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The Painful Business of Divorce

OFF-sadgirl

Divorce is big business. And fk that.

I’m not in the divorce business. I’m not a divorce counselor or coach. I’m kinda anti-divorce if you want to know the truth. But we all go through a divorce or two in our lives. If not you and your partner, than a friend or family member. It’s just how the modern world is.

If we could truly get our heads around “in the best interest of the children” we might be able to divorce in a friendly manner.

The other night, when picking my daughter and three of her friends up from a birthday party, I asked, “How many of you girls have divorced parents?” 100%. In our time, divorce is no longer the stigma it was when I was a kid. Today we plan things, we think about the kids first (at least I did) and we try our best not to damage them on the way out of our married life and into our divorced life. The exy and I did okay. I think I took the brunt of the swift kick to the ego, pocket-book, and time with my kids, but hey… I’m not trying to write a bitching post. I’ve done plenty of those.

No this post goes out to all the people involved in the business of divorce. The trolling for divorce attorneys. The coaches who are reposting and retweeting my articles to help their clients.

I’m just sick of the Divorce Business. Sick of it. It’s a necessary evil, I understand this, but does it have to be so sleazy? And sure, cooperative divorce ain’t for everyone, I get that. And I know there are high-conflict (usually coupled with high-wealth) divorces that require special handling. But if we were honest about divorce we’d all have a cooperative divorce. The problem is, things get messy. Divorce is emotional. And emotions can run hot and get you in a lot of trouble.

So we blabber, yell, and hurt to our attorneys, at $250 an hour (therapists are a lot cheaper) so that we can make the best deal. Again, I have a bitter taste in my mouth, and I apologize for my disdain, but my beef is with my ex-wife and not with the woman who advised her. My beef is with the woman who was paid to be our impartial divorce counselor and then told me to get with the program.

If we could truly get our heads around “in the best interest of the children” we might be able to divorce in a friendly manner. But it is often not about the children. How can a family that is democratic and fully shared be divided in a way as lopsided as the custodial/non-custodial parent?

Even when we attempted to do everything in a cooperative manner, we did not. Even when we agreed to a cooperative and fair divorce, she had other things on her mind.

Yes, my then-wife began to go after my parenting skills in the therapist’s office. She was convinced that she needed more time with the kids. She was certain that she could feed, shelter, and nurture them in a more consistent and “mothering” way. There was a fine line between the “interest of the children” and the interest of what she wanted. And according to the law in my state, she was entitled to get.

So even when we paid to be civil we were not. Even when we attempted to do everything in a cooperative manner, we did not. Even when we agreed to a cooperative and fair divorce, she had other things on her mind.

I don’t think she set out to screw me. But she had the jump on me by at least two months when she finally told me she wanted a divorce. She’d met with an attorney, and was no longer interested in our couple’s therapy. Her word was cynical. She no longer believed that any good would come from sticking it out with me. For the kids, or for herself, she saw the light at the end of our marriage as a way to happiness for herself.

She was wrong. Well, of course, I can’t say she was wrong about the marriage. On that front, she did me a favor. But she was wrong about the happiness. And she was only thinking of her happiness and not the happiness of our children, when she got a lawyer to consider her options. She was only thinking of herself at that point. She’d had enough of what I wasn’t giving her. She was done waiting for me to take care of something she could no longer ignore.

Unfortunately for me and the kids, I believe that thing was a sadness inside her that may not have an easy solution. That sadness that we both suffered from occasionally.

The dam burst in my dark heart and ice water began rushing up through my veins and I could hardly think after she spoke the betrayal.

Well, I chose to turn into the sadness and confront it. And from time to time, it got the better of me. I’ll admit that. And some of the times WE worked through together were unfathomable. We survived. We never quite made it back to thriving, but we supported and loved each other through some really tough blows on both sides.

But somewhere in the recoil and release of the hard years, she jumped out of the train and began looking for an escape path. For a while she didn’t tell me she wasn’t in the train any more. She was running along side the train, and I thought we were “good.” Or at least I thought we were okay. “Working on it.” Was how I would’ve framed it at the time. But she was way ahead of me on her exit trajectory. And the little lies, like why she no longer wanted to have sex. Or where she had been all afternoon when she wasn’t responding to my texts.

