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My husband is paying $10,000 of $20,677 child-support arrears. He wants me to give it all to my adult children. Should I do that?

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Dear Moneyist,

My children’s father recently pledged to pay $10,000 of $20,677 child-support arrears.

He initially wanted the funds divided between his two sons. When I mentioned our daughter, he said divide it between our three adult children.

Our adult children are 42, 39, and 34 years old. I received a rare child-support payment from my ex when my children were young.Hence, the arrears.

If I actually receive these funds as arrears, I plan on giving about half to my children and keeping the rest. I assist my kids financially as needed and give them monetary gifts.

I would like your thoughts on this matter.

Thank you.

Mother from Texas

The Moneyist: I’m 41. My fiancé is 61. I’m worth $1.3M. He’s worth $250K. He won’t marry if I insist on a prenup. How can I protect my assets?

Dear Mother,

You obviously kept on the case to ensure the father of your children made recompense, and I applaud you for never giving up on that. I also take my many hats off to you for still helping out your children into adulthood.

Children only need one good parent to love and support them, and I am sure they have benefited from having you. And so to your question: Splitting the support 50/50 is generous, perhaps more than generous, even if you were not still helping out your children. This money is designed to compensate YOU. The fact that your ex does not want the money to go to you suggests that he is too big for his breeches, even after all these years. This is YOUR money. He does NOT get to tell you to give it to his sons, or not his daughter, or to his kids but not to you. Should you decide to give them half, have a conversation with each of them about how they intend to use the money.

When mandated by law, child support is designed to repay state coffers, but not everyone sees this as a solution that fully helps the custodial parent. “Children in welfare families struggling to become self-sufficient lose out as their support payments are redirected to the government. Fragile relationships between mothers, fathers and children are often broken,” according to this paper by Daniel Hatcher, a law professor at the University of Baltimore. “The fiscal benefit to the government is minimal, at best. And the social fabric is torn, as significant numbers of welfare fathers retreat from the workforce and their families.”

A word of caution for other parents in Texas, and beyond. According to Simens and Titen law firm in Waco, Texas: “Under Texas law, the statute of limitations for seeking back child support when a court order is already in place is ten years from the child’s 18th birthday,” the firm says. “If a claim isn’t filed by the deadline, then any recovery for back child support in Texas may be denied. But there is also a moral, as well as a legal, principle at stake. “If there isn’t an existing child support order in place, that does not mean that a non-custodial parent can simply avoid making payments. Child support is still owed, even without an official court order to mandate it,” it adds.

The Moneyist:I am a white woman of privilege and a single mother. I need a ‘zinger’ to stop my sister-in-law telling me why I have it so good

For other parents out there, there is no statute of limitations on child support in other states, including California. State law on the statute of limitation on child support varies dramatically. There is no statute of limitations in Florida. In New York, meanwhile, child support arrears are limited to 20 years from the date of default. In Arkansas and New Jersey, it’s five years after the child in question reaches the age of majority. The age of majority is usually between the ages of 18 and 21, depending on the state and/or whether the child is still in high school or whether the child has a disability and is unable to be independent.

You are one of the more fortunate custodial parents to have received back child support. You clearly made many sacrifices in your life to raise three children. YOU deserve every last red cent. In the meantime, I wish you and your family the best of everything in the years ahead.

The Moneyist: My fiancé wants me to give up my cushy six-figure job to work at his landscaping company. Should I ask him to pay me a salary?

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

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‘I could live on my Social Security and still save money’: This 66-year-old left Chicago for ‘calming’ Costa Rica — where he now plans to live indefinitely

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Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2019.

A school break changed 66-year-old Martin Farber’s life forever.

In 2007, his daughter — who at the time was attending Illinois State University — decided she wanted to spend a college holiday volunteering in Costa Rica and staying with a local family, he explains. She came home raving about the experience, so, in 2008, Farber — who at the time was living in Evanston, Ill., just outside Chicago, and selling cars — took his first trip there.

“It was a big surprise to me — bumpy roads, dogs barking in the streets,” he says. “I wasn’t enamored at first.”

But as his daughter began traveling there more and eventually moved there for a year, he took additional trips to Costa Rica. It quickly grew on him — in particular, the people. “The Costa Rican people are warm, open and friendly. I felt less invisible in a strange country in a strange town where I didn’t speak the language than I did in Evanston.”

And the more time he spent there, the more it impacted him: “On one of my trips there, I thought: My daughter’s life makes more sense than mine,” he says. “There was nothing wrong with my life, but I felt that my life was out of context with who I’d become. … I would have bills and make money to pay them, but that had ceased to be satisfying,” he recalls. “I knew I needed to change my life — there was no more joy in what I was doing.”

