the message.

    Disclaimer: I don’t speak from experience, fortunately – I’ll be the first to admit that there may be other factors at play that I cannot possibly comprehend and may not be the best person to give advice on this.

    • Chanief says:

      I agree. Since it’s been a struggle to get support for their children, the individual asking could probably use the money toward things the children need. I would also make sure that the ex knows the money has been spent on the children and that, in the future, any personal gifts are inappropriate and his money should be spent on the children exclusively. If it is a store with nothing for the children, I think it should be returned.

      That said, I am not divorced and don’t have that experience, but I have been separated from my husband for a while so I do understand the awkwardness of accepting things from someone who you are no longer in the same relationship with.

  2. David says:

    Just a small sidetrack first.

    ” I just want him to support my children…”

    Rachel, they are his children too. As a Divorced Dad, I have a pet peeve about referring to children in the singular possessive form in the general case.

    That being said, there is no need to get preachy to him. Send the card back telling him that while it was kind to think of you, accepting this gift card would be inappropriate.

  3. Nora says:

    I think it probably needs to be returned with a polite note explaining that it’s inappropriate and that she’d rather have any future $$ and gifts spent on/for the kids.

  4. lady lock and load says:

    I agree with David. Return it, explaining that while it was very nice of him, it’s inappropriate.

  5. frumgoth says:

    I have a different opinion on this altogether. I think Rachel should use the gift card for whatever she wants (whether it is stuff for herself, her kids, her house or even her new husband) and send a simple email thanking her ex. It is really not such a big deal.

  6. My only issue about sending it back is that… well, then HE’S just going to use it, right? And likely NOT on stuff for the kids. I’d make sure he knows it’s being used for them, perhaps in a note that (kindly) thanks him for his thoughtfulness but reminds him that she would prefer he use his money to support their children.

  7. marble says:

    I would count it as child support and deduct it from his debts and send him a little note: Thank you for xxx $ child support, now you owe me yyyy$.

  8. Justine says:

    Is there a charity you could donate it to? Perhaps it is worth asking ex husband what his intentions are? Is it possible that he is just being nice? You do, after all, share children!
    Sometimes intentions can be easily misconstrued. I would ask him whether he intended the gift to go toward the kids. If not, I would say thanks and either return it or spend it on things for someone who might really be in need.

  9. Bells says:

    1) It should not be counted toward child support because it is *not* child support. Your children deserve everything the court ordered, and this was a voluntary, additional gift made to YOU, not them. Collect what is rightfully your children’s, and if you do correspond with him, acknowledge in any correspondence that the cash was an unexpected gift. Don’t just say, “Thanks for the money.” 2) Don’t ask him about his intentions, because that opens up an old/new can of worms. Do you really want to argue or rehash your relationship? 3) If you have any qualms about spending the money, spend it on the kids (and tell him the surprise gift to you is an unexpected opportunity to benefit your kids), or donate to a charity in his name. He’ll get the point. 4) The cash is yours to spend. Follow your heart. If it leads you to new accessories, the Nordstrom game is on. They’ve got great sales right now. =) 5) Whatever you do, be polite, and don’t stir up old grievances. There’s no point. 6) !בהצלחה

  10. fille says:

    I see that this is a tricky situation.

    On the one hand, there is a father who does not fulfill his duty towards his children and, by this, causes his ex-wife hardship.

    On the other hand, this same father tries to be nice towards his ex-wife.

    What is going on in his head?
    Did he just think “oh, I’d like to give her a present” and forgot about the unpaid child support?
    Is he trying to say “Don’t be angry at me”?
    Is he trying to say “Hey, I’m a nice guy, I give you presents?”

    This puts the ex-wife in an awkward situation
    He should first meet his obligations and if he wants, he could give presents afterwards.
    Receiving presents from ex is weird.

    I think that the ex-wife should talk to him about the child support being more important. Perhaps he will be in a receptive mood…

  11. Note to all saying, their father constantly gives me a hard time about his duty to provide child support. does not mean that he does not pay it, it doesn’t even really imply that. It seems to imply that he kvetches about paying child support.
    Quite honestly there are circumstances underwhich I could understand that, especially in the current economy. If you take a pay cut, or have to find a new, lower paying job, the court ordered child support, which was based upon your salary at the time of the divorce, does not necessarily change(and in some states it is mandated that it will not change, as that is your “earning potential”).
    Yes a man has a duty to provide for his progeny, both under Torah law, and under civil law. However, as Jews we also have a duty to dan l’kaf zecut, and not read that absolute worst into a statement.

    • alarbean says:

      Yes a man has a duty to provide for his progeny, both under Torah law, and under civil law.
      (The “strict” Torah law requirement of support is much lower than the civil law requirement.)

      Most of the other commentators here seem to treat the ex as some kind of stalker. I don’t understand why they are jumping to that conclusion.

      • Bells says:

        My Response #1 was in response to the comments that the gift be deducted from child support. Also, I’m a paranoid lawyer, so if there’s any question that Birthday Woman’s husband might try to skim the amount of the gift from child support, it’s probably prudent to affirmatively state (in writing) that the money is an unexpected birthday surprise. (For the avoidance of doubt, nothing I have written here constitutes legal advice!) =)

    • Agreed. Actually, I based my assumption on that statement PLUS “I just want him to support my children, not send me gifts.” Combined, that indicated a probability of something beyond “kvetching.” Nevertheless, if the gift could be put to good use on the children’s behalf, and if the birthday girl is willing to do that – rather than to use it on herself – I think it’s a stress reliever to all. I’d call it a deduction from the amount currently owed, if any, and say “thank you.” I don’t think that’s ungracious or inappropriate.

      I don’t assume the ex is malicious. I know that some exes have concerns that the money is not being spent wisely. But it IS a debt to the children, and it should not become yet-another-sore-point in an already strained relationship. It tends to spill over to the children – how many are blissfully unaware of any child support disputes? If child support is a bone of contention, why is he sending his ex birthday gifts – particularly now that she has remarried? That’s something I find odd, personally.

      Another disclaimer, Michael – I’m not Jewish, but I do try to give people benefit of the doubt until they remove all possibilities for me to do that.

      • Not saying that you didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. It was just a trend I saw building as the comments went on and I thought that I would say something about it before it continued building.

        • Agreed. It always helps to have multiple perspectives. I’ve known good single moms, good single dads, and good PARENTS who managed to work well together as parents despite divorce. Unfortunately, too many let their personal issues get in the way of being good parents.

  12. fille says:

    See, the benefit of doubt can be a tricky thing.
    Whenever you are in a he said-she said-situation, giving him the benefit of doubt could mean implying that she lies and denying her justice.

    She mentions that he gives her a hard time with child support and that the children need child-support more than she needs gifts.

    There is a saying המרחם על האכזרים סופו לאכזר על הרחמים, if you are too generous towards cruel people, you might end up being cruel to people who do not deserve it.

    • That’s true. Not knowing any of the people involved, I give everyone benefit of doubt – and assume that there are two sides to every story (at LEAST two), and that neither is 100% objectively accurate, but that neither is 100% objectively wrong. Anything most of us could say here should not really be taken personally by anyone, since I think most of us don’t know any of the people involved. :)

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