This is my howl into the dark night. Her change of heart derailed the train for all of us. And while we’ve done the best we can, and while I have to admit I am *much* happier in a new relationship, I still have sadness about how the trust between us was crushed with that single admission in couple’s therapy.

“Have you already been to see a lawyer,” I asked.

She was teary-eyed when she looked at the therapist and then me. “Yes.”

The dam burst in my dark heart and ice water began rushing up through my veins and I could hardly think after she spoke the betrayal.

Why hadn’t she brought the issues into therapy? How had she gone to an attorney before unpacking her grievances with me and our helper? Maybe the helper wasn’t helping enough. Maybe her father was passing her his sage advice. The man who married and divorced her mom twice. Maybe she was already in love with someone else.

Or maybe she just gave up on me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Your Contempt for Me is Hurting All of Us

OFF-maidamerica

There were two minor events that happened in the first weeks of my relationship to the woman who became my wife and mother of my two outstanding kids.

About two years into the divorce, and a year after the full payments are in force, I hit a rough patch in my employment.

ONE: After we had begun our committed relationship, she got in the car one afternoon and said, “I’ve just gotten a new prescription for birth control pills.” EXCITEMENT PLUS. Woot!

TWO: She got in the car a few weeks later and asked me why I was upset. I told her that I had left $150 cash in the glovebox of the rental car. I had called and, duh, they didn’t have the money. Her response was immediate. “Well, at least your rich enough that you don’t need to money.” BOOM.

It not only hurt, it stung me quite deeply. I recoiled and had to ask her what she meant. She didn’t do a very good job of explaining how $150 to her would’ve been a huge deal, but to me it was little more than an inconvenience.

That’s how she saw me. MONEY. Even early on in our relationship. MONEY. I’m just now getting clear on this. As she is still grilling, hammering, and looking for “enforcement” from the Attorney General’s Office about MONEY.

We got over the early yelp I gave out at her contempt for my slightly more affluent upbringing. And we moved along down the relationship road until she moved in with me. Into the house I owned. She never mentioned the money again, but now I can see, with 20/20 eyes, that it was much more important to her than I realized.

When she got pregnant, we made plans to move into a house, rather than my condo. So the kids would have a yard. So we could begin building our nest. The money for the down payment came from my family. And we bought a nice little house in a nice middle-class neighborhood. We probably bought about 3 years too early, because a tiny baby doesn’t really need his own room. But we were young, in love, and ambitious.

Fast forward the tape 10 years into the future and we’re getting a divorce. Suddenly my money is her money, the house that was made possible by my inheritance, and my owned condo, was all we really had between us. And the breakdown of the finances left us on somewhat unequal footing. She got the house, I got some relief from the $2,400 a month child support and insurance payments.

When she didn’t get her money after two months and 27 days, she filed the whole thing with the Attorney General’s office.

About two years into the divorce, and a year after the full payments are in force, I hit a rough patch in my employment. We lose a client. I lose 50% of my income. I tell her immediately that I’m going to be a little late on the child support. She throws a fit.

Now, to slow things down a bit, lets examine the situation.

I was paying $2,400 per month in child support and insurance. She was living in a house (basically covered by my child support payments) and only had utilities, food, and clothing to provide for the kids. She had a steady job. Had we still been together, we would’ve worked together to survive the lean months and made up the slack when I got another job.

As divorced parents, she was furious at me. She wanted her money. She refused to talk to me about the coming school year and parenting stuff. Her response to every request from me was, “When can I expect my money.” Seriously, it was like a bad cartoon.

Well, when she didn’t get her money after two months and 27 days, she filed the whole thing with the Attorney General’s office. If she couldn’t make me pay her what she was entitled to, maybe the lawyers and police could.

Now, even two years after the AG’s office has driven my credit into the dirt, and really gained nothing for her, she still believes there is benefit to keeping them in the relationship between us.

Why?

I’ll let her tell you. From an email a month ago.