What’s more, when he’d return from his Costa Rica trips, people noticed. “I would come back, and my friends and therapist would say: You seem better after you go,” he says with a laugh.

A view from the hot springs near Martin Farber’s home in Costa Rica.


Martin Farber

So in 2014, he packed up and moved to Orosi — a picturesque, lush small town with waterfalls and hot springs a little over an hour’s drive from San Jose — promising himself he’d stay for two years. It’s been five, and he now plans to stay in Costa Rica indefinitely. (Though Farber notes that, to him, “it’s not a retirement; it’s a chance to lead a new and different life.”)

Here’s what his life is like, from costs to health care to residency to everyday life:

The cost: While many expats spend way more living in Costa Rica, Farber says: “I could live on my Social Security and still save money.” He says “a person can live on $1,200 per month, two people on $2,000.” The key, he says, is to live more like he does and as the Costa Ricans do — in a modest home, eating local food and purchasing local goods.

Indeed, Farber himself spends just $300 a month for rent (he rents a home from a friend who moved recently and gave him a good deal), roughly $225 a month on groceries and just $50 a month total on water and electricity (the temperate climate in Orosi means you rarely need heat or air conditioning). The veteran Volkswagen
VOW,
+0.96%

 
VLKAF,
+0.98%

salesman saves money by not owning a car (those over 65 ride municipal buses for free), which can be a significant expense in Costa Rica; for his cellphone, “I pay as I go … roughly $10 may last me a couple weeks or more,” he says, adding that “many people handle there their cellphones this way. You can get them recharged anywhere.”

His major expense is travel: He goes back to the U.S. to visit his mother in Florida several times a year and lately has spent part of the summer in Chicago helping out a friend with a dealership there. He also spends a good amount of money on health care. He says that while flights can be had for as little as $350 roundtrip during offseasons, the cost can be much higher the rest of the year.

In the saddle.


Martin Farber

Health care: Farber, who has permanent resident status in Costa Rica, says he pays about $90 per month to participate in the country’s health-care system — adding that the health care he’s received has been very good. (A 2018 study of health-care quality and access in more than 190 nations ranked Costa Rica No. 62.)

When he developed a detached retina, though, he paid for the procedure out of pocket so that he didn’t have to wait for the required surgery, he says — adding that the entire procedure cost him about $5,000. “I would have had to have waited four days,” he says, if he had not paid to expedite matters. “That might have been fine, but it might not.” And he adds that the quality of care depends on where you get it in the country.

Lifestyle: Though Farber says that he “moved here with no goals and no agenda,” he’s found plenty to do. “I take Spanish lessons two days a week for two hours a day. It’s been great. I never thought I would acquire a usable language in my 60s,” he says. He also rides his bike all around the area, does some writing and belongs to a community group that undertakes projects to improve the area.

And he often simply takes in nature, which he says has been an essential part of why he feels calmer and more relaxed in Costa Rica than in the U.S. “I live at 3,000 feet but in a valley surrounded by coffee fields and lime trees and water. At night, if I open the windows, I can hear the river rushing by,” he says. “It is very calming … hundreds of trees everywhere … you know the Earth is alive.”

The historic Iglesia de San José de Orosi.


iStock

Cons: “I don’t want to overglorify. It’s not without its problems,” Farber says of Costa Rica. “There are social problems and downsides.” He notes that crime and petty theft can be a problem (“I am cautious,” he says of his approach) and seem to have increased since he moved there, and adds that he misses out on some cultural things because of where he lives. And, he says with a laugh, “I can’t order Thai food at 9 at night.” But, he adds: “These are trade-offs — in the afternoon, I get to walk in the coffee fields and see flocks of parrots.”

Residency: To qualify for Costa Rica’s pensionado visa, expats must prove that they have a pension of at least $1,000 coming in each month. (Here are the details of that program.) Once you have lived in Costa Rica for three years, you can apply for permanent residency. Farber used a lawyer to help him figure out the ins and outs of residency options; his entire path to permanent residency took about a year, he says.

The bottom line: “After five years I am still amazed and surprised that I made the decision to lead a life I never thought I would,” he says. And while he may not stay in Orosi forever — “the town doesn’t have an ambulance, [and] I don’t know what it will be like to be 80 there,” he says — he does plan to stay in Costa Rica in no small part because of the people and sense of community. “I have the feeling that life is good here,” he says. “It’s hard sometimes, but we are all in it together.”



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