Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

anger

The Edge of Tomorrow with my Ex-wife

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Do you know the premise of the movie, Edge of Tomorrow? In the movie the female protagonist has to shoot and kill the male every single day in order to reset the universe they are trying to do battle in. My life with my ex-wife has a similar story line.

When I lose my job, I have survival needs (as in shelter and food) that trump your comforts.

Every day I have to wake up and shoot myself to forget that my ex-wife still has an AG’s lien on me and my life. She didn’t need to go to the extreme. It’s like filing a restraining order against someone who’s never exhibited violence. Sure, you might think of doing it, you might even be advised to do it by your attorney, but there’s no reason to actually file it, because you know the ex is not a violent person. Somewhere along six-year road (so far) of divorce my ex-wife was concerned that I wasn’t going to pay her the child support she had come to depend on.

Um, yeah, that’s fine, but when I lose my job, I have survival needs (as in shelter and food) that trump your comforts.

During the summer of our discontent she would email me things like, “I can’t believe you are putting your material needs before those of your children.” Um, no, I’m actually not. And towards the end of the summer, regardless of my pleadings (“Don’t you remember who I am?) my ex-wife pleaded her case to the Attorney General’s office of the great state of Texas. And since then my life has been much more difficult. She didn’t need to do it. It hasn’t gotten her “her” money any sooner. If anything, it has slowed the process down. And I hear the AG’s office get’s a 10% fee for their services. What? We’re paying them out of the child support to collect the child support. I pointed this out to the ex just last week. She was unfazed.

Back in the summer of pain she did threaten me with the AG’s office. I had been telling her the exact status of my work and new business prospects. But she grew more frustrated and impatient with me. At one point, after it was clear she was heading towards putting my ass in a sling, I threatened her. I was stupid. My threat was this. “If you file with the AG’s office, I’m going to go back to the child support payments I’ve made, based on an income I’ve never been able to achieve again, and I’m going to go to an attorney to get the amount owed to be based on my actual pay and not on the decree.

Foolish, because it’s wrong. You can’t do it. Can you imagine how many non-custodial parents would file lawsuits to jam up the court system. So what I owe her, I owe her. But I wasn’t really worried about what I owe her, I was just trying to keep her from putting us into the grinding machine that would not treat either of us, more so the dad, with any respect. And really, she was sending my ass to the collections agency.

If she was willing to throw me into this system, taking action to change my dead beat dad status might be an admission of guilt. Like she had done something wrong.

Now think about that for a minute. Can you imagine sending your ex-partner, the parent of your children, to a collections agency? You do that to enemies, maybe, but not someone you care/cared about. Never. AND… That’s what she did.

Two years later, a number of shitty results of that action have taken place. When I got behind on my house payments, again as a result of the loss of my primary business client, her AG action prevented me from being able to renegotiate my mortgage with Wells Fargo and ultimately caused me to sell the house under duress. And three times, so far, the AG’s office has randomly seized my checking account. Charging me $75 for the privilege of bouncing any checks that came in after the freeze.

Today, two years into the AG’s process I am still asking my wife to write the letter that would remove their boot from my ass. I’ve been paying steady now, due to steady employment, for a year. When does she think it will be time? Will I earn my trustworthiness? Probably not. If she was willing to throw me into this system, taking action to change my dead beat dad status might be an admission of guilt. Like she had done something wrong.

Every day I have to wake up and shoot the part of me that’s still feeling violated by her stupid act of power and rage.

I’m certain, from conversations we’ve had, that she still feels she did nothing wrong. “Lots of people have ‘accounts’ with the AG’s office without any problems.” How cute, she calls it an account. It’s a debt collections agency that uses strong-arm tactics to secure her debt. And, mind you, there is no escaping child support payments, if I had wanted to. Even bankruptcy doesn’t affect them. But I have never talked of not paying her every dime. I’ve always paid her from every single dollar I made.

And today she’s got a magic wand that could easily take the lien and bad name off my credit report. And every day she does not take action is a day that I still have to forgive and forget. I can’t walk around with an angry chip on my shoulder, thinking about how she done me wrong. I can’t live my life like that. But somewhere, she still thinks I done her wrong and I owe her a lot of money, money that I should’ve paid her even when I had no ability to pay for my own house and electricity.

Her pound of flesh has cost me a lot. And every day I have to wake up and shoot the part of me that’s still feeling violated by her stupid act of power and rage. Setting the collections agency on someone you love… Well, it takes a very angry and dark person to do such a thing. And she’s doing it every day still.

I want to get mad at my ex-wife. I am reminded almost daily of the consequences of her actions. I want to rage and tell her how I feel. But the time for that type of action is over. Now, I will submit my papers to reduce the amount of child support I owe her on a monthly basis. Based on what I’m making, it might make a significant dint in her tax-free take home child support check. It took me six years to be this mean. And everyday I shoot the part of myself that remembers she did this on purpose and continues to do it every single day.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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A Thin Line Between Love and Hate: Marriage to Divorce

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How did I get in this position? How did my ex-wife get so entitled that she turned my ass over to the Attorney General of the great state of Texas for “enforcement.” How did I get assigned to the Special Collections Unit? How do I still have to look my ex in the eyes and smile at our children’s school and sporting events? When did it all switch from love-and-working-on-it to divorced-and-where’s-my-money?

She wanted me to take the kids to some of their doctor’s appointments. She wanted to balance things out more. Um, wait, that’s what you argued against when we were dividing up our parenting duties.

We’d have to roll the video tape way back to catch the first moments of contempt. It was easy over email for her to be a total bitch. She too was a writer. She prided herself on her pretzel logic and how she could write a scathing email and argue both sides of the issue and leave me utterly confused about what she was saying. Face-to-face we usually did pretty good. But give her some room, the ability to focus on some imaginary image of me as the dead beat dad, and she could tear me to shreds.

I saw this first-hand only once since we’ve been divorced. We had chosen to see our kid’s therapist for a counseling session on keeping our parenting schedule amicable. She was beginning to sag a bit under the strain of the standard possession order (SPO) that she had argued for and won. She wanted me to take the kids to some of their doctor’s appointments. She wanted to balance things out more. Um, wait, that’s what you argued against when we were dividing up our parenting duties. You seemed to think you were the responsible one, that you were the nurturing one, that you should get the kids 65% of the time.

And again just this week she sent me an email about some detail of one of our kids and lobbed this love bomb over the transom at the end of it. “Also, J needs his vaccine.”

When I responded to the initial reason for the email but did not volunteer to take my son to the doctor, she responded, after thanking me for the first portion of the acceptable response, “I don’t know how to take your silence on the doctor’s appointment.”

Perhaps I should’ve let her have a touch of my anger, but I didn’t. Maybe silence was more passive aggressive. Or was it aggressive aggressive? Either way, I did not take the bait nor the action item to get our son to the doctor. 1. She didn’t ask, she just lobbed it into the previous conversation. 2. She didn’t ask the second time she just showed a bitch sign for her disapproval. 3. She still didn’t ask.

But it shouldn’t be like an invoice that I owe. It should be a cooperative arrangement between two people that still love their children, just not each other.

But let’s put another chess piece out on the table between us. Two and a half years ago she turned our decree over to the AG’s office for enforcement. Now I’m a dead beat dad on paper, and the lien on my credit report means I can’t get a used car loan for less than 19% and a home rental company denied me without even talking to me about the issue. Yeah, it’s a big issue. And yeah, I owe her some money at this point. But even without the AG’s office I would’ve owed her the money. And I will pay it all to her. But I can’t pay her any money if I have no money coming in. When I lost an anchor client in my small business, I begged her to be patient and to listen to my voice, “I will get you the money. I’m talking to new potential clients everyday.”

And today you’d hear her say, “He didn’t pay me anything for the entire summer and he was threatening to not pay me at all.”

She knows this is not true. I am obligated by law to pay her every penny on the decree, regardless of my employment status or ability to pay. But it shouldn’t be like an invoice that I owe. It should be a cooperative arrangement between two people who still love their children, just not each other. But somewhere along the way her anger turned towards me as the root of her problems. Somehow my job, or lack of job, was making her uncomfortable. And that made her furious while we were married, and doubly so after we were divorced.

So in I went to Mr. McK****’s Special Collections Unit. Dead beat dad. Credit score below 450. Fucked, essentially.

Today I’m working a job that pays for the child support and the health care for the kids and little else. If I didn’t have a fiancé who had a good job I’d still be living at my mom’s house. Do you think she had sympathy for my situation? Do you think she was aware of the impact losing my house had on the kids? No. I took it all in a very Ferris Bueller way: I smiled and sang danke schoen while she refused to accept any of my offers to secure the debt I owed to her. But I was doing that for the kids. They didn’t need to get in the middle of their mom’s contempt for me.

In the AG’s eyes I am paying the maximum amount they are allowed to take from my paycheck. That’s the best I can do. Sure, I’d love to help my ex-wife and my kids, but I’m afraid my hands are tied.

My kids will know, when they are older, that their mom did these things to me. I’m too nice a man to reveal the heart of the matter to them while they are still in high school. They need both parents right now. But at some point they will want to read my divorce book.

There’s one last tidbit that came up last week that brings a small smile to my face. In January my daughter suffered a major migraine headache and had to be hospitalized. Even though I have great insurance for them, the deductible was quite high. My ex-wife asked me to split the bill with her. Um…

In the AG’s eyes I am paying the maximum amount they are allowed to take from my paycheck. That’s the best I can do. Sure, I’d love to help my ex-wife and my kids, but I’m afraid my hands are tied. I suppose she can sue me. She works for a law firm. It wouldn’t surprise me any more than I was surprised when she told me she consulted an attorney after we’d been in couples therapy for a few months.

Nothing surprises me about her adverse actions. Striking at me was moving against the best interests of the kids. Now she can have her AG-sanctioned income, tax-free, and howl until she passes out before I give her an extra dime. No, honey, you blew through cooperation two and a half years ago. Dig it?

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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With the Gun to My Head, The Ex Pretends to Play Fair

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When my ex-wife turned our “case” over to the Attorney General’s office she was essentially damning my credit and my hopes at refinancing and keeping my house. She knew what she was doing. I was asking her to pause, consider, and hear me when I said I would pay her the money. She did it any way.

Today, she says things like, “Well, you only started paying again because of the AG’s office.”

Because of the decree we negotiated in good faith, somehow our arrangement meant that, she was entitled to the money, even if I lost my job.

I’d like to say, “Um, no, ex-sweetie, I started paying you again because I got a new job.” A percentage of every dollar I’ve earned since the divorce goes directly her. Before it was by cooperation, consideration, and co-parenting that I paid. Today, I pay (in her mind) because the state’s attorney’s will shut down my bank account the minute I stop.

And they have shut it down. Two weeks after I called to set up the direct draw off my new job they froze my account. I was talking to the enforcement officer and he said, “You owe your wife over $15,000.”

And that’s what she says today as well. That I owe her this money. That because of the decree we negotiated in good faith, somehow our arrangement meant that, she was entitled to the money, even if I lost my job. Even if I lost my house. Even if I had to move back in with my mom to have a place to stay. She wanted her money on the 1st and the 15th. And she now had the state of Texas behind her.

Calling the AG’s office is a real lesson in futility. First you get screened: “If you are the custodial parent, press one. If you are the non-custodial parent, press two. If you are an attorney press three.” And make no mistake, the custodial parents are the clients, the non-custodial parents are the dead beat dads. You wouldn’t be calling the AG’s office if there wasn’t a problem. And the whole system is set up to move money from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. The idea is, on parent has the kids for more time so the other parent can work more and earn more money. If you think of it like a baby sitting service, it might help. If you think of it as the loss of time with your kids and money to provide food and shelter for them when they are with you, it’s a whole different reality.