A fact it would be weird for me to ignore is that involvement of the AG corresponds with XX and XY receiving more support than they did for the year /18 months before the AG was involved. It’s our job as parents to represent the interest of J and C and them having more financial support is in their interest. Until  there is an alternate method to oversee the result of XX & XY receiving a percent of your income for their support, I’d be laying down my obligation to XX and XY if I said no thanks to the strategy that has coincided with you more consistently paying support.

And when I shared with her the payments coincided exactly with my employment. I have to have an income to pay you a portion of it.

What is it you are asking me to rely on to assure you voluntarily will pay? This isn’t a sarcastic question. Help me understand what has changed to make it so you’ll contribute a part of your income no matter your financial situation.

So that’s clear, right. The AG’s office means my contribution to my children’s welfare is compulsory rather than voluntarily. What I think we’re seeing is her rationalizing the entire affair that has cause me to lose my house and several employment opportunities. She won’t ever say she’s sorry. But maybe she will eventually see the damage the AG’s involvement continues to have on her children’s lives, and mine.

But that’s not likely to happen, now is it?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Humans Of Divorce, Dear AG’s Office Special Cases Officer Mr. McK!


off-j-humanDear Mr. McK******,

For your “humans of divorce” records. My account is still frozen this morning. Tomorrow it will be a week. Congratulations!

I did everything right and you still penalized me.

Even when you could see I was resetting my account with my new information and new job, you chose to freeze my account and take the money I had been loaned for COBRA insurance payments for my kids. Yes, I owe my ex-wife money. But disabling the earning non-custodial parent with your actions is really bad form. And it hurts the kids as well.

You are an angry and evil man, and you should not take that bitterness out on a good-guy dad doing the best he can. I hope you consider other options with the next optimistic and willing father who crosses your path.

Take care. Be easy on the good ones, we make your job easier and more rewarding. Slamming everyone down, like whack-a-mole is what gives your job description and your soul black marks in the future.

Respectfully,

J M**********

+++

He wasn’t there to work our case in for the benefit of the family, he was there to extract his pound of flesh.

I’m sure my message will not be received by Mr. McK at the Texas AG’s Office. He was a dick to me from the moment I got him on the phone. He had all the cards. But he also had the discretion to not harm me. He heard my case and judge-and-jury ruled in favor of the asshole in himself. My ex-wife was not hammering them for the money. We’re working on an agreement ourselves. This was 100% up to Mr. McK. And he chose to hit me, penalize me and make me borrow more money from friends and family to cover the insurance costs of my two children. If this was “in the best interest of the children” in any shape or form I’d like to know.

Of course, I’m sure he deals with assholes and true dead beat dads all the time. This was clearly not the case for me. But as cooperative as I was, showing him the COBRA bills, and asking for leniency, he struck his own plea bargain. I would get nothing. I owed my ex-wife money for all the months I was unemployed. And even as I was recently re-hired, and had just re-established the withholding payments on my new job,Mr. McK felt I needed to be taught a lesson, I suppose. So that’s what he did. He ignored my circumstances, he ignored my recent actions and willingness to pay and share in the process.

The AG’s Office gets a bad rap because they are heavy-handed jerks to everyone in their system. Even the good dads are getting hammered and harassed and abused for doing the best they can. This is not right.

Mr. McK should be ashamed of himself. So I sent him the above letter to show him the consequence of his ass-actions.

We are the humans of divorce, and we’re doing the best we can in spite of the AG’s oversight. Sure, my ex-wife never should’ve sent out files to be “enforced” by them, but that was two years ago. It’s a long way back to trust between us. But it means six more years with asshole Mr. McK on my case, or any others just like him. He wasn’t there to work our case in for the benefit of the family, he was there to extract his pound of flesh.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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And Just As We Reach A Calm Moment

This morning was a rude awakening. I was in the process of depositing my paycheck from my new job… And…

paybills

Yes, I am a dad in debt, but I’m not a DEAD BEAT DAD.

So… No paying bills today.

Now the odd thing, the thing that really chapped my chaps is:

  • Last week I updated the AG’s office with my new employer.
  • Last week I gave them all the information they needed to garnish my wages.
  • Last week I negotiated a slightly lower “back owed” payment.
  • Last week I updated them with my new address.

