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I am sure this must be a common issue, but for some reason I can't find a way to track it down via web searches.

Here are the basics:

I'm divorced, male, mid-40s. I am the noncustodial parent of a 17-year-old daughter.

Just as background, I have been willing to split all relevant travel and most other expenses with my ex, in keeping with our separation agreement. But I also have agreed to other things, such as cat-sitting, for the sake of our daughter. She is very attached to the cat and seems happy that he stays with someone he knows when she and my ex are both away. I make less than my ex does, but I speak up about expenses only when I feel I am being taken advantage of.

My ex has applied for and received a travel grant for a trip overseas, which as I understand it, is an award. As long as she documents expenses, I believe they reimburse her for them. She contacted me by SMS to say she wants to take our daughter and has asked me to split the child's airfare with her. Here, I am limited to my memory from a previous grant that she received, but the essence is that they will "cover" her airfare and hotel, etc., as long as she can document it.

That's fair enough. But when I told her if this is her trip, and it is a grant, she should be able to pay for everything from the money she gets back, she texted me this:

"If you're not able or willing to split these non-covered expenses, I may have to reconsider taking her."

This bothered me for two reasons:

  1. I have never been "unwilling" to try to help my daughter travel or otherwise get something that my ex wants for her (usually travel or school expenses). I want to tell my ex to stop using that kind of language when discussing these issues with me, but I don't know if this is a battle not worth fighting.

  2. A ticket to Africa is kind of expensive, so it is tough for me to contribute. And I can eke it out if necessary. But I resent the insinuation that my ex will blame this on me if I don't contribute. Especially if she gets enough money back to cover the whole ticket for this particular trip that she initiated on her own. This is not something my daughter has to do for school or anything. I feel this is a veiled threat that my ex will pin this on me and say, well your father didn't want to pay for you go with me on the great Africa trip.

At the same time, I don't want to respond in a way that escalates this or gives in to her pushing my buttons. I asked her to switch this discussion to email before I could agree to anything. So at least I can think this over a bit.

What is the best way you think to handle this kind of situation?

Edited to update: Thanks for everyone's answers, including those people just getting to this question now. I just wanted to add a prefatory note that I have had some time to look back on this issue. Basically, I have learned a little more about how to pick my battles, and my daughter went on the trip, I contributed money, and she got a lot out of the journey. My particular battle picking involved deciding that for me, a certain amount of money was worth the peace of mind of not having to dispute with my ex over the financial baggage. I can totally understand how other people would feel differently. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel with child support, and after that part is over, I will deal as much as possible directly with my daughter and leave my ex out of the financial equation. I was mixing up that money part with the reality that when a divorce happens with a child involved, there will always be at least some communication necessary with the ex, especially if the child is not yet an independent adult. I'm dealing with that as its own issue and trying to keep it separate from any legitimate financial concerns I might have about splitting costs with my ex. I hope this thread is still useful to others, but if the moderators feel it can be closed, I am OK with that, too.

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    Welcome to the site! As it stands, I'm not sure whether this is a parenting question (but others might), but rather a question on how to deal with an unreasonable ex-wife. Have you considered talking to your daughter how she sees this? At 17, I'd expect her to be involved in this discussion somehow. And that would make it a parenting question, IMHO. – Stephie Apr 9 '15 at 15:07
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    It doesn't sound like your daughter's airfare would be covered under the travel grant, just your ex-wife's airfare. Your decision should be based on whether this you feel this is a useful trip for your daughter to go on (and, related, whether she is excited and interested or just going because Mom is), and leave the communication and phrasing of the request as a separate consideration. If you're asking about how to deal with your ex-wife's approach, then it's not really on-topic. – Acire Apr 9 '15 at 15:23
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    Thanks -@Stephie: The parenting part is related to whether I should bring up these expenses with my daughter - preemptively or not at all given my ex-wife's text, which as I said seems to imply she would tell my daughter that I prevented her from going on this trip. In other words, I could just let the whole thing go because I have already agreed to so much that I have effectively raised the bar on those expenses. @Erica - yes the communication is another topic - I will need to find a StackExchange (or other) site for that. Thanks. – dad_with_questions Apr 9 '15 at 15:32
  • @Stephie Co-Parenting is generally an okay topic, as it's an issue parents face. – Joe Apr 9 '15 at 16:25
  • Why should you pay anything at all for your daughter to take a trip with her mother? Let mom pay for the vacation together, and you can save up for a trip for your daughter to take with YOU – gillonba Jun 30 '15 at 18:11
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I want to tell my ex to stop using that kind of language when discussing these issues with me, but I don't know if this is a battle not worth fighting.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