Today my ex-wife (via the AG’s office) has a lien against me for the child support owed. This takes my credit report into the failing numbers. The used car loan I was offered several months ago, was 19.50%. Those are credit card rates. This same credit union publishes 1.65% for new and used car loans. Do you think she understands that? Perhaps she does. Perhaps she thinks this is why I’ve paid her from every paycheck I’ve ever gotten. Perhaps, the AG’s office is serving its purpose. I don’t think so, but maybe that’s what she says to herself at night, as she is tucking our kids into bed inside the house we bought with my pre-marriage money.

Okay, at some point you’ve got to move on. You cannot focus on the bad that has been done, you have to look towards the positive and good things you can do. Except she keeps the boot on my neck. The lien could be released by a single letter from her. She’s comfortable, more comfortable, with the AG’s leverage in her court. And it’s not like my 15 months of consistent payment, from consistent work, has an effect on her. She thinks, or pretends to think, the AG’s office is good for all of us.

She’s holding a loaded gun to my head, each day she keeps the AG’s office in our affairs. As they see it, and as she sees it, I OWE her this money.

The AG’s office takes a percentage of all of the child support as a charge for their collections service. So that’s money that is going to them rather than to her and the kids. And when they pull the checking account freeze every so often, the cost me $200 in bounced check fees and another $75 for the processing of the hold order. Wait, what? They freeze my account and I get charged $75? How is this helping?

I could see if we had an adversarial divorce, how the AG’s office my be necessary. However, I never threatened her with non-payment. I simply told her I was going to get behind when I lost my job. She held off on filing against me for the whole summer. But I’m sure she needed/wanted the money. And her anger, has not always been a great part of our relationship, got the best of her and she threw me under the bus.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.35.35 PMThe problem is, she threw the kids under the bus too. We all lost things when I lost my house. So while I try to move on, live and let live, and trust in her good will and love of our children, she’s still refusing to release the AG’s enforcement from our lives. And it turns out it’s a simple phone call. It could all be over. I’d still pay her each month. She’d get 10% more money, because the AG’s office would not be extracting a fee. And I might be able to buy a used car without quadrupling my car payment.

She’s holding a loaded gun to my head, each day she keeps the AG’s office in our affairs. As they see it, and as she sees it, I OWE her this money. Money that should’ve been in proportion to the income we actually made and not some hopeful/aspirational income that has never materialized. I guess it’s time to get some money to fight for some of my money. My daughter is 13. That’s 5 more years. And that’s a lot of money. Time to get started.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Wait. I’m the Father of Your Children, Remember?

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When my business hit the skids about three years ago I had to fight to keep my house. My ex-wife grew impatient with my excuses. “I’ve got bills to pay, too,” she said. “Kids come before our needs,” she said. I pleaded with her to be patient. “My setback is temporary, I will get caught up as soon as we replace the anchor client.” I lost the fight and I lost my house. She didn’t care. She wanted her money. The kids money. She was mad and mad about it.

It seems to me, women go into divorce knowing they have the advantage. That’s why my then-wife went and “checked on her options” with an attorney, before she ever told me.

Then when I tried to schedule a team meeting about the kids, she would defer with this type of statement. “When can I expect the money?” And she would refuse to give me the time of day unless I could answer that question. The problem was, I couldn’t answer. So rather than lie and fail, I said, “I’m not sure.”

What is it that made her so mad? How did the money become MY problem and not a shared problem? Didn’t she get the house? Didn’t she get custody? Didn’t she get the money she wanted? Didn’t I have to pay for the kid’s insurance as well? What did she have to be impatient about? Impatient enough to throw the AG’s office at me?

It seems to me, women go into divorce knowing they have the advantage. That’s why my then-wife went and “checked on her options” with an attorney, before she ever told me. Even though we were in couple’s therapy, she kept that critical little detail from me. Why? So when she did get her ducks in a row, she could spring it on me, creating a tactical advantage.

The summer I left my house I was disoriented, homeless, and missing my kids with an empty feeling. And missing my kids about 70% of the time. She literally got everything. She got the package deal. Why is it we think this is still “in the best interest of the kids?” It’s not. It’s in the best interest of their mom, but against the good will and good fortune of the father.

Dad’s asked to leave the house, leave a hefty part of his paycheck, and most of his parenting schedule. There’s no science behind this equation. It’s just “old school” divorce.

Today she still has the sweet end of the deal. She’s still got the house, that has tripled in value. She still gets a hefty paycheck from me, tax-free. She gets the child tax credit.

Today, you can fight this bad deal. And even if you vow to do a collaborative divorce, you need to know that around the money issues, things will get tough. It’s as if she was threatened by the money. Like she was fighting for her survival. I can understand this while the initial negotiations were going on, but three years into the deal, her deal, she should’ve been able to lighten up and realize she got the sweet end of the deal.

Today she still has the sweet end of the deal. She’s still got the house, that has tripled in value. She still gets a hefty paycheck from me, tax-free. She gets the child tax credit. And she’s still asking me for more money for stuff. Nope. Done. She’s had her fun. There are at least 5 more years until my second child is 18. And that’s a lot of money.

I feel like the expenses should be shared not just thrust on the dad. And when he loses his house, the financial burden becomes even more difficult. How could my wife then file our divorce with the AG’s office? It was as if she were turning me in for collections.

  1. I never said I was trying not to pay her.
  2. I begged her to pause and consider her actions and the damage it would cause me AND the kids
  3. I showed her my income statements.
  4. I told her I was trying to save my house from foreclosure.

She still filed against me with the AG’s office, effectively listing me as a dead beat dad. I had never been doing anything but trying to accommodate her demands. Today she would tell you that I was saying I wasn’t going to pay her. Today she would tell you that she was protecting the interests of the kids. Really? What about the interest of the breadwinner of the family?

When you divorce you both want whats best for the kids. But don’t be blinded by that rhetoric. Your ex-wife wants whats best for her.

So my ex-wife filed her grievance with the AG’s office. So she could ENFORCE her judgement against me. Wait, what? It should’ve been our collaborative agreement that outlined the best case scenario for our finances moving forward. Then with honest communications, it should’ve been adjusted as our situations changed. It was not. I still owe my ex-wife $1,200 a month for two kids. AND I’m paying another $1,200 a month for COBRA health insurance. AND she get’s the child tax credit? Something is not right with this situation.

But it takes money to consult with an attorney. It takes money to save money. And somewhere in my sad dad bones I’m being mean. But that’s not really fair, is it?

When you divorce you both want whats best for the kids. But don’t be blinded by that rhetoric. Your ex-wife wants whats best for her. And no matter how collaborative you are, no matter how much of a good dad and good guy you want to be, there may come a time when she’s going to press charges on you and coerce you in to giving her the money. Even when you tell her she’s going to get her money.

I still tell my ex-wife I will catch up with the money. Even when we should’ve been splitting the costs all along. She’s considering letting me buy the kids their cars and forgiving the judgement that she has against me. That debt sits on my credit as a lien to the State of Texas, Child Support Division. You know what this says about me?

I am a deadbeat dad, even if I’ve paid every single month I’ve had an income. Every single month. She doesn’t get it. And she’s paid nothing to me.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Bang! The Lies My Wife Projected On to Me

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When we first started dating, my wife was living with another man. She failed to mention this to me over the course of several lunches that got ever-more flirty. So, in some ways she was hedging her bets by staying with the other guy and not telling me about it. She wanted to see how things went before telling the other guy she was unhappy or looking for something else. Hmmm. This is not a good opening.

She was confessing and confiding in another man about her husband’s depression, and the hardships of her life at that moment in time.

Then we got married, had two kids and suffered the financial disaster of 9-11. Everything we had imagined was going to be easy, was hard. And it got real hard.

During one of the hard parts she began to have very deep email confession sessions with a younger man from work. She even took him to lunch and showed him our local library. WHAT? Do you think I heard about this little migration? I did not. Another WTF moment. When I discovered the indiscreet emails, by accident (I was cleaning spam off our shared computer) she apologized immediately and cut off the relationship.

But it WAS a relationship. She was confessing and confiding in another man about her husband’s depression, and the hardships of her life at that moment in time. He was recently out of a relationship, and from what I understand, fairly attractive and bit young. < THIS MY FRIENDS IS EMOTIONAL INFIDELITY.

She may not have slept with the guy, but she went a lot deeper than that. Yet, the real betrayal was in NOT telling me what hardships she was experiencing as a result of my depression and the hard times we were in. She was a stoic. She clammed that stuff up and rarely talked about emotions. But it must’ve been easy with this guy, because it wasn’t long before she was revealing my depression and her dissatisfaction with her current life.

That’s when the light bulb goes off, now, looking back on the entire way our divorce went down.

She was unhappy with her life. I got us into marriage/couples therapy. She was not talking about being near divorce, but at the same time she went and met with an attorney to “figure out her options.”

We were spending weekly sessions in couple’s therapy and she was not talking about wanting a divorce? WHAT THE HELL? Why was she agreeing to be in marriage counseling if she was also seeking legal advice about a possible divorce. They say you can’t prepare for war and hope for peace at the same time.

She would occasionally go to lunch with her ex-husband and fail to mention it to me. Why? Why should she hide unless she was, again, “checking out her options?”

While all this was very shocking to me, as it happened, and even these years later as I’m still unravelling what happened, the illumination I got today was this: she had been lying to me all the time. Several times in our history, her trustworthiness was called into question. Yet in therapy she was hammering me for being untrustworthy. Like the time I didn’t tell her I’d gotten a speeding ticket. (As in avoiding unnecessary conflict with her during a difficult time.) But she was using those minor transgressions to trump of charges of being deceitful, and it was HER that was not coming clean. She was projecting her guilt and lying on me. Saying I was the one with the honesty problem.

There were other little things along the way, during our marriage, that didn’t make sense. She would occasionally go to lunch with her ex-husband and fail to mention it to me. Why? Why should she hide unless she was, again, “checking out her options?”

So I was being raked over the coals about being dishonest and my wife was consulting with an attorney rather than bringing her issues into couples therapy. She was focusing her unhappiness on me and what I was or was not doing for her. That is what killed us. Her lying. Her secrets. And her trying to keep the focus on my issues to keep from revealing or confessing her own. And that’s fucked. We were doomed from the time we started dating, by her distrust and dishonesty. Wow. And I’m just getting this six years after the divorce.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Where the Sidewalk Ends

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[This post is a continuation of this series: You Are Ahead By a Century and Collaborative Divorce My Ass!]

It’s a shame how divorce tears everyone apart. I have a dream (had a dream) that divorce could be different. I wanted my divorce to be fair, kid-centric, and loving. I was an idealist.

We will be cooperative after all, about every expense after their 18th birthdays. So she’d better get cooperative and collaborative now, because the law won’t help her in a few years.

Divorce is messy no matter how collaborative you are. There are sticky issues, even for the most cooperative co-parents. Like who’s going to pay for the out-of-pocket health care expenses, even if dad is paying the $1,200 a month COBRA bill? And we’re going to be coming up on some new bigger wrinkles that our decree offers very little guidance about.

My son will be able to drive next year. And he’s certainly thinking his parents will be able to provide him with a car. And we will, but who pays for that? It’s not in the decree. And what about college? If my sister’s kids are looking at annual tuition of $60,000 per year, even a $20,000 scholarship is just part of the payment. You see, when you go out past 18 years of age, the bills and financial commitments don’t just end, they actually get bigger.