And today, a week later, I get a freeze on my account. This is all the money I have. This is my lifeline. I cannot fill up my car with gas. (I’m at 1/4 of a tank.) I cannot buy groceries. (Though the kids are arriving tonight.) I can only pay for lunch at work if I have cash in my pocket. THIS IS NOT RIGHT.

Here’s what the AG’s “enforcement officer” for Special Cases said to me.

You have three options.

  1. You can do nothing and we’ll take all the money in the account.
  2. You can agree to let us take $2,000 (half the money) and unfreeze the account.
  3. You can contact an attorney and file a petition with the court about the amount we are taking.

I told him.

  • I have to pay $1050 per month in COBRA payments to cover my kids for August and September. That’s $2,100!
  • I was loaned this money to make those payments.
  • I also have rent to pay. And a car payment.
  • You can’t take so much money that I cannot pay for my kids insurance. And that’s what you’re doing.

He reiterated his position stated above. “You have three options, sir.”

“So,” I asked. “You’re not willing to negotiate with me?”

“I’m negotiating by not taking all the money.”

“Oh, thank you.” I said, angrily.

“I’m going to ignore that remark, because it sounds like you’re being sarcastic.”

“No, I’m not. You’re hearing me wrong. I’m upset. And I apologize.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.” Silence. “Is there anything else you need from me?”

“No, I’m just waiting for you.”

“Fine,” I said. “I want to make sure you got the information about my new employer, and that you sent the withholding order to them.”

“Yes sir, that went out August 3rd.”

“Then there’s nothing more I can do. Thank you SOOOO much.”

“You are welcome sir.”

It turns out, that the AGs office are not bullies. They are more like a collection agency. I’m sure they do have to deal with some pretty shady and angry people. I can only imagine. And while I tried my best to be civil, his position was inflexible. I could agree to his terms or not have any money to live on. No gas. No food. No insurance for my kids.

In all future engagements with the exy, when she wants some changes or flexibility, my new response is, “Where are you with the AG’s office situation?”

Until she’s willing to release me from the “enforcement” arm of the State of Texas, I’m not willing to negotiate anything. And that’s what the AG’s office does for us. It keeps me from being able to pay extra, or pay for additional things, because I won’t be credited on my “Official Account.”

Yes, I owe my ex-wife some money. (Approximately 1/3 of the amount shown above.) But when I have no job, I have no means of paying it. And the amount is due every single month, job or not, and continues to grow her “enforceable debt.” Yes, I am a dad in debt, but I’m not a DEAD BEAT DAD.

HERE IS THE LETTER I WROTE MR. McK at the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Mr McK****,

Here is the signed document you requested.
I would like to note in my file, this money is my account was not INCOME. It was a loan so that I could pay my rent (SHELTER) and insurance for my children. I believe the $2,000 to be excessive, but I am not prepared to take legal action to reduce your request.
I have attached the COBRA payment stub so you can see the amount. I am required by law to pay for the insurance on my children. And I cannot make child support payments when I don’t have a job. I have ZERO savings. So it was frustrating, that the week AFTER I submitted the information on my NEW EMPLOYMENT, you freeze my checking account.
Is the AG’s office responsible for bounced check fees resulting from your actions?
Anyway, please consider a lower fee. Say $1,000. I would then be able to make both rent and my COBRA payments this month. I am not contesting the amount owed, and I’m not in disagreement with the process, but I am aware that you have some discretion on your part and the ability to make decisions regarding this one-time event.
Please consider my request. I am doing the best I can and am not hiding or refusing to pay in any way.
The signed letter is attached.
Thank You,
cobra

I include my COBRA statement to illustrate two things. 1. I am paying my kid’s insurance; 2. It’s really expensive when you don’t have employer-provided insurance. So my child support is 1,150 and my COBRA is 1,108. Giving me a whopping monthly debt of 2,258. Now that’s a lot of money. Before I get to pay for food, shelter, and anything fun…

Divorce is expensive. But the DAD should not be the BANK for everything. What would be equitable, is a fair payment that reflects BOTH of our incomes and some percentage of each. Each paycheck I contribute 25% of my income to my ex-wife and kids. It’s a big bite. And six more years of it, for my daughter, who’s 12, is a long time to be under the thumb of Mr. McK.