I presume you got divorced for a reason, possibly related to an inability to change a behavior or a lack of support, communication or understanding, etc. Let this go. The issue isn't how your wife makes you feel, it's whether can you afford this, and whether you want to do it.

It's not a crime to be unable to afford something, and you shouldn't allow yourself to be manipulated into feeling like a bad parent because of it. Note that this is ultimately your wife's decision:

"If you're not able or willing to split these non-covered expenses, I may have to reconsider taking her."

Your daughter is 17 years old, her mom is the custodial parent, and you have gone above and beyond in covering expenses for her in the past. This is all we know about your relationship with your daughter. What we don't know has something to do with this answer.

Knowing nothing of the particulars (where and with whom she would stay for a year if her mother goes off to Africa, whether she would enjoy or be distressed by this arrangement, how she feels about leaving her friends behind, where she would go to school in Africa - for her senior year, I presume - etc.) which seem relevant to discuss with your daughter, I have only three recommendations.

1) Take your wife out of the equation and figure out, based on your finances, not your feelings, whether this is something you can actually do. Don't make assumptions about anything, like whether your wife is hiding a crucial fact about what the grant covers. If you find you can afford it, go to #2. if not, go to #3.

2) If it had been your daughter who made this request of you instead of your wife, and had been kind about it, what would your response have been? If you would be happy to do this for your daughter, then I say just do it for your daughter.

3) If you can't really afford it, talk to your daughter and explain to her why this is too difficult for you to do. While divorced parents shouldn't put their children in the middle, discussing this with your daughter is not putting her in the middle; it's letting her see and experience your reality. There's no reason your ex-wife gets to be the one telling your daughter at this point what you're unwilling to do for her and why. What you shouldn't do, though, is disparage her mother in the process by telling your daughter how her mother can afford it, how you have gone above and beyond what your daughter was entitled to in the past and your ex seems to be ungrateful for now, etc.

In other words, don't make this about her mother.

If you can't do it, I can certainly understand your feelings that her mother has put you in an awkward and potentially guilt-inducing spot. But teaching a child that money doesn't grow on trees is not without it's merits.

In the spirit of compromise, if you can afford "x" but not half the trip, you can offer "x" to her mom. Because you love your daughter, and you want to help her to do something she wants to do.

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    Thanks! I wish I could give two answers the check mark, but I feel like your answer most paralleled my internal train of thought about it, and added the part about what if my daughter had asked. Karl's answer is also great, and together it looks like I will propose what I can afford and figure that will be a good compromise that I can easily explain to my daughter. I am glad I asked the question here first instead of sending off an answer that made assumptions about the grant. Again, many thanks. – dad_with_questions Apr 9 '15 at 18:25
  • @dad_with_questions - thanks for the vote of confidence. If you leave this open for a couple of days, however, you'll get more answers, maybe one that's better for you. You can always re-accept. (to undo your acceptance, just click on the checkmark.) :-) – anongoodnurse Apr 9 '15 at 19:09
  • @dad_with_questions I also feel there is a legitimate "You know, most people don't get to go to Africa at 17" potential for discussion. Even if she wants to go, you could just as easily take her to some warm, tropical place where people don't die from malaria. – Stu W May 28 '16 at 4:55
  • @StuW: without knowing more context, we don't know if going to Africa has some family or cultural connection, or isn't just an expensive exotic vacation (with much cheaper alternatives) like you're suggesting. – smci May 14 '17 at 2:18
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    Thanks, smci. Looking back on this post, I can still see why I was initially concerned, but also I was injecting a lot of my emotional stuff into it. Since the time when I wrote this post, I have been able to pick my battles and otherwise just deal more straightforwardly with my ex. That has to include minimizing any contact with her that is not as factual/detail-oriented as possible. So far, so good. Thanks again. – dad_with_questions May 19 '17 at 19:24
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I would try not to read too much into it. Unwilling runs a pretty wide gamut, from "it's no problem but I just don't feel like it" all the way to "I could swing it, but it would be a pretty large sacrifice, and I don't think the benefits outweigh the costs in this particular case." This kind of thing is easy to misconstrue in written communication. I'd recommend resolving it on the phone.

