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The saying goes that the face of poverty is a woman.

Make that a divorced or single mother with insufficient child support. On average women experience a dramatic drop in their standard of living after divorce while a man's standard of living improves significantly.

Why the disparity?

First of all, because there is no financial value assigned to the time we tend to our children, this value is not computed in divorce agreements. There is no accounting for the opportunity cost of lost salary and career growth for the hours spent taking care of a child.

Also, child support guidelines, which are determined state by state, are not intended to cover all costs associated with raising a child, and often fall far short. They take into account the cost of food, housing, clothing, and some healthcare expenses. But they do not cover a range of other expenses from after school activities like music lessons or sport lessons to vacations, or restaurant meals to school supplies. These expenses rise significantly as children get older.

The sad truth is that if a caregiver mother suffers financially, so does her child. And the human story behind this financial story is heart wrenching.

One of my clients described how her child went from a comfortable standard of living to below the poverty line virtually overnight. The child was afraid to tell her that he'd outgrown his sneakers. Another said her daughter declined invitations to go to the movies with her friends because she didn't want to have to ask for movie money. In both cases, the father was making over $200,000 per year!

So how can you make ends meet if child support payments are insufficient?

The first thing to do, whether you're contemplating divorce or are in the process of divorcing, is quantify how much your lifestyle truly costs such that you and your children can live in dignity.

As a divorce financial professional, I help clients and their attorneys put together projected budgets. It's important to account for as many details as possible: the cost of summer camp, haircuts, a computer the child will need for school in later years.

Then we weigh these financial needs against a couple's ability to pay. Does the family income cover this budget plus a reasonable amount for the noncustodial parent? If not, can a division of marital assets help supplement the difference? Can we scale back to a barebones budget? Can we distinguish between wants and needs?

In divorce, financial support comes from 3 sources:

1. Alimony or spousal support

2. Child support

3. Division of marital assets

Each of these sources has different tax and financial consequences. Yet because household spending on adults and children is intertwined, all three can contribute to a child's financial welfare.

I work with mediators, attorneys, and tax professionals to look at the financial and tax implications of proposed child support and spousal support payments along with the proposed division of marital assets. In addition, I use software to project the short and long-term impact of a proposed divorce settlement. These projections can be really powerful.

What if you're already divorced and find that you can't make ends meet with current child support payments? A financial planner specializing in divorce can work with you to put together a saving and spending plan and help give you a holistic picture of your finances. It can be really reassuring to work with a financial advisor who takes the time to hear your concerns in a supportive, calm environment and helps you gain control over a financial situation that can seem overwhelming.

Click the following to return a directory of articles and resource videos on Kids, Family, and Divorce.

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5 comments

  • Comment Link vicky Lorimer Wednesday, 19 March 2014 10:51 posted by vicky Lorimer

    My ex is supposed to send my csa payment through his employer but his employer is no doing so the csa dont seem to care.
    Spo in the meantime thata another 4 weeks without money and he is already thousands in arrears.
    What can I do why does my son have to suffer.

  • Comment Link Guest Sunday, 16 October 2011 22:23 posted by Guest

    Plan, plan plan...: Plan, plan, plan is all I can recommend before you get out of your marriage. If you have marital assets and can afford representation, get everything you can that is of cash value
    and make sure that you know before you file what it's going to cost to support yourself and your kids... and state it loud and clear with your attorney. Plan not to rely on your ex to behave responsibly by making support payments. Many men retaliate by withholding money. Plan your emotional and financial support network among friends and family, and if they're not there for you, get yourself and your children to a domestic violence or woman's center. The only way a woman can become truly independent in all aspects of her life is to become financially independent of her ex, and that takes a network of caring people to help her get on her feet and into a good job. We can't rely on our former husbands to step up and pay support on time, or pay support at all. It just gets depressing when they don't. A woman's own money means her power. As unfair as it is, we have to get tough and do ourselves what our ideal man would do. I wish that the insidious phrase "the face of poverty is a woman" would go away. Statements like that perpetuate victimization. IT IS POWERFUL and BRAVE to leave an abusive man/a miserable marriage.