The old system that set up this draconian system believed two things: 1. Dad is the provider (money); 2. Mom is the nurturer (house and love). In our case this is what my ex-wife went for, because she knew she would prevail in court, if I protested. Today she’s willing to talk about a 50/50 schedule, because she’d like some relief from having most of the “school mornings.” However, as of last week, was unwilling to release me from the grips of the AG’s office. She seemed to think they offered her some assurance that I was going to pay. Um, dear ex-wife, I’ve never said anything about not paying you every cent you are owed. Ever.

I see we’re at an impasse.

UPDATE: Do you think Mr. McK was concerned about me suffering another day with ZERO DOLLARS? No, he was not. As of this morning (day 3) all of my money is frozen. Yeah, and how is this the BEST OPTION?

And guess who pays the $75 fee to initial the HOLD?

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 11.08.54 AM

And want to talk to some people who start out believing your an asshole? Call the bank to see how long the “hold” will last.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 12.27.50 PM

“It’s a two day process sir. The minute that cashier’s check is mailed out the hold will be released.”

And being the person with no money, I ask, “And what’s the likelihood that this will not happen today, and I’ll be left without money over the weekend?”

“Once the check is mailed out, sir, the money will be released.”

“Oh, thank you, sooooo much.”

+++

What are the odds that I will have access to my money this weekend? Who cares? My ex? And the kids are with me… Oh fun times in big “D” land.

UPDATE: Monday morning, still frozen. The AG’s Office has their money, (that’s why it shows I have $2,000 less in my wildly overdrawn account) but my account is still locked. Tomorrow it will be a full week with no money. How is this humane or reasonable? I’m sure somewhere up there, this is my fault, but I don’t see it. It’s debilitating and humiliating.

off-d-frozenstill

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

And so I wrote Mr. McK a letter: The Humans Of Divorce, Dear AG’s Office Special Cases Officer Mr. McK!

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The Problem Always Seemed To Be Me

OFF-endofsex

“So you know what, I’m having sex alone. Bummer. Are you having sex?” — a txt message to my then-wife.

In couple’s therapy we seemed to focus on me and my issues. She kept bring us back to some crisis of trust. Over and over. It was as if I was an alcoholic or something and I kept slipping. But it wasn’t quite that dramatic. Something else was at play.

As your partner begins withdrawing from sex, they are giving you a strong signal about something.

  • They are having an affair (emotional or physical)
  • They are getting ready to divorce you (pulling back to lessen their involvement)
  • They are dealing with some psychological issues of their own
  • They are angry and are using sex as a means of manipulation
  • They are tired. Tired all the time. (this indicates some other potential problems)

Conscious sex (fully-engaged) requires both partners to be sober and open. When there are unresolved issues it becomes hard for the aggrieved party to join in a full and passionate way. In our case the issue of “being tired” appeared to be the most obvious excuse. This is when things were *good* between us. She would often reject my offers of a back rub, or a bubble bath, with tales of how tired she was. How many chores still had to be done. (Oh, and BTW motherfucker why aren’t *you* doing them?)

Sex is not everything, but in our case it *was* an indication of her withdrawal.

At this point in our marriage, I could not figure out the formula, even in the pleasant times, to unlock her sexual side. Is it too revealing to share that we were both on some form of antidepressant at various periods? We both embraced the concept of better living through pharmacology, when necessary. At one point I went off exploring the #1 side effect of the med she was on: suppressed sexual desire. Yeah, I could’ve written the book on it. As in ZERO.

But it wasn’t all her, right? It had to be me as well. Right?

What I tried.

  • Doing more chores, more clean up after dinner, bath, and kids to bed.
  • Hiring a maid once a week to take care of 90% of all laundry and household maintenance.
  • Worked harder to make more money and put more money into savings.
  • Asking in more creative and less demanding ways. Asking without asking. Showing my desire through touch and small gifts.
  • Leaving sexy or funny notes during the day.
  • Suggestive texts leading up to a night without kids.
  • Everything I could think of, read in magazines and online, imagine might get her in the mood.
  • Refrained from porn, so I’d be even more arousable, more available, more present.