Remember, your ex is the one who put you in a tough spot by failing to adequately plan for your daughter's expenses ahead of time. She's the one who got your daughter's hopes up unnecessarily. Not that you should use that in an argument, just keep it in mind while you're trying to avoid being motivated by guilt.

For addressing it with your daughter, I would focus on what you can do, rather than making it all or nothing. "I really would like for you to be able to go, but money is tight. I can do $200, or $300 if you want to count it as your Christmas present this year. Maybe that's enough to plan a pretty cool trip closer by."

That at least shows her you tried, and sometimes that's actually worth more, especially if you don't have to disappoint her often. Her disappointment won't necessarily come back on you, or at least not fully. After all, you don't get to go on the trip either.

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I read what your ex is saying very differently than you do. As a result my advice is going to be a little different from the other answers. You quote her as saying:

If you're not able or willing to split these non-covered expenses, I may have to reconsider taking her

And then you call this a “you're unwilling to pay” tactic. I want to pull you back from the edge a bit. I don't think it's a tactic at all.

First, "not able or willing" is pretty much identical to "not going to". She's saying "if you don't cover them" whether the reason is that you can't, or the reason is that you don't want to. No matter the reason, if you don't cover the expenses, something will happen. She's not accusing you of being unwilling, and she's not even saying that being unwilling is wrong of you.

Second, she's reminding you that although she has a grant to take herself there, and presumably to cover a hotel room or apartment that your daughter can share, there are expenses relating to taking your daughter (starting with plane fare I presume) that are not covered. Since they're not covered, if you don't pay them, either she pays them or they can't be incurred. So far this sentence is neutral. It's not a tactic.

Third, the mildest threat in the history of nasty divorces: I may have to reconsider. Not "I won't take her." Not "I will reconsider taking her" (a reconsideration which could go either way.) But I may have to reconsider. A reminder that just as you are not made of money, nor is your ex. You don't have plane fare to Africa kicking around down the back of the couch cushions and nor does your ex. So if you can't split the expenses, maybe your daughter can go and maybe she can't.

I agree with the others who encourage you to answer the question: is it worth half a plane fare to give your daughter a way cool trip to Africa? But more importantly I want to show you that your ex did not say to you things like:

  • If you can't man up and shoulder your responsibilities by paying her whole plane fare so I can have a wonderful free trip, then she can just stay here with you and it will all be your fault
  • If you don't pay for this trip I will sue your ass and the lawyer will cost you more than the plane tickets ever would
  • I will tell her you don't care about her enough to chip in a few bucks for her trip
  • I'll pay for the whole damn thing myself but you are not seeing her again until she is 18

Not everything is a tactic. I don't see anything in what you've written that suggests her grant will cover your daughter's fare. I don't see anything in what you've written that suggests she's trying to make you feel bad. I know you two don't like each other any more. I know plane tickets to Africa are expensive. I don't see any threats to blame anything on you. I think your history together makes it hard for either of you to see anything the other person says or writes as neutral. To me, who doesn't know either of you, this all seems pretty darn neutral.

If you can afford it, a trip to Africa will be very cool for your child. And this moment may be an opportunity to interpret some of what your ex says a little differently.

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If I was taking my kids on vacation, I would pay for them. I am unfamiliar with "travel grants", and the only way I paid for vacations was out of my paycheck. Similarly, if my ex was taking them on vacations I never helped with the expenses.

"If you're not able or willing to split these non-covered expenses, I may have to reconsider taking her."

My response: "Okay".

This works out good for you as you will get too spend more time with your daughter. Do what you can to make it fun!

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