And my ex and I won’t have the agreement to guide us. For me, that’s a good thing, as I’ve shouldered the lion’s share of the cost of getting divorced. We will be cooperative after all, about every expense after their 18th birthdays. So she’d better get cooperative and collaborative now, because the law won’t help her in a few years.

I say this as if I’m bitter. Well, there should’ve been a more equitable agreement between us. We parented 50/50 and we should’ve divorced 50/50. But that’s not how she wanted it. So I was forced to give her the upper hand in the custodial parent roll and by paying child support. AND I’m paying for 100% of their health care. I’m not sure how this is fair, but that’s pretty much the way the law falls if you’re a dad.

It’s not how it has to be. You can ask for 50/50 custody. You can ask for 50/50 financial agreements. The state is not used to that arrangement, but basically if you and your ex-spouse agree on an arrangement, the state is not going to get in the way. Of course, again, that’s not how my ex-wife wants things.

But did she consider the implications of setting the AG’s attorneys on me? Did she know or care that it would strip my ability to keep my house? No she did not.

Today she’s happy to keep the AG’s office at my throat. She claims she’s never gotten regular payment of the child support except once they were involved. I try and remind her, that no money coming in (unemployment) means no money to her or me. She doesn’t care. She just wants her money on the due date.

I’ve got an arrangement now, but it’s not a happy one. According to the AG’s office I owe my ex-y $27,000. This amount is greatly inflated, and it’s true, when I lost my employment, I had a number of months that I could not make my child support payments. But wait, she got the house (with a very low payment) she got money from me, that was greater than her house payment, and I payed 100% of the health insurance? Yes, I can see how that would work out for her.

But did she consider the implications of setting the AG’s attorneys on me? Did she know or care that it would strip my ability to keep my house? No she did not. Did she give a flip when I asked her to release the lien on my credit account so it would quit showing up on my credit report, the same credit report that potential employers often run to see if a new hire has got their financial house in order? No she did not.

I only have one asset and one potential inheritance. And at some point one of those events will take place and she will get her blood money. But it’s not the way it should’ve been. It should’ve been figured on both our incomes. It should’ve been figured on both our expenses. And it should’ve been changed the minute I was unemployed. I would’ve helped her if the tables were turned. But again, we are very different people.

We grew up in different economic households. I believed, that there would always be enough to go around. I still believe that we will be able to cover our kids college with future earnings and those inheritances when they occur. She believes that having the AG’s lien against me is a good leverage to make sure I keep paying my child support.

What do you think it would take for her to believe I was GOOD FOR IT? Do you think a YEAR of making solid payments would allow her to relax the AG’s grip? Do you think she has any benefit from taking the DEAD BEAT DAD label off my credit report?

It has prevented me from getting at least one high paying job. It prevented me from renting a house or qualifying for a used car loan. She’s not concerned with my well being. I mean, how could she be, she’s busy, she’s over worked, she’s tired. She’s still living in the house we bought together from my money. Money I had before we’d married.

I do believe you have the kid’s best interest in mind. You’d love to justify your actions with the AG’s office by pointing to the great results you accomplished.

So she says the AG’s office is the reason she’s getting paid on time. Well, the real reason, honey, is because I have a job. My first obligation after food and shelter is the kids. But you don’t see it that way. You think the kids are my primary obligation before I can afford a house or a car or even a rental.

Well, it’s fucked how things turned out between us. And it’s really a shame because I do believe you have the kid’s best interest in mind. You’d love to justify your actions with the AG’s office by pointing to the great results you accomplished.

But you forget to add that three time so far the AG’s office has simply shut down my bank account and left me without money to pay bills, buy food, or even gas to get to work. You think that’s in the best interest of the kids? Well Fuck You and your AG’s office lien against me. I will hold that against you from now until the time the kids are both 18 years old. Then… dear ex wife, you are on your own.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Collaborative Divorce My Ass!

OFF-header-reading

[This post is a continuation of this thought: You Are Ahead By a Century]

Perhaps the mere fact that my then-wife must’ve been “planning” her exit rather than talking to me in couples therapy about it… I mean, why didn’t she tell our therapist she was thinking about divorce? Why didn’t she tell me, so we could work on that. It seems the whole premise of collaborative is “we’ve worked on it and we agree we’d be better off alone.”

Certainly the divorce was pre-meditated. As in murdering our family in cold blood, BEFORE we had a chance to talk about it in therapy.

When the other person goes to see a lawyer, WHILE YOU’RE IN COUPLES THERAPY, the idea of collaboration is BS. She was collaborative to the extent that I would agree to her terms and conditions. Other than that, she was sort of taking advantage of my good nature, my conflict aversion, and my willingness to see the best in her.

Was she manipulative? Certainly the divorce was pre-meditated. As in murdering our family in cold blood, BEFORE we had a chance to talk about it in therapy.

See, I asked, point-blank, during a particularly confusing couples session.

“Have you been to see an attorney?”

She looked shocked, embarrassed, and mad all in the same second.

“I have. I’m sorry.”

I should’ve shouted, “Then what the fuck are we doing here, paying $120 an hour to talk about our relationship. You’ve already moved on to your ‘options.’”

What I said was, “Oh, that puts a different spin on things. Now I feel pretty hopeless.”

I did feel hopeless. It’s as if the months leading up to the confession had been a lie. How long ago did you go see a lawyer sweetheart? I mean shouldn’t we have been talking through that idea right here, instead of dropping the revelation on me… Or me having to figure it out and ask you. That’s not how this couple’s therapy is supposed to work.

But something about honesty and letting me know in advance was not in her best interest. And there were minor indications that this might be our fate earlier in the relationship. There were signs that I should’ve walked away from the relationship. But I was infatuated too soon to let go.

It really is NOT a crisis, it’s just her way of driving the conversation and demanding that I respond to her.

At the outset of our relationship we started a series of casual lunches. We’d known each other in high school, so in my mind we were just catching up. But early on the tone of the lunches and the texts in between got very flirty. The part she forgot to mention, she was living with a man.

And later in the course of our marriage, when I was having a rough time, she also shared a few lunches with a coworker and a few very deep and connected emails about my depression and her loneliness. Um, that’s called emotional infidelity, folks.

There were other things too. Like when I’d learn two weeks after the fact that she’d gone to lunch with her ex-husband. What? Why not just tell me, like I told her, when my crazy ex called me to have coffee. What was she afraid to tell me about? Why would you withhold that little detail from your discussions, if you are going for 100% honesty and transparency? Well, you wouldn’t.

And yet it was HONESTY that she was killing me on in therapy. Like I was hiding a mistress or late-night drug habit. I couldn’t understand the urgency, when I failed to tell her that I’d gotten a speeding ticket. To her it was as if I’d cheated on her or developed a closet drinking habit.

Week after week in therapy we skipped around about how unreliable I was. How I didn’t do enough chores and it made her too tired for sex. How I was the one with the honesty problem. Maybe it was her projection. I was simply doing my best at minding my own business, sharing what seemed appropriate (like a lunch with my ex-wife) and getting hammered for not being trustworthy. Really?

We weren’t “heading” towards divorce. We were divorced, she just hadn’t told me yet. I have taken years to catch up.

The issue I really wanted discussed was why I was unable to convince her to have sex for months at a time. And how that was OKAY with her, but me forgetting to bring home the dry cleaning was a fucking disaster. The crisis seemed manufactured to deflect the deeper issue.

And that’s how things are today. Crisis after crisis is manufactured to illicit some response, to get something she wants. And I’m better at spotting a false alarm these days. I simply don’t respond for the first 3 – 4 text messages. It really is NOT a crisis, it’s just her way of driving the conversation and demanding that I respond to her. It’s as if she were saying, “You’re not responsible if you don’t help take our daughter to the doctor this afternoon, with no notice, and it’s a really big deal, so you should pay attention.”

I’m no longer paying attention to the crisis. I am listening for the message underneath the crisis. You never help with doctor’s appointments. You never help with the kids. Our daughter is in crisis. I’m in crisis. You need to take care of your responsibility.

If I understand this perspective now, that the crisis is her way of controlling the situation, I begin to see how and why her “divorce attorney” revelation was sprung on me. The crisis was created immediately. The imbalance in power was complete. I reeled for months while she planned, strategized, and got me into parenting plan discussions, and financial split discussions, before I was ready to even consider that we were heading towards divorce.

We weren’t “heading” towards divorce. We were divorced, she just hadn’t told me yet. I have taken years to catch up. And today, 6-years later, I’m just starting to put the picture together. She sprung the divorce on me. It was to her advantage NOT to talk about the relationship in the couple’s therapy, she was already planning her escape.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post continues here: Where the Sidewalk Ends

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You Are Ahead by a Century

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 8.45.52 PM

Let’s talk a bit about the dumper and dumpee. If you were NOT the one who thought of the divorce first, you are the dumpee. And there’s an amazing thing that happens to dumpees. We are divorced and alone long before we get used to the idea of what’s happening. In my case, I objected with a vengeance, but quickly learning, in counseling and eventually divorce financial consulting, that it takes two people to want to stay married.

And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip.

So let’s assume that my ex-y had been contemplating the divorce for six months. Taking steps to secure certain parts of her plan. She wanted to make sure she had her ducks in a row, long before I knew I was being lined up for an exit.

And, yes, it’s usually the man who leaves the house. That just makes it easier on the kids. (And if you believe that bullshit line… Well, we don’t have to go into that now.) So now, I’m learning for the first time that my wife had already been to see a lawyer about options, and she was asking me to leave the house. Just walk out in the middle of April. Two months before the kids were to be finishing up 3rd and 5th grades. Um… NO WAY.

I was surprised in our marriage counseling by something that she revealed. Something didn’t sound right. “Have you been to see an attorney?” I asked.

And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip. What? Why?

I knew we were having problems. That’s why we’d been in therapy on and off for years. But DIVORCE? I was crushed. Angry. Stunned. And most likely in a state of shock.

In the session I flatly refused to leave the house. “If you’re so unhappy, and so ready for a break, if that’s what you’re calling it, why don’t you take a trip?” Both my ex-y and the therapist looked at me with eyes of concern. Perhaps it was pity. I was thrashing against the idea of the divorce, and she was asking me to leave tonight?

When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over.

As it’s often the woman who gets the house if you have kids, it’s also very common for the woman to reach the breaking point while the good-natured husband just thinks it’s a “rough patch.” And until I learned that afternoon, that she’d already been weighing her options and strategy for leaving me (or getting me to leave, to be more accurate) it was only a rough patch.

“I may not like you right now, “ I had written in an email a few weeks earlier, “But I love you very much. We will get through this period. It’s just a rough spot.”

One rough spot too many I suppose.

When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over. And this is before us poor saps even know we’re heading that way.

And the mechanics of divorce can happen very quickly. From the moment she told me, to when I was actually leaving the house for the last time was about two months, but this is only because I fought with her about the idea of splitting before the kid’s school year was done.

It was a hellish two months. But today, I can say, I held the line for THEM. I kept their soon to be uprooted lives sane for two more months so they could have the Summer to fall apart with me. Their mom was already working on “what’s next.” The head start down the divorce path becomes a very strong tactical advantage. I was still willing to bargain and negotiate, because I was certain we would work something out. She was already working out how to pay rent on the house after I moved out.

No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.”

She was a century ahead of me in all the negotiations. I was still reeling from the loss and onset of depression from my sister’s downstairs bedroom, and she was working on the taxes and the financial split arrangements. (She takes the house. I take the house. We sell the house. I didn’t want to lose my house or my family.)