  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 01 April 2011 17:17 posted by Guest

    Insufficient Child Support: In specific to Wanda.....I too had the same kind of divorce. Severe abuse is what i was faced with too in my marriage. Surprisingly, the abuse didn't end when the divorce was finalized. My children and I live well below the poverty level. We survive basically by being beggars. After attending Domestic Violence awareness sessions.....I was made aware of the actual form of abuse my very wealthy ex-husband still uses today. It is known as FINANCIAL ABUSE. It is far more painful than any amount of physical abuse.....and can be quite devastating to your future. It is a shame that more court systems do not recognize this horrible form of abuse....and, in essence, allow it to perpetuate on a growing scale of debt for the custodial parent....year after year. I cannot obtain a decent place to rent....so we travel from place to place. I lost my vehicle of 15years, because it no longer works...and I cannot afford to repair or replace it. I lost my minimum-wage job, because of the loss of transportation. To bring any issues into court again....I would need money to do so....which I don't have anymore. I've been told I will be repaying my debt until well after my own death! But, I cannot afford to file for bankruptcy, as that would cost money I don't have either. Though, in my marriage, I was not permitted to have friends, hold a job, or even be able to have a job outside of my household duties.....yet alone have any money of my own. I guess being divorced isn't that much different for me, than when I was married! The only difference....my nose or arms have not been broken recently!!! My own dignity, as a human being has been destroyed....and my children have suffered immensely in watching the process. Jeenie

  • Comment Link Guest Sunday, 12 December 2010 15:55 posted by Guest

    Support and Community for Single Mothers is SO Important!!: After reading a response from a man who "happened upon" my comments pertaining to the author's article about children facing poverty because of insufficient child support payments, I am reminded of the great value blogs, such as this and so many others, provide mothers. The purpose of communities such as this is to provide not only practical advice and guidance, but also much-needed support to mothers who face such difficulties as they struggle to raise children under often difficult circumstances. Those circumstances should not hurt the children involved, but, inevitably, they do. A bright light needs to be shone upon the reasons for this hurt (as the above article does, in part) and women need places to turn to get the advice and support they require as they go on with the business of raising their children, the most important job anyone will ever have.

    To those single mothers who have just finished celebrating Chanukah with their children, those mothers preparing to celebrate Christmas, or perhaps another family holiday with their children, know that you are not alone during this festive season. Maybe the father of your children is not providing what you feel he should, financially or emotionally, and that is very, very, very hard. Maybe you wish you could give more in the way of toys to your children. But your children have you and your love for them means more than any child support payment ever could. What is most important is that you try, as hard as it is, and I know the pain all too well, to stay strong for your children.

    A very blessed Christmas to all who celebrate! My amazing little boy may not have all the toys and gadgets under the tree that some other children have, but he'll have one parent there on Christmas morning who will assure that the holy day is magical for him and that he is surrounded by LOVE no matter what. He will be happy, independent of the size of any child support payment, and his happiness is all that really matters to me.

  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 27 February 2009 09:36 posted by Guest

    Good Advice, but...: ...in my case, that of a woman being mentally and physically abused by her ex, I was too terrified to fight for anything beyond getting out and saving my life and the lives of my children. That was then. This is now. Unfortunately, because of my particular situation, too much to go into, I cannot afford an attorney to fight to change the initial agreement (agreed upon under duress), and the state finally managed to get his state of Mississippi to help collect the $300 a month cash of the pitiful $750/month agreed upon amount. He is supposed to make my car payment and pay my car insurance ($450 estimate) and he is supposed to pay their health insurance (costs me about $250/month). He does not pay the health insurance. He does not make a car payment or pay my car insurance. He is forced to pay the remaining $300 in cash. I know I was an idiot, but fear does funny things to a person. Any advice? Wanda