Whit’s End: My Ex-Husband Owes Me $50,000. How Can I Get Back at Him?

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Hey, Al:

Here is the problem. My ex-husband and I have been divorced for 5 years, and getting money from him is like pulling out teeth with tweezers. We have two teenagers who go to expensive schools. He partially pays for school, but is always underpaying because he says that he doesn’t have to pay for any “extras.” He just refuses to give me anything for medical expenses. At this point he owes me nearly $50,000, but he ignores my requests for reimbursement.

He is a businessman who makes and spends a lot of money, so tight finances are not the problem. Since I make very little, the only way I can make it financially is with help from my parents, who are not wealthy but were always frugal and have savings.

Part of it is that he is getting back at me for divorcing him, and the other part is that in his world, “suckers pay.” He wants the whole world, and especially me, to know that he is the man and that he’s in charge. What should I do?

Tired of Getting Stiffed


Dear Tired:

When I was in business school, I distinctly remember classmates who took pride in “making the other guy pay” as a business strategy and general modus operandi to show how shrewd and savvy they were as businessmen.

The reason I say “businessmen” is that I can’t remember every hearing a woman espouse this machismo philosophy of commercial one-upmanship. It must have something to do with sublimated inadequacies of certain males in the “performance” department.

You have a divorce decree which I am sure specifies what your ex is responsible for paying. From what you say, he fits into the category “Masters of the Universe” who think that the rules don’t apply to them and do whatever they think they can get away with. (Does he drive a BMW?) I am guessing that he pays for only what keeps him out of jail, so appealing to his sense of obligation probably won’t work. He’d probably just see you as weak.

What you need to do is show him that you aren’t weak and instead of asking him to pay, start forcing him to pay. Itemize what he owes you and give it to him as a last chance to reimburse you. If and when he doesn’t, let him know that you have hired a lawyer who is ready to take him to court. Contact Legal Aid or look into pro bono work because you can get competent legal counsel with having to incur prohibitive legal costs. Some attorneys particularly relish going after dead-beat dads who can pay but don’t unless somebody holds their Ferragamos to the fire.


From what you have described, I suspect that once he is served with court papers, he will come up with the disputed amount. You’ll also set a precedent for how you do business from now on. No longer a pushover or “sucker”, you’ll be providing a little lesson in the performance department as well as one-upmanship yourself. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that he’s a little less cocky about what makes one a man and, even more important, what determines who’s “up.”














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  1. What the ex-husband is totally underestimating is the intelligence of his children, who see what’s going on, regardless of how one tries to keep it from them. My X thought he was the man, refused to pay for dental bills, medical bills, even my son’s prom tux. He refused to pay for anything other than his child support, which after engineering his poverty was reduced to $40 a week per child. Fast forward to the present, they are young adults with families of their own now, and my ex is baffled as to why when he calls the children, they hardly ever call him back and when they do, it’s a short, dutiful conversation. He doesn’t understand why they don’t think to include him on their family own family events, and he gets angry with them, saying they are ignoring him, but in reality, he taught them how to treat him. He is now reaping what he sowed. Now that they are parents themselves and understand what it takes to raise a child and what their father failed to do, the Ex can’t unring the bell.

    • That’s an excellent point, Rosalia. It’s an aspect of the “who pays?” dynamic that Masters of the Universe (M of U) types rarely calculate. All they see is the financial until the emotional takes its toll–on them! They’re so caught up in the power of dollars that they don’t seem to understand the power of feelings. The children and how they feel don’t count until they have something that the M of U want. From my experience, some of them (M of U) never understand where they went wrong. If they lose in court, they see having to pay up as a cost of doing business. The other costs never register.

    • This is a reply to Dave M.:

      You are talking to a woman who married this guy and gave him two children. To call that “spreading her legs ” is the worst kind of victim blaming.

      It does not say good things about you. At least the deadbeat dad had some kind of understandable (if completely unacceptable) motive for holding back the money he owes. You, however, just took a disgusting potshot at someone you don’t even know, and you took it in the most juvenile, repellent language you could have used. Ugh. You are an embarrassment to your gender.

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