While I was her ex she was still my beloved, but troubled wife. The mother of our two kids. Oh, the kids. They were the ones who were gonna suffer. It’s all about them. This divorce stuff is for grown ups. In divorce you do everything to shield the kids from the fight and fallout. Which includes letting them stay in their primary home with the primary caregiver. (Again, I call bullshit, but I was so confused and sad at this point that I was not negotiating at all, I was recoiling. I was in duck and cover mode both emotionally and financially.

When her lawyer requested a heafty child support payment AND 100% of the health insurance premiums I was compliant. I didn’t even retain a lawyer except to look over the final decree. (Maybe that was a mistake.)

But we’d decided to do a collaborative divorce.

Yeah, the nice guy needs a lawyer. Take my advice, no matter how civil you think you’re going to be, no matter how cooperative and collaborative she is at the beginning, when the shit hits the fan, the one with the lawyer wins.

No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.” Bullshit. If it’s about “primary care giver” or “primary nurturing adult” I was both. She was the mom, yes, but she was emotionally unavailable to the kids – sort of still is. I was the emotional heart of the clan. She was the accounting and hard ass board member.

Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.”

Perhaps it does not have to go this way. Perhaps there are goodwill collaborative divorces. And I’m sure there are. Ours was supposed to work out that way, but things don’t always go as planned.

My first big loss was in being refused 50/50 custody and 50/50 parenting time. This will continue to be an issue that I feel frustrated about the rest of my life. I should’ve had my kids 50% of the time. That’s how we parented. Why was I suddenly a lesser parent (non-custodial) and the only one required to pay the other person. What if I lost my job? Well, we were gonna find out about that one soon enough.

Here’s my belief. If you parented cooperatively and intend to divorce cooperatively, great. Get a lawyer. And if you want 50/50 custody and parenting, ask for it. No, better than that, FIGHT FOR IT. It turns out the courts are more likely these days to give 50/50 requests

In my case I waived the right to an attorney. And when our high-paid counselor said the 50/50 parenting plan I presented was just “not what she would get if you went to court” I lost everything. I lost the house. I lost the money. And most importantly I lost the time with my kids. The time when they were in their tenderist years.

Well fuck that. Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.” It wasn’t. It isn’t. And I should’ve fought for it.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Getting Too Close to the Sun

banan

I’m pretty tired of writing about depression. I really am. I’d like to be back to working on my parenting relationship, or my primary relationship with my fiance. But, alas, the depression requires some serious consideration and management.

Part of the creative spirit is the ability to suspend disbelief and doubt. A huge part of depression, for me, is giving in to the doubt and fear associated with creative projects.

My depression is directly related to my creative output as well. When I’m writing and playing music is when my life is in the best condition, as in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When I’m actualized I’m creating and living on the same frequency. When the depression strikes the first thing to go is the creativity. I get quiet. And suddenly my creative expression, perhaps part of what keeps me on an even keel, is the first thing to go. I’m left mute and isolated, even from myself. It’s not a pretty picture. Let’s take a look at how the creativity and depression on interdependent.

Part of the creative spirit is the ability to suspend disbelief and doubt. A huge part of depression, for me, is giving in to the doubt and fear associated with creative projects. When I hit a moment of doubt in depression I am immediately taking back to survival mode, reptilian brain and all that stuff. The only thing that matters at that point is food, shelter, and rest. All of my extracurricular activities not only take a nose dive, but they become minor panic inducing worry about future planned events.

Case in point, I play an annual music festival here in town with my band. When the doubt struck this year, I was ready to jettison everything. There was no “point” in playing the gig, in fact, the mere idea of it caused me to hyperventilate. I was so freaked out at the next band practice, that I’m certain the guys thought I was on drugs. The problem was, I was not yet back on the drugs that might help me moderate the panic and anxiety. I was going cold turkey and failing.

So as cliché as the term bipolar is, that’s a bit what this looks like. You get so depressed that you want to head towards the bottom of the ocean, or at least the bottom of your bed, under the covers. And when I come out of it, and the creative energies are once again brought back online, I want to lean into the excitement and “muse” and let the mojo flow. Isn’t that understandable? Is this bipolar, or just mood swings? Is there a difference?

It’s the loss of hope, the hope that I with EVER be happy again, that cuts the legs out from underneath me. Even when I’m feeling strong and have had months or years between slips, the next one is just a complication away.

It’s not hard for me to see the link between my creative process and the depression that causes everything to fall away. Survival becomes my modus operandi. It’s a sad state of affairs. And I can create a lot of drama just by shutting my mouth for days at a time. I don’t want to tell you about. I don’t really want to tell my therapist about it. I’m so frustrated by having been dropped to my knees again, that I’d rather stay at home and be alone. But aloneness is not the solution, nor is it a very good place for me to be.

It seems to be that part of my strategy for dealing with the eventual low again is to really grok the idea that it ALWAYS abates. I always come back to where I am today. It’s the loss of hope, the hope that I with EVER be happy again, that cuts the legs out from underneath me. Even when I’m feeling strong and have had months or years between slips, the next one is just a complication away.

In deciding to blog/journal about this process for me, I am attempting to put the brakes on the next slip before it happens. Or when I start feeling the LOW again, that I can begin here, with the affirmation that I DO come out, and I WILL come out sooner if I allow just a bit of HOPE to creep in. It’s the hope that’s almost impossible to find, as if my hope blood cells had all been drained away.

I can drink. I can stop drinking. But I’m not sure how good I am at getting sad and not turning on the sadness fire hose at the first sign of things going off.

I commit to writing through the next LOW in the hopes that I can prevent the damage I just experienced. Sure, 90% of that damage and drama was in my own mind, but my lulls are not without effect on others. I think I have a pretty good handle on things. I think I’ve been working my recovery pretty hard these days, but as this depression showed, I am never completely free of the potential for depression. Much like an alcoholic might have a propensity towards wanting to drink 5 rather than one margarita, I tend to dip down through five layers of normal sadness into something that looks very little like the person who is writing this post today.

Let’s do this together. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve suffered from depression. Sure, my most recent bouts were triggered by my divorce, but it’s a lifelong journey for me. I can drink. I can stop drinking. But I’m not sure how good I am at getting sad and not turning on the sadness fire hose at the first sign of things going off.

[In future posts I will examine how this life of struggle may have affected my kids and what I will be watching for as they move beyond high school and jr. high school.]

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post continues here: Collaborative Divorce My Ass!

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A Period of Ease

angers

I need a little anger right now. Things have been too cordial between the exy and me.

WAIT A MINUTE. Be careful what you ask for…

Let me take that back.

I am usually engaged in some creative project that has the potential to break me free from the constrains of the steady job, child support and insurance payments.

I could use the energy that I get from being really angry about something. Often that target has been the divorce and damage done. Recently, my anger has been pointed in at myself. And I’m still struggling a little with that. Like what did I do with all that OFF time when I wasn’t writing or publishing? Yeah, I lost some weight, but wasn’t it mainly due to my suppressed appetite?

What if a good portion of life is really fairly mundane? And we seek out anger, excitement, even depression when things get to smooth. I’m not saying that’s what happened in October when I “took a digger,” but there’s something to be said for my initial sentence there at the top of this post.

I don’t do mundane very well. I am usually engaged in some creative project that has the potential to break me free from the constrains of the steady job, child support and insurance payments, to liberate me as an ARTIST once and for all. But is that how it works?

I’d like some anger because it makes for a better, more impassioned story. I’d like some anger because it fuels attention outside myself rather that AT myself. I’d like some anger because the mundane is boring.

I know that I have always put my sails to the wind in search of a big win. Writing and music, those have been my inspirations. And neither of those paths offer quick or simple wins. There’s really not that many slots on American Idol, and I’m a bit old for the camera anyway.

But I go on. I keep working.

The kids don’t care. They don’t even know. They are teenagers and in many ways so is my ex-wife. Shopping, shopping, shopping.

I’m in a lull. Not a deep lull, that’s what I’m coming out of. But I’m not firing on all cylinders yet, and this makes me sad, scared, a bit bored, and mostly just restless for the burning inspiration that comes from the white-hot heat.

I’m not asking for an incident. I’m not asking for a movie deal. I’m really asking my inner creative to get back to the task at hand. Writing. The blog is a great start, but it’s not going to earn me any royalties. Meanwhile, I continue to have very little money in my pocket, because in the divorce I agreed to pay child support AND healthcare for both kids. That’s good when you have a job that provides for a good portion of that expense, but when you’re paying it all, or paying through COBRA, it’s a lot to swallow.

There’s my anger. Why am I working a job to give 98% of it to my ex-wife and kids? The kids don’t care. They don’t even know. They are teenagers and in many ways so is my ex-wife. Shopping, shopping, shopping. That’s the mantra in that household. It’s not a way to establish a relationship or orient a life. But I’m not privy to the 65% of their “family” time. I’m only able to provide my parenting around alternating weekends. And in some ways I’m afraid I’m becoming my father.

Does my son even know me? Am I just the next dress shirt that I can buy for him? Does my daughter think of things other than Lululemon? And I’m complicit to a certain extent, I let them squirrel away into their rooms most of the time. They are 13 and 15. Tough times to be sure, but I’ve got to do a better job of setting some examples of “things we can do together, besides shopping.”

It’s a challenge.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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When Will I Get Over My Divorce?

OFF-jumpdad

This is really a continuation of my rant that began here: Money is a Bitch After Divorce

Divorce changes everything. And what I thought were immutable agreements were immediately called into question.

As rants go, I think mine a pretty tame. It’s not because I don’t have access to my anger and vitriol. It’s more because I’ve been tempering my temper for so long, I’ve sort of internalized a lot of the anger. Maybe that’s what’s making me fat again. Or maybe it’s the stress of working a job and getting less than 50% of my take home pay. (Wait, I thought there was a clause in my decree that… Oh wait, with two kids they can take up to 60% of your take home pay.)

Money

When you have kids together you enter a pact. For better or for worse you are going to do whatever it takes to make their lives easier. In our case we agreed to split the chores of parenting 50/50 (as much as that is possible). And we agreed that I would continue to work full-time while she took the time she needed to parent, nurture, and do the mom-thing. It was how we saw the world together as parents. Or should I say, as married parents.

Divorce changes everything. And what I thought were immutable agreements were immediately called into question. In our case the idea of a 50/50 divorce was tossed out the window like a novel idea. Perhaps back in 2010 it was. And in the process, I agreed to a non-custodial, SPO (standard possession order), child support package. The problem was, my job had just ended, and while I was in some late stage negotiations with a company, after the decree was filed, the job fell through. So we calculated my child support amount on the potential job that fell through. It actually took me an additional four months to find full employment. And for each of those months I was still on the hook for the full amount.

And over the last five years, I’ve had various employment statuses. It’s sort of the nature of this unstable employment market. But the amount of child support I agreed to, back when I was blinded by the sadness of the proceedings and wanting to find the path of least resistance to get out, stayed the same. Today I still end up paying my ex-wife on behalf of my kids, about 2,300 a month. (1,200 in child support, 1,100 in health insurance) To be fair that insurance money doesn’t go to her, but the number represents my contractual obligation and my current employer does not provide insurance. Here’s how that works out in real dollars earned.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 4.37.03 AM

So let’s see, I need a $36,000 pay check just to pay my child support and insurance? (I pay the taxes on the money before I pay her. And I don’t get a deduction.) That’s a lot of work. And if I want to provide for any kind of shelter or amenities for myself and my kids when they are with me… Well, obviously I’ve got to work a lot harder.