But there was always something wrong. Always some reason, in her explanations, that prevented us from having sex. As it turns out, in the last year, she was probably working up the nerve to divorce me. So she was withdrawing as a way to remove the feeling from our relationship. In that aspect, I suppose, her shut down was quite effective.

As we continued therapy during this time, however, the idea on the table was continuing in our relationship. We were in therapy to save our marriage not get out of it. And yet she was not reentering the relationship in a sexual way. I wanted to bring this up, she always seemed to have bigger issues. In my case, there might not have been a bigger issue.

We were less than roommates at this point. It felt at times that I was merely in the way.

And I’m not saying I didn’t have issues. I did. I do. But I was trying to be the “more balanced and loving person” by letting her agenda drive the sessions even as I was starving to death emotionally. We were less than roommates at this point. It felt at times that I was merely in the way.

The Spring Break one year before the final fracture she decided she was taking the kids to visit her aunt in the deep south valley of Texas. I was attending a tech conference in our city the week that she was leaving with the kids. It was a “nice break” she said. Where she could get some time to think about where things were.

When she returned I tried to make the house perfect. I had love notes scattered around for her to discover. Everything was spotless. I had enjoyed my time alone, but I had also been recharging my attitude for her eventual return. I was going to woo her back into love with me.

The results were not at all successful. In fact, we were in a fight within about 30 minutes of her return. Even as I was trying to go over-and-above she was angry about the way I had assumed she would be interested in sex upon her return. I can’t recall the exact details, but she was pissed that I was in such a romantic mood, “right after she had just driven home for 5 hours.”

“I don’t think I love you any more.”

At some point she not only gave up on the marriage and sex, but she began to plan her way forward, without me in the picture.

It was as if my romantic aspirations were a demand on her. I wasn’t asking for sex. I was trying to show her in my actions and in little love notes how much I loved and missed her. It wasn’t about jumping into bed. It was about reconnecting. Needless to say, we didn’t reconnect. She stayed mad for a long time.

Something about my blog (the marketing one) was making her nervous. She was certain I was killing my job prospects by being a blogger. And she was mad about it. Furious. Scared, maybe, but it came out as anger at me. As I recoiled from the rebuttal, and attack on my creative output, I was aware of some new strain of anger.

She had taken her best friend with her to share the driving. But something new had entered into her vocabulary after that trip. She kept saying, “Pay attention to what I’m saying.” And “You don’t seem to be understanding how serious this is.”

What she was saying in words was, “I am mad at you.” And she tried this one on a few weeks later.
Now, those are fighting words in my book. But there was no fight left in her. She was done. I think she gave me the next year to figure it out. Or she needed the time to make her plans, measure her options, or something. We took a break from therapy after she described her overall feelings about the relationship as cynical.

A year later, we were just starting up therapy again. Again, right after a Spring Break trip alone. This time there would be no recovery. But what I didn’t know at the time was she had already been to see an attorney. At some point she not only gave up on the marriage and sex, but she began to plan her way forward, without me in the picture. I guess this is what you do if you are the dumper (the person who initiates the divorce).

My experience of isolation and constant anger was painful and dark. When the concept of divorce was broached I was horrified and I fought against the idea with all my heart. However, as the conversations moved forward, I was also aware that too much would have to change for me to agree to stay in the relationship too. She pulled the trigger. But in the end, I too was relieved to be escaping such a sexless and toxic relationship.

Sex is not everything, but in our case it *was* an indication of her withdrawal. And had I fought at the first signs of her departure I might have saved some of our relationship. But I allowed her to dictate the therapy topics away from our emotional/sexual relationship.

At the fundamental core she had shutdown her sexual desire as she moved away from me. I could’ve spoken up sooner, but I’m not sure I could’ve steered her back into a loving relationship with me. She wanted something else. She wanted things to be different in her life. And at that moment in time, she had the kids and the nice house, perhaps in her mind it was time to seek a more “responsible” partner. Well, that’s how she described it, anyway. (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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