KATHY MITCHELL AND MARCY SUGAR \ Annie's Mailbox It's a crime that his ex-wife is a deadbeat parent

Dear Annie: I hated your answer to "California Dad," a custodial father who asked what he should do about his unemployed ex-wife and her refusal to make court-ordered child-support payments. You replied, "You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip." You also advised him to talk to his lawyer about a "more equitable" set-up.
I assure you that the court computed her financial obligation based on her ability to pay, so it's as equitable as it's going to get. The ex-wife is already in contempt of a court order to pay support, which is a criminal offense. I guarantee that here in Massachusetts, if the ex-wife were a man, the court would refuse to tolerate such behavior. If a man were ducking out of obligations by not working, his backside would be in jail faster than you can count to five. The court assumes that men can find decent work if they want to.
The ex-wife is getting away with the crime of being a deadbeat parent. You would never give such advice if she were a man. Why do you think it's fair to ask her husband to voluntarily petition the court to lower her payments, which only rewards her evasion of responsibilities? J.N. in Massachusetts
Dear J.N.: We don't think it's fair, and we certainly did not tell the ex-husband to petition for Mom's payments to be lower. It was interesting for us to see the mail on this subject and the assumptions several readers made about our supposed sexist leanings. So let's clear it up, shall we?
When we suggested a "more equitable" arrangement, we meant one that would benefit the father, who is paying all the bills. In order to change the current set-up, however, he needs to talk to his lawyer and see if he can get the judge to go after the ex-wife for payments, force her to get a job or find any form of redress. He also can contact the California Department of Child Support Services for additional help.
Here's a letter with a different perspective:
Dear Annie: I was saddened by the letter from "California Dad." You see, I am blessed to be the stepmother of a wonderful young man whose divorced parents fought their way through this same emotional landmine. Here's my response to him:
Dear California Dad: While you and your ex-wife fight, your kids are living as POWs. Every time you complain about your wife not paying her share, they hear you calculate what they cost you and wonder if you think they're worth it. Denigrating their mother hurts every part of them that comes from her.
Set up a family budget based on your income alone. Let your kids learn self-reliance and responsibility by working to earn the things they want. Love them enough to let them know you are not counting their cost, and give them the gift of peace. You may not get the financial victory you are looking for, but in the end, your kids will grow up secure in their worth and able to forgive the faults of others. That is a victory worth winning. Stepmom in Colorado
Dear Annie: A couple recently married after 20 years of living together. I'm thrilled they finally tied the knot, but there is a "shower-reception" planned, and the invitation includes a prominently displayed list of places where the couple is registered for gifts. This couple needs no assistance setting up a home together.
What is the best way to show our happiness at their marriage while indicating that begging for gifts is inappropriate? Memphis Family
Dear Memphis: You are not obligated to give a present, but there is nothing inappropriate about giving a gift as a token of your good wishes. If you don't want to do that, send a warm note of congratulations to the couple instead.
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