Time with my kids is the main loss of the divorce. As they both enter the teens I see their attention moving towards friends and dates and sleep overs.

And this sucks. I understand the idea behind it. And I also understand that I have to lawyer up to make a change to this amount. So, at this point, I’ve chosen to let the decree and this financial obligation to remain. “It’s for my kids,” I say to myself when I receive my portion of my salary.

When am I going to be over my divorce? Um, in about 5+ more years, when my second child turns 18.

Time

For this imbalance in money obligations I also get an imbalance in time with my kids. And if I try and see this as a benefit I can understand how dads began to get the reputation for being uncaring and stoic. I’ve had to stoic-up a bunch to make it though the extended weeks without my kids. And some weeks are better than others. Some weeks I can even imagine that I’m paying my ex-wife for services rendered as a child care provider. That’s funny for a minute. And then the next emaciated paycheck arrives.

Time with my kids is the main loss of the divorce. As they both enter the teens I see their attention moving towards friends and dates and sleep overs. The real time lost was when they were 7 and 9. Those were the years when they could’ve (I could’ve) used more closeness, more masculine nurturing, more dad. But that’s not how it worked out. And today, I’m resolved that I’m doing the best I can with the time I do have. Again, that’s the decree, that’s the way the State of Texas tends to divide the baby, so to speak. Moms are the nurturers and dads are the bread winners. I hope this continues to be challenged as a hurtful stereotype that does an in justice to the dads and the kids.

Anger

I think the real measure of being “over it” for me is how much anger I still have towards my ex-wife.

Today: not much.
Tomorrow: who knows, but she still pulls dramatic somersaults that can trigger me, so I’m not done.

I think for me, getting over the injustice of the divorce system and the divorce decree I signed was the biggest part. Well, okay, getting over her turning our affairs in to the AG’s office for collections was pretty bad too. (She knew I was unemployed and trying to save my house, but oh well…) Yep, I even have to get over that past “fk you” to move on with my life.

Do I get to leave it all behind like I did with my first crazy wife? No. With my kids involved my ex-wife is part of my life for the duration. Yes, I’ve heard of people truly walking away after their kids leave for college, but I’m pretty sure in this economy we’ll be dealing with each other and negotiating about money for a lot longer.

Can I maintain a civil relationship with the mother of my children? And can I see the bright eyes and hearts of my kids as the indication of a job well done?

I smile at the thought that our negotiations about money might move to a more equitable and fair percentage. And I wish there were some way for me to share with my ex-wife the feeling of futility and hopelessness that comes from landing a new job and learning that even with this new title, new salary, and new health benefits, I can’t afford an apartment or get a loan for a used car. Oh, but that has a lot to do with the AG’s office.

Am I still mad at my ex-wife?

Most of the time no. On payday, just a tiny bit. On some dramatic outburst about something, a bit more. On the AG’s office, well yes, that one I may not ever be able to forgive her for.

But I don’t let those feelings color my life much. They are still there, under the surface, if I’m honest with myself. But the degree to which the “divorce” stuff bothers me is very slight indeed. And for me that’s the main thing. Can I maintain a civil relationship with the mother of my children? And can I see the bright eyes and hearts of my kids as the indication of a job well done?

To those questions I must answer a resounding YES.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: abe novy, three hundred bitches, creative commons usage


Money is a Bitch After Divorce

OFF-bitter

I just got through paying COBRA health insurance for my kids. Man, is that shit expensive or what! And where is the law that says the dad is gonna have to pay for that no matter what? Where’s the balance in the financial split of divorce? After I pay my child support and the health insurance, it wipes out all of my disposable income. All of it. (Need to make more money, I guess.)

I simply needed to tell you this morning, staring at the numbers, that kids are expensive, for the dad, divorce is doubly so.

I get we both have expenses. I get that the women of the world get paid less, in general, than the men in the world doing similar jobs. But how does that work at this level? Sure, kids are expensive. And with her getting the majority of their time, she does have higher expenses in things like food and keeping the house cool in the summer, but this … Well, this is hard.

And of course, the money I pay in child support AND COBRA are after taxes have been taken out, so it’s even more expensive than it appears when you’re signing the divorce decree. I’d just like to see the change of expression on her face if she saw every single paycheck cut in half, before she had money for the mortgage on a house we paid for together. It’s incapacitating in some respects, if you’ve set them up in a nice neighborhood and you agree with the idea that they should be able to stay in that nice neighborhood.

I’m complaining, I know. I’m whining, perhaps. But it’s frustrating. The cost of providing housing, food, and extracurriculars while we were living under the same roof was hard. The cost to the dad who moves out and has to find another housing situation, and double his income before he can even imagine getting a place of his own… That’s unfair.

But again, we knew that divorce wasn’t fair.

My son was complaining last summer about the hassle of switching houses every week. “It wasn’t my idea for you two to get divorced.”

He had a point. And as we’ve made changes to the schedule to switch less frequently, I am seeing them a bit less, even. And paying the same. But you can’t equate paying for parenting. Or time with them as the reward for paying. Nope. I get it. Bills and expenses are a fact of life for both sides of the divorce.

I simply needed to tell you this morning, staring at the numbers, that kids are expensive, for the dad, divorce is doubly so.

Grrrr.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Note: I’d like to think I was bigger than these rants, but sometimes it feels good to let out some hot air. And now… Back into the fray.

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image: ruth roman in bitter victories, creative common usage


A Quick-Start Guide for the Divorcing Dad: The Off Times

OFF-quickstart

When you go down the path of divorce, however you got there, a few realities are going to rush up and greet you rather quickly if you are a man. There are two important issues that it is critical for you to understand. Time and Money are the only negotiating points you have. Let’s jump straight into the story, shall we…

When my time with them dropped so significantly, I began to crater on the days and weeks that I had zero access to their smiling faces.

The legal system is set up to support single moms and to force dads to make their child support payments, regardless of changing situations or dad’s ability to pay. That’s not their problem. And the typical support package includes the Standard Possession Order and some percentage of your income, depending on the number of children you have. Let’s get real clear on both of these new realities in your life, as a dad.

SPO (Standard Possession Order) is the parenting schedule you will most likely be offered. The reasons behind this 70/30 parenting split were established by the state over years of divorce and custody battles and negotiations. The rationale behind it sounds like it made sense 30 years ago.

The mother as the primary care giver will be given the majority of the time with the kids. This allows the continuity of their primary relationship in this trying time. This leadership role will be called the custodial parent. The Attorney General’s office, should they ever be needed, will treat the custodial parent like a client. The non-custodial parent, on the other had, is a bit of a second class citizen. This morning when I was confirming some of the details about my current arrangement, I noticed this contact list on the AG’s website.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 8.07.29 AM

The custodial parent get’s their own line. As do employers and people not so certain of their paternity obligations. All others please call the general number and get put on hold and endless transfers through voice activated systems. “If you are the custodial parent, press one. If you are the non-custodial parent [the only reason you are calling us is because of a problem, and you’re probably a dead beat dad] press two.

Time and Money. Those are the two negotiations you will have to settle in order to get divorced. I was the uber-cooperative divorcé. I agreed to everything. I was told it would be in the best interest of the children for the mom to get the house, the child support, and the lion’s share of the time with the kids. I had a naive idea at the outset that we would divorce 50/50 just like we had parented. I was wrong. And the state’s attorneys have given us a lot of precedents that show this role for the dad is the best one.

Non-Custodial Parent. Standard Possession Order. Child Support. Those three little phrases are about to become very important in your life. And your understanding, navigation, and negotiation in setting them up, might save you a lot of the heartache and drama that I’ve been through.

TIME

The 70-30 split sounds a bit abstract until you are in middle of your “off” week and you are trying to imagine surviving the next 4 days until you see your kids. Here’s how the typical schedule breaks out. Dad gets the kids every other weekend. During dad’s ON week he gets two additional nights. Thursday and Friday. If your kids are already in school, that’s really after school time, and getting them up for school on Friday morning and Monday morning, if that’s your schedule. (All schedules can vary and still be basically the SPO.) On the OFF week, you may or may not get a single night sleep over. Again if your kids are in school, that’s really one cycle of feeding, homework, and back to school the next morning. Those single night stays were hard. The loss when taking them to school on the off Fridays was brutal.

I struggled to stay brave while I was with them, and suffer greatly when they were gone.

Time with my kids was the most important aspect of my life after they were born. Everything I did, I did in consideration of my then-wife and my kids. I centered my hopes and dreams around being a great dad, and being there for them every night, every volleyball game, every time they needed advice. And when they were younger, say after 3rd and 5th grades, they really did need a lot of interaction and caring. When my time with them dropped so significantly, I began to crater on the days and weeks that I had zero access to their smiling faces. I might have done better to fight and receive a more equitable divorce. Maybe Joint-Custody and a real 50/50 schedule would’ve provided more connections between us. Maybe I’d have been able to get my son into tennis or bike riding. Maybe I wouldn’t have crashed so hard into depression.

When I was thinking about the math last night, I was surprised to understand that she had the kids more than twice as much as I did. The 70/30 split is very abstract until you are losing so many nights and weekends with your kids. I still think a 50/50 schedule would’ve been better for my kids. And today, I have some ideas that might make that possible. But today my kids are teenagers. Today they have their own independent lives. Today, my interactions with them, even when they are here, is fleeing, abstract, and often superficial. I dig being with them, and I try and make myself open for their questions. But at this stage the lead in the relationship is up to them. Asking your kid, “What happened in school today,” will never get more than a “not much.” When your kids want to chat they will seek you out. By being available, still only 8 days out of a 30 day month, those opportunities have smaller windows.

So my ex-wife gets more than twice the time with the kids. Wow. It’s a lot. But until you’re IN DIVORCE and have kids, you can’t really understand what the loss means. It took the breath out of me for over two years as I struggled to stay brave while I was with them, and suffer greatly when they were gone. The OFF parent has a lonely road ahead.

MONEY

This is where the rubber meets the road in divorce. In general the dad will have the child support obligation. The idea is that he is often the primary bread-winner, or at least as a man, employable at a higher wage. And as the story goes, the kids and their mom should be able to continue with the lifestyle that they have grown used to. (No mention of what’s about to happen to dad’s lifestyle.) And while that language sounds okay, the execution of these documents are often brutal and pugilistic.

Here’s an abbreviated version of what my “deal” looks like.

29% of my take home pay will be paid to the ex-wife for the children’s care and feeding. That money is tax-free to her, since the taxes were taken out of my wages prior to the withholding. Wow, that’s a pretty good deal. Seems like it should be a deduction for me and the taxes should be taken out equally. But that’s not how it goes.

When you are considering divorce, as a man, consider the two most important issues as a parent: Time and Money.

And if you have or hope to have a high-paying job, that’s the mark you will use in the negotiations for the decree. In my case the rough number was set at 1,200. Okay. But wait, that’s not all. In most cases the dad is also responsible to pay for health insurance. Again, this might be more fair if it was split 50/50 but that’s not usually the way it’s done. Again, I think this was set up when dad had the big job, and this would prevent him from tanking that job and losing the good insurance as a way of punishing his now ex-wife. Either way, this additional obligation is tacked on to the sum of $650 – $1,100 depending on your plan, and depending on your employment status.

So, just to sum things up for you. At this very moment, since I am employed by a contractor who does not offer health insurance benefits. My monthly total in child support obligation is $2,300. Wow. That’s a chunk of change. It puts a significant squeeze on my opportunities for employment, since I have to make that before I can begin to think about rent, food, car insurance, phones, for myself. If you start every month with a $2,300 bill, that’s a real demotivational blow. It has felt insurmountable from time to time.

