Pay Dirt

My Ex Is Determined to Ruin My Plans for My Daughter’s Birthday Gift

She dropped her end of the bargain.

Car parked in a driveway of a home.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus and Spoon Graphics.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

My ex and I divorced four years ago. She got remarried to a guy with two kids six months later. It has been very difficult, especially for our daughter “Jane.”

My ex expects Jane to make all the adjustments because she is the oldest (her stepsister is a year younger than her and her stepbrother is 9). I constantly travel for work so Jane moving in with me full-time doesn’t work. When I am home, she spends as much time with me as possible. This has been a real bone of contention with her mother.

My mother can’t drive anymore. Ever since then, I have been taking care of her old car with the express intention of giving it to Jane when she turns 16. My ex agreed to the plan: Jane keeps up her grades, gets a part-time job for gas, and we split the difference in the cost of insurance. Jane turns 16 in December and has kept up her end of the bargain. My ex dropped hers.

She called me and told me she doesn’t want Jane to have the car until college. I was confused and said if money was tight, I would just cover the insurance myself. But my ex wanted to back out of our agreement and disappoint our daughter because she and her new husband can’t afford to do the same for her stepdaughter next year. The girl would be jealous and it wouldn’t be “fair.” I told my ex that maybe rather than punishing Jane, she and her husband could step up and actually parent the girl. Life isn’t fair and 15 is old enough to understand the situation. Jane getting something from my side of the family has nothing to do with her.

I told my ex I would be willing to sell the car to her when and if Jane was done with it (her college dreams are overseas), but I am still giving our daughter the car. My ex told me that either Jane has to share the car with her stepsister or they won’t allow the car at their house at all. At this point, I told my ex I hope this appeasement to please her husband was worth the lifetime of alienation she would be causing Jane. I told her I would hire someone to be in the house while I was gone so Jane could move in. My ex accused me of wanting to destroy her family. We haven’t really spoken since. Jane can tell there is tension in the air and wants to know what is going on. I have stalled because I don’t want to harm her relationship with her mom any further. They are at odds as it is. What do I do? I feel like I am sitting on a bomb rather than a birthday gift.

—Final Countdown

Dear Final Countdown,

Give Jane the car. Your daughter’s stepsister is not your responsibility, and this won’t be the last time in her life that different resources and opportunities are available to her step-sibling. The good news is that Jane’s stepsister won’t be able to legally drive for another year, so this sharing issue is still theoretical. My meaner side was tempted to suggest that you agree to let Jane’s stepsister share the car in a year and then renege on that agreement later to give your ex a taste of her own medicine.

But, I think it’s better that you emphasize to your ex that her stepdaughter doesn’t already have an agreement to receive a car like Jane does—the more unfair thing is to break a contract she had with her daughter based on possible future jealousy.

Not to mention, no one is currently utilizing the car. It’s just sitting there. Your ex’s approach to this entire process seems to hint at Solomon: If both daughters can’t have the car, no one can. That’s simply inefficient.

In the end, if the vehicle is in your name, you have the right to give it to your daughter, even if your ex doesn’t like it. It is also worth selling your ex on the benefit of Jane having a car when she’s at her house. If your ex can’t drive, Jane’s ability to run errands or drive siblings around might have a big upside for her. It’s easier to catch flys with honey than vinegar.

—Lillian

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