Q: My problem with my husband's ex is money!

We pay child support and all medical and dental bills. She's supposed to pay half, but she says she can't afford it, so my husband asked her to just pay the co-pays for the kids. Those checks have bounced, and now the doctor is coming after us.

She does have a job. She works at a fast food restaurant while the kids are at school.

My question is this: Isn't there a limit to enabling her dependency on my husband? Plus, when we ask for a little extra time with the kids, she makes it very difficult.

I want to take a stand. She needs to own up to her part of the responsibility. Am I wrong?

A: Technically, of course not, but as the old saying goes: "You can't squeeze blood from a turnip."

If she doesn't have the money, she doesn't have it. And, in this day and age, it's not surprising that she's low on funds. From what you tell us, she's not using the child support for a trip to Vegas — this woman is so broke, her checks are bouncing for co-pays for the doctor.

Based on that, if you can afford it, we suggest you put your animosity aside for the kids' sake. If you can't afford it, then you already have your answer — but we will tell you something that we learned particularly applies to bonus-family life — the more generous you can be with your partner's kids, the more grateful and loving your partner will be — especially if it appears his or her ex is not holding up his or her end of the bargain.

Put yourself in his place. He's got his ex dictating how much time he can spend with his kids, and he has the woman he loves dictating what's fair to give his kids.

Under the same circumstances, if your partner took you aside and said, "I love you, and I can see how much this is stressing you out. What can we do to make your children's life better?" How would you react? Most would follow him to the ends of the Earth.

If you follow this column, you know about the Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette. Rule No. 9 is "Respect each other's turf." That's a nice way of saying: "You can't control an ex." (Yours or anyone else's.)

Your story sounds like something neither you nor your husband can change right now. For your own sanity, you have to decide whether taking up the slack for the kids' mom is really enabling her to be dependent or simply helping to take care of your husband's children.

Like so many things in bonus-family life, the answer to this problem may simply lie in how you look at it.

Jann Blackstone-Ford, Psy.D., and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents," are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com). Reach them at ee@bonusfamilies.com.


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