And when I lost my job, as a result of the tanking economy, the child support obligations or payments didn’t change. I could’ve hired an attorney and asked for a reduced child support payment, but I didn’t have the time or the money to do that. I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep my house. The house that I’d managed to buy, in spite of the large child support payment, when I landed a great new job, post divorce. Only the great job didn’t last. The startup changed their business model and eliminated my director-level position.

The killing blow, the unforgivable transgression that I’ve had to forgive, came when my ex-wife decided the proper course of action would be to turn my late support payments over to the AG’s office for “enforcement.” This one act of anger, has cost me and my family thousands of dollars and has actually gotten less money into my kids pockets. And the debt, as seen by the state, is a huge lien on my credit. This one act caused me to lose the house. And for one year, I actually had to live with my mom again. Fortunately, she and the kids and I had a humorous attitude about the whole thing.

“It’s better than living under a bridge,” my mom would joke. And she had a garage that we converted into a place for my bed. The kids each had rooms. So in my mom’s house, at least I was able to accommodate my weekends. By filing with the AG’s office, while I was trying to restructure my debt so I could keep the house, was the last act of anger and aggression that she could take. She took it. I lost everything.

From those ashes however, and even under the $2,300 monthly payment, and now a big fat lien on my credit, that prevented me from qualifying for a used car loan when my car was destroyed in a hail storm, despite all of that, I’m still surviving. I wouldn’t say thriving yet, but I’m getting by.

When you are considering divorce, as a man, consider the two most important issues as a parent.

  1. TIME: If you parented 50/50 and would like to continue to maintain your relationship with your children at the highest level, you should go to the court and ask for 50/50.
  2. MONEY: When you negotiate child support you can do two things very differently than I did. Ask for joint-custody. You can then be assured you will have equal rights if things ever get to the AG’s office. And make sure the amount you agree to in the decree, the amount that will determine your child support payments, is either conservative, or real. In my case the amount was set on historical data and on the hope of a promising job interview, that didn’t pan out.

Finally, if you’re going to agree to a cooperative divorce, make sure you add in a clause about NEVER INVOLVING THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE. EVER. My ex and I were in an argument about the timing of my child support payments and how I was planning on catching up, when I lost my job. She waited a few months. At this time she began to get very belligerent. She refused to meet with me in person about parenting or school issues. Her response to my email requests were simple “when can I expect my money.” That shut down all opportunities for co-parenting that summer.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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This early negotiation breakdown is chronicled short summary.

The big AG breakdown in chronological order and how my life fell through the cracks.


The Divorce Part You’ll Never Understand: Living Within the Compromise

OFF-swings

Yes, we got divorced. Yes, we got angry and bitter and had some tussles over child support and entitlement. And yes, I still have fond feelings for the mother of my children, in spite of all that we’ve been through. It’s not the same as wanting to be in a romantic relationship with her. No, that’s not it. That part was done before our marriage was done.

Were I still married to their mom we might work together more closely, to enforce and build healthier boundaries, better manners, more respect for other adults in their lives.

But the relationship, once you have kids, is not about what’s gone wrong between you, it’s suddenly about what can go right between you as you support your children. Together. The fall and slip of one parent equals a fall and slip of the entire family. We’re still a family, both emotionally and financially. The sooner you come to realize that after your divorce the better.

You Take What You Get

Whatever the “deal” was you struck with your ex-partner, that’s what you’re going to have to live with. Over time, you may both ask for flexibility and forgiveness in various aspects of the decree, but for the most part, you can always revert back to the “schedule” if things start getting too squirrelly.

So then, as a divorced dad, I had access to my kids 70% less of the time. That was a huge blow. From full-time to fractional-time. And that’s where the compromises begin.

  • I don’t always discipline my kids the way others might
  • I want to hear them more than I want to hear almost anything in the world
  • I adapt my goals and plans to make room for their ideas and agendas
  • I am looking for ways to connect and support them in everything they do, even when they are with their mother
  • I don’t raise certain issues with their mom, because I’d rather focus on my time with the kids, not arguing over some detail about health insurance billings
  • I give my kids the benefit of the doubt on almost everything
  • I assume that they are honest and good kids, and I give them leeway in managing their own time

Were I still married to their mom we might work together more closely, to enforce and build healthier boundaries, better manners, more respect for other adults in their lives. We might be more strict about things like picking up their clothes, letting us know of their weekend plans *before* the weekend. And we might have more collective influence and bargaining power over their decisions. But we aren’t and so we rely more on the attachment parenting ideals that we used when they were little.

I love my kids with all my heart and soul. I still love their mom, but primarily for the way she has navigated this divorce trip, and how she has never stopped putting them first as well. We are aligned in parenting. We’ve been aligned on most of those things since the earliest days. So our parenting discussions and negotiations are usually pretty easy.

Where things have always been hard is around money. When there’s not enough, on either side, the tension gets high and things get wacky. It was that way when we were married too, but today things have fallen into disrepair. I am happy to say, we’re working on it. Talking about it, at least.

Compromise

In the compromise that was my divorce, I opted to not fight. I decided to accept my dad role as it was outlined by the state of Texas and do my best within that structure. I miss my kids every day. And I know there is no getting back the time, the 70% of the time, that they are not with me.

I am so honored to have her in my life, and so honored with everyday that we are able to be parents together.

So as a single father I work really hard to make my time as authentic and honest as possible. At this age, (14 and 12) I can hope to have several real conversations with each of them over the course of “my weekend.” And then they are gone. The house, though wonderful, orderly, and clean, is less of a “home” without my kids.

And it’s within this compromise that I am also bringing in my new relationship, my fiancé. She’s not privy to all the kid bringing up that we did. She wasn’t part of the tenderness that has grown between me and my kids over their entire lifespans. And of course, her relationship to them is exclusively through me. She’s finding her way within this “new home” with us. It’s like we’re all dating again. Me and her and the kids. We’re having fun.

The other morning she was essential in getting me and my two kids off to school on-time, which happened to be very early. She packed lunches, made breakfast, and did all kinds of parently things. Later that evening she expressed how it had felt warm, and fun, and right.

Love First

I am so honored to have her in my life, and so honored with everyday that we are able to play at being parents together. She’s an amazing partner, and she shows me the light at the end of my single parenting tunnel to be the twin flames of LOVE and ACCEPTANCE. Fortunately for me and my kids, and even my ex-wife, her warm LOVE affects all of us.

Afterword: So while I unload and vent on this site from time to time, know that my intentions towards my kids are pure and my relationship between myself and my ex-wife may be in the “it’s complicated” setting for now, but we’re working on it. And that’s also why this site is anonymous.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Additional Posts

image from friend Darren Smith on Instagram, used by permission


Giving the Blunt Mom Her Due

OFF-ave

 

Written in reaction, not response, to some damn fine writin, over there at Blunt Moms. Yep. I love’m.

And I wouldn’t have my woman/partner any other way. If you are sweeping stuff under the rug and not letting the kettle boil over once in a while, you’re probably not doing anyone a favor. Perhaps in my last marriage, my emotionally unavailable wife was not expressing her angst and anger until it started coming out uncontrollably in random “fuck yous” and other sideways outbursts.

In the past, I have admitted to my daughter that I can be an asshole. That I am less than perfect, as a mom, and that I have a lot to apologize and feel guilty for.

Today is not that day.

Today is not that day. Today is not a day for apologies, but for expressing the fucked-up-ness that is my ex-wife today. She’s not just exclaiming random fuck yous in the form of her continued assessment that the AG’s office being attached like a pit bull to my ass, is a good thing. She even says things like this:

Unless your experience of the AG is different from what everyone I’ve talked with there tells me (and maybe it is – the AG has f’d up parts for sure), the reason you’ve had to suffer the ugly end of their enforcement isn’t because we’re in the AG system, but rather is because you at first did not respond to their several non-enforcement-level attempts to get you in the system…

Really? “everyone I’ve talked with there…” She’s using the staff of the AG’s office as a validation for her continued request for “enforcement.” SRSLY? This was her opening expression of GOALS yesterday.

AG-blur-fin

How quaint. Keeping the hobble on your ex-husband horse is a good idea. Because…

Dad’s who are behind on their child support are the enemy of the state and debtors no matter the circumstances. We are defaulting on our obligation.

She says in her mind that the AG’s office is the only reason she’s gotten paid in the last 18 months. And I try to remind her of the sequence of events that were set in motion by her AG action… But this isn’t a conversation we ever have. She’s got the law, the decree, and the self-righteousness to see the debt as an entitlement. And I suppose she’s right. Sure. And I’m good for it. When I have the money.

And it’s funny, these conversations always seem to come out when I’m doing well. She sees my new job and thinks, “Okay, now’s the time to get caught up, apply a bit more pressure, send some crappy “positive sounding” emails.

WAIT!

Perhaps my perspective is off. She is the Saint Mom. She’s the one fighting the good fight for our kids. As she sees it, the AG’s office is insurance that I’m not going to what… skip town?

It is true that there are dead beat dads and high-conflict divorces, but ours is neither. And in all her talking about “doing what’s right for the kids” makes me a bit sick. She has no concept that forcing the father of her children out of his house was a bad idea. She gives not one fuck that the AG’s lien on my credit prevents me from getting a used car loan of any kind. Or that several of my high-paying gig quests were ended at the “background – credit check” stage of the negotiations.

In her “saintly mind” the AG’s office is her new champion. And I’m merely the lazy, irresponsible, and dead beat horse that is not performing up to speed. I suppose if glue were a possibility that could pay back my debt to her, that would be okay. Well, except for the fact that the longer I live, the more money she can expect from me.

Again, I know I’m going about this all wrong. It’s not HER money. It’s money for the “the care and maintenance of the children.” Yes, that’s true. And if I felt the kids were missing out on some things because of it… Wait. Again, I’m having epiphany after epiphany here. My kids ARE missing out on many things. But the most egregious of those things is the loss of time they get to spend with their dad.

We were a 50/50 household. We entered into a cooperative divorce negotiation. And somewhere along the way I was given more like a 70/30 divorce. That’s what the real numbers work out to in the Standard Possession Order and the Non-Custodial parent. And give the old AG’s office a call, you’ll be amazed how they segment the calls off by that distinction.

The gun you keep firing at me is causing a lot of collateral damage. And you’re “saintly” aggression is also preventing you from letting go of your anger and righteousness.

“If you’re the custodial parent press one.” I’m guessing this is more like a service and support call. “How can we help you?”

“If you’re the non-custodial parent press two.” This is more like a collections agency. Dads who are behind on their child support are the enemy of the state and debtors no matter the circumstances. We are defaulting on our obligation. Even if we are attempting to be transparent about everything.

Dear Ex Wife, a portion of my income, every single cent I earn, is owed to my kids. This is true. With our two kids it works out to about 25%. That’s fine. But when I have no income, those promissory notes continue to pile up. And when you strike me down with your actions, guess what happens? More loss of income. More promissory notes. More “dead beat dad” letters from your pals at the AG’s office. So, keep your narcissistic view of the world wrapped in

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 6.25.23 AM

Yeah, the old trope is looking a bit worn from here, my dear ex-wife.

I can tell you what I think that is, but you’re not listening. And maybe that’s the root of the problem after all. We stopped listening to each other at some point. I stopped hearing your complaints and “fuck yous” and you stopped hearing my “here’s an idea” solutions. And maybe, the cards were set against us in the long run. “Just two very different people,” you might say.

