In her Jpost column Uncommon Sense, Geulah responded to readers’ letters.
I was divorced three years ago, and have three sons, ages 12½, 10 and 7. Although according to the court-ratified divorce agreement, my ex-husband must pay 3300 shekels in child support (a sum that barely covers their expenses), he always pays up late, after tearful entreaties from me (which bring him great satisfaction). For the last two months he has not paid at all, claiming that his income has dropped (he is a travel agent). I don’t believe these tales of financial woe, because the children have not reported any drop in his life-style.
He has the right to have the boys in his home every Wednesday and every second Shabbat. They complain that they are bored there and miss their friends. I need to know two things: (a) Since my ex is violating the divorce-agreement by not paying, maybe I have the right to refuse to let the children visit him (visits which, in any case, they hate). But is this a good idea? (b) My oldest’s bar-mitzva will be in half a year. He discovered that the date falls on a Shabbat that “belongs” to his father, but he doesn’t want to read the Torah in a synagogue where he has no friends. However, my ex, who had promised our son a lavish celebration, has declared that if the Torah reading is not in his synagogue, the mid-week party is off. What should I do?
— Deprived Divorcee —
Essentially, both of your problems arise from a single issue: the influence of money on post-divorce relationships. If there were no money involved, you might have formulated the questions differently. (a) How can the quality of the time my children spend with their father be improved? (b) My ex-husband wants our son to read the Torah in his synagogue, but the boy wants to do so in our neighborhood, so that his friends can be there. How can both desires be met?
Discussions with your children, perhaps with their father participating as well, could probably produce intelligent and creative ideas. Take some time now to imagine some possible solutions.
However, the reality is that money has entered the picture. You are very angry about financial deprivation and even more furious about the way your ex uses his economic power to demean you. He, on the other hand, may see the children’s dissatisfaction with weekends in his home as bitter proof that you are more loved and important to them. Maybe he is using financial pressure to even the score. Perhaps if you all figure out a way to improve the weekends and settle the bar-mitzva issue (two Torah readings?), your ex, feeling more secure and respected, will abide by the divorce-agreement.
But what if he persists in his behavior? You can’t control his actions, but you can decide how you will proceed. Decide what you want for your sons. The best situation for them is rewarding and continuous relations with both parents. This is something you can promote once you disentangle your desire to reduce the stress in your children’s lives from your need for financial security. Don’t take revenge at the children’s expense. Get the money some other way, with the help of your personal attorney or one from an organization such as Na’amat.