But I think it’s a bit more fundamental than that. You got what you wanted. A house. A couple kids. And when I failed to perform up to your expected (maybe psychologically required) expectations financially, and you realized, as the kids were becoming more independent that you’d have to go get a real job too. It was a nice run, when we could swing it, but we always agreed that WE would support the family.

I suppose now we are getting that chance. But your continued reliance on the AG’s office is an affront that hurts all of us. The gun you keep firing at me is causing a lot of collateral damage. And you’re “saintly” aggression is also preventing you from letting go of your anger and righteousness.

If we are two parents trying to do “what’s best for the kids” then we’d cooperate again. You’d have to let go of the state’s attorneys, but in return you might get back the healthy horse/dad who can share the wealth when the good times come.

I’m expecting you’re going to stay with the Goddamn Saint role. And I get it. You’ve done a kick ass job being a mom in this last six years. But you’ve completely sucked as a human being and compassionate co-parent.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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reference: Mommy is a Goddamn Saint – Blunt Moms

image: ave maria, creative commons usage


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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Flogging the Deadbeat Dad

OFF-flogging

Dear ex-partner and co-parent,
let me tell you how this is going to go
for everyone involved. Not well.

off-noncustodial

click to enlarge

I wish I could’ve had this knowledge when I was trying to negotiate with my exy about the money I “owed” her. I didn’t know anything about the law, about my rights (which were surprisingly few) and about the process the AG’s office would put me through. And all because she was angry and somehow felt justified at turning me over to the authorities.

Guess what she got?

LESS.

Guess what I got?

While I pleaded for her to pause, take a breath, and give me a bit more time, she was determined to hammer me into paying her something.

A black mark on my credit report that has stopped high-paying job offers in their tracks. A credit score so low my used car loan was going to be at 20%. A “dead beat dad” label that will follow me until I can figure out how to placate her demands for her pound of flesh. She’s my own personal Shylock (from Merchant of Venice). She wants her money, dammit. And if I can’t give her an exact timeframe for her next child support payment, well, fk me. It’s simply not her problem.

To be fair, that’s not exactly how it went down. Close. But it was more like this.

“Hey, I’m going to be a bit late on this month’s check.”

“How late?”

“I don’t know. We just lost a major client. I’m still working to replace the income.”

The civility between us lasted about two weeks.

“Can you give me an update on the check?” she asked.

“Sorry, I don’t have any way to pay the $1,153 cash right now. We’ve got some new prospects, but I have to make my mortgage and my car payments. Other than that the money is all yours.”

Heading into the 5th week she began to threaten me.

“Maybe we should just turn the whole thing over to the AG’s office.”

“Um… How would that help? Do you think I’m hiding money from you?”

And by the end of the 2nd month of zero child support she fired off this warning.

The minute my ex-wife turned my ass over to the Attorney General’s Office she did irreparable damage to our entire family.

“I’m going to file our decree with the Attorney General’s Office. I can’t be waiting around for you to pay me when you can. I need the money now. I’ve got bills to pay. The kids need things. This is not about you and me, this is about them.”

And while I pleaded for her to pause, take a breath, and give me a bit more time, she was determined to hammer me into paying her something. Unfortunately, nothing was coming in at that point. I had already depleted my entire retirement savings to make payments, I had nothing left. My security/nest egg was gone. Nada. As she continued to press, I went into defensive mode.

“If you turn it over I am not sure what you think you’re going to get. Do you think they are going to make me go back to work? Or make me take a day job in addition to my consulting business so you can get your monthly check? Bear with me for a bit longer, we’ve got a few prospects that appear to be close to signing a deal?”

To her credit she did pause. On the other hand she refused to meet with me face-to-face to talk about any of our other topics. We had the new school year starting, the new schedule to negotiate relative to the school drop-off and pick-up. But when I broached the subject of a coffee meeting her response was always the same, “When can you pay me? Until we get that figured out there’s no use in meeting.”

She had lost sight of the bigger picture. And she was sure that I was the cause of her problems.

Child support is a touchy subject for everyone. Women who depend on it get very angry with me every time I write a post about my struggles to stay above water. Men’s rights advocates come out and praise me for standing up for “our rights.” I’m a bit in both camps. Child support can be an essential part of a co-parenting arrangement. But it should be cooperative, not “enforced” by the lawyers for the state.

At a low point in my life. Struggling for survival needs. (housing, food, safety) She struck her hardest blow against me. The fk you that keeps on giving, I call it.

The minute my ex-wife turned my ass over to the Attorney General’s Office she did irreparable damage to our entire family. She still doesn’t see it, today. She still feels that the AG’s office “is the only reason I’ve seen any money in the last 18 months.” She said that in an email just two weeks ago! I was hurt, yet again, by how much anger and victimization she was still projecting.

Point of Order: The only reason she got money in the last 18 months was because I had work. With income I can provide child support. No income, no child support. I was living with my mom, for christ sake, what more “support” did she think I could offer.

No, the AG’s office crippled me. I have never told the kids about this vicious act. I have never told them that the reason daddy lost his house, was due to mommy’s anger and legal actions against me. For what? For trying to survive during a tough economic time?

The coup de grace happened a few months later, as school had started and the hateful dust appeared to have settled a bit. At this point the income had not come in, and I was now struggling to make my mortgage payments. I had depleted all of my savings. And still I wasn’t paying her. I was going though a mortgage modification program with Wells Fargo to see if I could lower my payments. On the day that I was denied a reset in my mortgage my ex-wife filed our case with the AG’s office of the great state of Texas.

At a low point in my life. Struggling for survival needs. (housing, food, safety) She struck her hardest blow against me. The fk you that keeps on giving, I call it. On the same fking day! Wow, I thought, and my therapist thought, she’s really really angry about not getting her money. He used the term “entitlement.” Rather than cooperative she had become combative. And instead of talking to me, meeting with me face-to-face, she turned me over to the courts.

Two years later, we’re still in this fked up situation. She still thinks the only reason she got “paid” is because the AG’s office was garnishing my wages and killing my livelihood with their credit crushing marker placed on my account.

No, dear exy. The only reason I paid you, was because I got paid. From every fking cent I’ve made you have gotten 25% off the top, TAX FREE.

The day I got my new job in January, I was emailing with her about the WIN for the family. I said I would write the first check after I got the first check from my new job. On that very day, the first day of my new job, she informed the AG’s office of my new employment. And the letter arrived a week later. The HR woman asked me to come to her office, She was also a divorced and single mom. “I’m really sorry she’s doing this. But the AG’s office just sent us a letter about garnishing your wages.”

Even as I was telling her every step of the way, here’s my new job, here’s when you can expect the first check, she felt the AG’s office would be a good “enforcer” for her and the kids. “In the best interest of the kids.”

Fk that. The best interest of the kids is not fking with your ex’s life by introducing the AG’s office into your process. Now we can’t get rid of them. Or, rather, she doesn’t want to get rid of them.

“You mean, I’m supposed to believe that you will voluntarily pay me the money without the AG’s office,” she asked, two weeks ago.

“Yes,” I said, exhausted. “That was always the plan. That’s what I’ve been saying all along.”

For now, she’s more comfortable with the AG’s office garnishing my wages. It’s her right, for sure. But it’s the most fked up rationalization she’s ever perpetuated in our lives together. And while the kids don’t know anything about our struggles, someday, in a galaxy far far away, they will read The Off Parent. Someday.

Today, I called the AG’s office to give them my new job information. It was a pleasant conversation.

“So if we worked out a deal and wanted to get you guys off our case, what would be involved in doing that?”

Officer Garcia replied, “She just needs to call us. We’ll discuss the case, and if she wants to remove our oversight it’s a pretty easy process.”

She still doesn’t want to. We are no longer partners in parenting, we’re just parenting.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

And we’ve learned nothing. This post continues here: And Just As We Reach A Calm Moment

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Turning the Other Cheek to Your Angry Ex – Because There’s No Other Option

OFF-raging

This relationship isn’t going away anytime soon. So I’d best learn to live with the woman, even if she does the most maddening things sometimes. Like arranging a weekend swap and then scheduling three events over that weekend, when she knows our daughter was going to want to go with her. “Why did we swap weekends, again?” Oh, well, hands in the air, I do a little dance and forget about it. Water under the co-parenting with a narcissist bridge.

Everything she asks for is usually serving some purpose other than the kids. She’s very good at asking for what she wants. And she’s even better at throwing a tantrum when she really wants something. And in our case, even when I was being open and transparent about my financial situation, she was demanding that I pay her or tell her exactly when she would get the next check from me. It was several summers ago, but her actions, turning our affairs over to the state’s Attorney General’s office, have had lasting and damaging consequences for both of us.

The minute you involve lawyers or the attorney general’s office, you are taking actions that by damaging your former partner will damage your kids.

There was no need for her to throw me under the bus. And in doing so she collapsed my fragile housing situation. She knew that’s what would happen. She was closing any options I had for keeping my house and demanding that she get her checks. Blah blah blah, it is an old story, I’m sure. Dead beat dad refusing to pay for various reasons. Except my reason was not anything I could change. My company lost an anchor client and half my salary went away. There was nothing I could do to convince her that my honor and good will was going to get the payments back on track. Something about the enforcement and authority of the state’s attorneys gave her comfort. Or maybe the whole process satisfied a twinge of anger.

In her mind, as she expressed it occasionally to me, she was looking out for the best interests of the kids. As if some form of “enforcement” was what was keeping me paying the child support I had agreed on. Somewhere during the months after the divorce, she began to see me as the bad guy. She knew she could call out the “dead beat dad” cry and the law would put the hurt on me. She was right. There was one small problem she didn’t think of. Attacking me, causing me to lose my house, was just like attacking the kids.

In our negotiations we always said we would keep the kids out of the money and “grown up” negotiations. And in this case, I knew that I had nothing to gain from telling my kids that their mom was the reason I was losing the house. At some point in the future, they will know the truth. But in the moment, during the school years, there is nothing good that can come from talking negatively about your co-parent.

There is never a good reason for attacking your co-parent’s livelihood. but that’s not how she saw it then, nor how she sees it today, two years later. Somewhere, in her angry mind, she sees the AG’s office as a partner in getting the money she is owed. But I have no cash to give her. I am working again, and the first paycheck kick on the full child support as well as a payment towards the debt I have amassed. This is not how our relationship should’ve gone. As we were partners in parenting we should be partners in divorce. My earlier appeals to her common decency did not wake her from the vindictive slumber she appears to be in, even today.

I know if I struck back with the same thoughtlessness I could fight to gain 50/50 custody. It’s not great timing for her. She needs money for house repairs and back to school clothes and supplies, but hey… It’s in my best interest that I have the money to provide… Oh fk, I can’t even pretend to believe this crap. I can’t imagine what was going through her mind, what rage was present when she decided the state’s Attorney General’s office was a good way to support her kids. By attacking me and my ability to pay for anything, or even get a job, she was hurting her kids. Maybe she didn’t have a line of sight on how difficult losing my job and my home was going to be. But she should’ve thought of the kids before she thought of herself and satisfying her rage.

When you attack your ex-partner you are making things tough for everyone.

There is never a good reason to file against your co-parent. Once the AG’s office is in your affairs you will never be able to get them back out. If you have a disagreement get professional help, but not legal help. The minute you involve lawyers or the attorney general’s office, you are taking actions that will harm your kids. There is no way to prevent collateral damage when attacking your ex-partner. In our case, the kids were inconvenienced by the loss of my house, and having to move to grandma’s house for 9 months. The angry blow was not too bit a loss for them. For me, as the man, it was an enormous blow to my masculine self-esteem. I’m a 52-year-old man and I live with my mom. How is that a healthy example for the kids? Of course they had no idea why we had to leave the house near the lake.

Even today, she’s got the idea that having the AG’s office on her side, will keep the cash flowing. And perhaps that’s really all she’s concerned about. She has no idea what her actions have done to me or my current ability to move forward with my life. She never had to make late payments on her mortgage. She never had to contemplate filing for bankruptcy just to keep her home.  She had the house and the money from the divorce to support her. And of course, while I was able to pay it, the child support payments.

In the end, we were lucky. Things could’ve gone much worse. As the money tap is starting up again this month, I suppose the AG’s office will be placated for a while. However, my financial rebuilding can’t begin until I come up with 20K cash, or file a lawsuit to have the AG’s lean and black mark on my credit report removed. That dead beat dad title is emblazoned across my name any time a potential employer runs my credit. It’s a horrible label. And yes, my ex-wife gave it to me.

The real downside, however, is the inflexibility it puts on our ability to cooperate with each other. What could’ve been a collaborative partnership about our kids is much less trusting. With the spectre of the AG’s office over my head I am unwilling to offer any additional support, financially or emotionally, when it appears that all of my best intentions are met with indifference.

In asking to swap next weekend with me and then scheduling events on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, she is saying that my “daddy time” doesn’t matter to her. She’d like our kids to sleep at my house on those nights so she can be with her boyfriend, but as far as my weekend, that concept doesn’t really matter much to her.

Coparenting should be about flexibility, compassionate support, and good will towards each other. When you attack your ex-partner you are making things tough for everyone.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The 5 Laws of Anger in Divorce and Co-Parenting

OFF-anger

Divorce is Hard, Why Make it Harder On Your Ex or Your Kids?

Always keep your kids smiles in mind when you think about striking out at your co-parent.

Sometimes, I admit, I’m an asshole. It happens. Sometimes I get frustrated with my ex-wife and I mouth off or email her a nastygram. I’m better now. I really don’t hold any ill will towards the woman, except when she does stupid shit. That really hits my fk you button. In general, I’d say I’m over the frustration and anger part of that relationship. I wish I could say I’m over it all together, but with kids… Well, there are always going to be flash points, even in the healthiest and friendliest of co-parenting relationships.

We can be sailing along, nice Summer and all, and boom she says something that can only be taken as passive aggressive. Or maybe it’s just plain offensive. Our recent exchange around scheduling and the AG’s office: What I Fail to Understand about my Ex Wife, for example. She does not trust me. She does not respect me. And she even does things to hurt me. It is fine to couch them as “for the kids” but it’s not about them. It can’t be. It has to be unresolved anger AT ME. Bummer.

You’ve got to process your anger at your ex. There is no way around it. Jumping into a new relationship without resolving your failed marriage is going to only make things worse. You are likely to repeat the same mistakes that led you to divorce in the first place. And you are going to cover up your unresolved anger by trying to transfer or sublimate it with a new relationship. It can’t work. And in my exy’s case, she’s been in her next relationship almost three years, it hasn’t changed her anger and attitude towards me.

If she had spent the time alone, working through the shit, rather than moving on, she might have resolved some of what fked us up in the first place. Of course, that’s none of my business, except that it keeps jumping up and biting me in the ass. What you’re looking for in your co-parenting relationship is a spirit of cooperation in everything. When the vindictive motivations are hidden as self-defense, or “in the best interest of the children” the angry person may feel clear and justified.

1st Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

Anger is usually a personal issue. Another person may “trigger” your anger, but if it persists, or if it causes you to act against your own best interests, your anger is actually hurting you. And your unresolved anger hurts everyone around you. Even when you’re happy, you’re not as happy as you could be. And you’ll have doubts when the volatile anger can flare up and wreck your day. That’s a personal issue.

Expressing your anger at your ex-partner, or using anger as some justification of your bad actions will never feel right. In fact, acting in anger will actually create more anger rather than dispel it.

2nd Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

Any action taken against your co-parent is about unresolved anger. If you were not angry you’d see that aggression against that person is also aggression against your children. When you strike a blow against your ex the repercussions are felt by your kids. Even if you keep good boundaries, as we do, they can feel the impact of your shitty moves.

3rd Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

Child support is an agreement and a contract between you and your co-parent. When they go though tough financial times, you don’t strike out at that. If you were still married you’d work together to make ends meet. If you are feeling entitled, and feel that filing your decree with the AG’s office is “justified” think again. You are acting out of the anger at your ex. You have lost all compassion for the former mate. You would never strike against a willing co-parent who is honest and open with their financial situation. If you do, please pause for a minute. Get some help. You’re anger at your co-parent is causing you to see them as the problem. Reason things out with another person, preferably a professional.

4th Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

The anger you shoot out from yourself, comes back to you 10-fold. I don’t believe in karma. I believe that living with anger, creates an angry life. Showing the angry life to your kids is not the lesson you’d prefer to give them. Discharge your anger however you need to do it (this blog was great for me), but quit firing poison darts at your co-parent. You are liable to hit one of your kids instead.

5th Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

When you are free from anger your happier life, post divorce, can begin.

Always keep your kids smiles in mind when you think about striking out at your co-parent. No matter how justified you feel, it’s really not about them. The anger should not be a legacy you pass on, and you should work to resolve it before moving into another relationship. Sure, romance and getting to know someone might distract you for a while, but eventually your old anger is going to flare up, even at your new partner.

Anger is a great motivator. Anger can dispel and counteract depression. Use it to your advantage. But expressing your anger at your ex-partner, or using anger as some justification of your bad actions will never feel right. In fact, acting in anger will actually create more anger rather than dispel it.

Take charge of your anger. Heal yourself. Move on as a happier, healthier person. It will be better for you and everyone around you.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Confronting God Alone, After Divorce

OFF-jesus-necklace

We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses.

I’m certain that I prayed to God to save my marriage. More than once or twice. I would’ve done nearly anything to keep my little family unit together. I counseled with my minister, I shouted out loud at the heavens, I wrote prayers that sounded more like love poems. And nothing…

It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams.

Turns out, somewhere, a bigger plan was being put into motion. Praying for the repair of something broken might not have been aligned with the plan. Who’s plan? What plan? And when would I know the rules and routes of the plan? I knew very little about any plan, and I was getting pretty snarky in tone as I pleaded with my higher power to fix things. I wanted them fixed the way I wanted them. I had no idea what was in store, but I had a lot of living and self-discovery ahead before I would catch a glimpse of my bright future.

My then-wife and I got really spiritual about the time we decided to start “trying to have a baby.” That means we ended all birth control and had a brief window of joyful and bountiful sex. It was the opening up to the possibility of a child, or children, that was the big Ah ha moment. We had some woo woo things we did, like talking to the baby in the womb and going to birthing classes. And we prayed and said thanks all the time. Life ahead appeared to be full speed ahead.

In less than a year after being married, we were gifted with the first child, a son. Once again, our lives were transformed as we surrounded him and each other with a warmth that only comes from some kind of spiritual grace. We were aligned, in-tune, and in-communication with God, capital G, for sure.

Through toils and snares we tried again and were given a baby daughter this time, to fulfill our pair, one of each, our unimaginable fortune. For years and years the kids took all of our energy, all of our creativity, all of our focus, and a lot of our time. But we were happy for the transformation in our lives from self-important to parents. It was not a sacrifice to tell friends, “Sorry, I can’t come see the movie, our kids are working on an important Lego fortress and I’ve got to help.”

I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.

It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams. As it turned out in our case, the bliss didn’t last. And after a series of events, none of them catastrophic, we agreed to get a divorce. In spite of our love for each other, and our love for our kids, the love of our relationship had wained. Perhaps we didn’t focus enough on each other as we were praising and singing to our children. Perhaps we didn’t pay enough attention to our own individual needs. But in the Spring of 2010 we were no longer a family unit, we were two houses and two kids and two single parents.

That’s the moment I came face to face with my own relationship to God. It’s not like I went looking for some spiritual revelation. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I began to crumble under the loss. The nights and days without seeing my kids was torture. All the years we had spent as one unit, to be locked out of my own house, outside the circle, and given about 30% of my parenting time back, was akin to being turned into a zombie. Lucky for me, I had family in town who took me in. I had recently lost my job, and had no money for an apartment, and no desire to find one. I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.

Except when my kids arrived. Everything changed when they were around. My little girl snuggling and asking me to chase her around the house. My son hard at work on some project or another, rather stoic and aloof. And me, trying my best to put on a brave face. I was anything but brave. I did hold it together, somehow, but there were times when I was actively trying to give up. That’s what depression is: giving up. Of course, when you have kids, there is no such thing. I suppose you could run off and vanish from their lives, start over in Montana or something. But without that option, the future was here, in the same town with my ex-wife and my kids, trying to hold it together at school functions and holiday kid swaps.

Somewhere in that period I went through my dark night of the soul. I had joined a divorce recovery group and we were supposed to write out our “anger letter” to our ex. I started out at about 10pm, with a fairly tame rant. By 3am I was on fire and fuming. This anger was the energy and turning point that expelled the depression from my heart. And even as I was writing the words to her, I was also expressing my anger at God, at “the plan,” or “his plan,” if that’s what you want to call it. I was fuming mad and I was going to get it out in every way I could.

Depression, the saying goes, is anger directed at ourselves. Well, I had un-targeted myself and was shooting sparks at God and my ex-wife and all of her friends and the friends who had abandoned me… I was just plain mad. A bit “mad” actually. But the anger sure got me motivated and un-depressed.

In the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits.

During this period, one of the weekly chores of the divorce group was self-care, or doing something that helps you feel better. I started an Aikido class and began learning how to get thrown down on the mat every afternoon. And I didn’t think much about God except during the quiet times, when the kids were away, and my Aikido hadn’t burned all the fire out of my day. In these moments, staggered between loneliness and the potential of growth and energy I was cultivating that I began to pray again. These prayers were much more like love poems. Like Rumi as he called out to the beloved, I was also seeking a beloved. I still had a long way to go, but I began to hope and dream about being with a woman again, and the possibility of even falling in love again. Hard to imagine, but easier to pray about.

In the quiet moments, I do think my higher power was listening. Maybe it’s just the higher power in me, but the praying, and love poem writing began to soften the anger just a bit. The driving force that got me up off my ass was not very conducive to finding a date. I was pretty far from dating material, but I was at least beginning to think about my quality of life when I was the “off” parent, when the kids were not with me.

Looking back at this time of rebuilding, strife, prayer, Aikido, and living with my sister, I can sort of imagine the roadmap that got me here, to today. I can acknowledge that my marriage to the mother of my children was not serving either one of us, for whatever reason, and in the moving on I was given a new lease on happiness and even love. All of those fractured years, after the divorce, I spent building new ideas about myself, about what was important to me, and keeping the focus on building my now time-limited relationship with my kids.

Today the love poems are arriving en masse for a woman who has arrived to wake up my sense of God once again. “How could I have known?” I ask her, playfully. “That all of that shit would crack open my creative spirit again, and that from these prayers and poems I would find you.”

She still smiles at my pontifications and says, “Those that fired us, brought us here.”

We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses. And in the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits. It is in the listening that I was able to hear what aspects of a relationship were important to me, and what things I would like to avoid in the future. And while there’s not guarantee, the woman of my dreams is sleeping beside me these days, as we flow through the happiest moments of our lifes. Even when my kids are not with us, the joy between us… Well, isn’t that God, in a way.

Love = God.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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