What Every Dad Loses In Divorce

Everyone loses in divorce. But in many ways the dad in the equation typically loses more and much faster than any other member. It doesn’t have to be this way. In my opinion, 50/50 parenting with no child support should be the norm. It’s not what I go, even though I asked for the 50/50 split regardless of the money. That’s not what my then-wife wanted and her lawyer had told her what she’d get if we went to court, so we started negotiations there. It sucked. It was unfair. And as the dad, I lost everything in a single stroke of the pen.

In Texas courts, seven years ago I was handed a divorce I didn’t want with a schedule that was unfair, and a financial burden that continues to make my life very difficult. It’s just the standard deal given to men when divorcing in this state. The mom gets the kids, the house, and the money. Period. You can fight it, and you might win, but that’s going to cost you more money and turn an amicable divorce into a contested divorce.

I took the idea of a collaborative divorce to heart. But in the end there was no collaboration. I lost all my issues. All that “collaborative” meant was that I wasn’t going to sue my soon-to-be-ex during the negotiations of our divorce. That was my mistake. I was trying to be the nice guy, the stand up dad, the conscious one. And I believe we were both trying to do what was best for the kids, in our own minds. But society has this idea that a mom’s love is more valuable than a father’s love. Maybe 25 years ago, when the man typically worked as the sole breadwinner and the wife was a stay at home mom. You can see how that family system might make sense after divorce as well. But that’s not the financial society we live in today.

If I want to rent a small apartment, one bedroom, no space for my kids to sleep over, I’m going to first have to pay the child support, $1,350 after taxes and their healthcare, $550 after taxes. THEN if I have money left over I can eat and pay for cellphones and gas. And then, if I have a really fucking great job, I have the money left over to think about rent. Whereas my ex-wife got a house with mortgage payments that are significantly lower than my child support payments. How is that balanced? It’s not. There’s nothing fair or balanced about divorce. Dad’s prepare to get screwed or fight for your right both to your kids and to the financial arrangement that is equitable.

It can get worse. Once I got a month behind on my child support, because I had lost a large client in my freelance business, my then-ex filed with the Attorney General’s office to begin proceedings to collect the child support she was owed. Less than 45 days in, she put me in a losing battle with the state’s attorneys who behave like collections agents. Their most fun technique is to freeze your bank account. All outstanding checks and charges bounce and you pay those fees. And you pay for the privilege of having a lien put on your account. The first time it happened I was eating dinner at a restaurant with my kids. My card was declined. I was surprised. I pulled up my phone app and saw that I was $43,645 overdrawn. Luckily my daughter had just been given some cash for an upcoming vacation. I had to borrow money from my 10 yo daughter to pay for dinner. That was pretty humiliating. Of course, I couldn’t tell the kids, “Your mom is the reason this happened.” I had to make up some excuse about a bank error.

And today, seven years later, she’s still got the AG’s jackbook on my throat.  Everyday, she wakes up and decides not to call off the AG and resolve the matter between us. Everyday she puts my credit and masculinity up on the wall as a “dead beat father.” And she has made this decision everyday now for over five and a half years. We get close to an agreement and she always backs out. We get close to meeting with the AG’s office to reduce my payment, and there’s always a problem with her schedule. For two years I’ve been trying to get her to meet with me so we can set a more reasonable child support payment based on what I make. And she’s stalled every time. “I’m so sorry, I can’t make it.” And I have to ask the AG’s office for another meeting and it goes back to being scheduled six months later.

Divorce is a bitch. There is not two ways about it. But it does not have to be a war. My ex-wife puts me on the losing end of the deal everyday. Not because she needs the money. Not because she thinks I won’t pay her. But because it gives her some satisfaction that the AG’s office is running my finances until both kids turn 18. Well, if you’re in this situation and just beginning your divorce journey, lawyer up and ask for 50/50 with no child support. You pay for them when you’ve got them and you split the bills. That’s the only fair way to go. I support you in getting time with your kids and a reasonable financial arrangement that doesn’t cripple your future.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: dad with kids, creative commons usage

Developing Low-Reactivity as a Divorced Parent

My ex-wife does stuff that pisses me off all the time. The trick for me, has been to ignore the affront and keep moving along with my own agenda. I think sometimes she does things to upset me. Maybe she’s still mad. Maybe she’s spiteful and vindictive. Maybe she’s unhappy with her current situation.

I’m not sure what causes her flare-ups, but they are getting further apart and that’s a good thing. My winning approach has been to stay low-key.

Today and everyday until my daughter is 18, my ex-wife will be suing me for child support. Now, there’s no need for her to involve the AG’s office in this way, but she does. And with a phone call she could turn them off. But she doesn’t. Something about having the lien against me gives her pleasure, confidence, assurance, something. But, by law, I have to pay her 100% of what we agreed to in our divorce decree. Not even bankruptcy or death gets you out of your obligation to your kids. And I’ve never tried to get out of it. Still she keeps making the decision to let it ride on my ass.

Even this situation is done. There is nothing I can do about it. I’ve asked. I’ve offered alternative collateral. I’ve reasoned with her. But there’s no change. It gives her some pleasure. But I will not give her the pleasure of watching me thrash against it. So I let it ride.

I remember when I did a personality test for a job a number of years ago. The hiring manager was looking over my results and mentioned that my “sense of urgency” was very low. “Everyone on my team has a high sense of urgency. I don’t think you’d fit in very well.” She was right. I’ve cultivated a low sense of urgency. Why? Because I like to avoid conflict and I usually get my work done without the whip being applied. So, she did me a favor by not putting me on a team, her team, where are the projects were in crisis mode. No thanks.

So, that’s the way I deal with my ex as well. No crisis. No drama. Sure, she tries to make craziness out of minor issues. She tries to escalate mundane issues. But I don’t jump. I don’t take the bait. I remain in my low sense of urgency and ask her what she needs from me. “How can I help?” Is actually a very effective response. Often there is nothing I can do. That’s the point of being out of urgency. Still, she likes to include me in the excitement. It is my choice how I want to respond.

And that’s really the point of divorce relationships. You can’t control the other parent. But you can choose your response. If you can diffuse the urgency and your need to be right, smart, witty, or even a jerk, you will go along way towards lessening the drama and making things easier for both you and your kids. And in many ways, a low sense of urgency lessens the stress and drama in my ex-wife’s life too. But I don’t think too much about her wellbeing. That’s no longer my role.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: urgency, creative commons usage

The Long Retelling of My Divorce

off-telling

What I thought marriage would be like.

I was getting married for the second time so I was certain I knew what I was looking for. I needed someone much more stable than my first wife. I needed someone who understood depression; heck if she suffered from it herself that would be okay too. I wanted her to be solid, serious, and able to express herself creatively. And sure, we had to have fun.

What really happened in my marriage.

There was some drama in our courtship. As we were just getting started “dating” my future wife cut off our relationship. She needed to get right with her current boyfriend (WHAT?) and give that some time to sort itself out. It was a classic dear John lunch. And we agreed to not see each other for the foreseeable future. What she didn’t tell me at the time was she was actually living with the guy. Kissing me and living with the guy. I never knew until later. So we embarked on what I called our “moment of silence.” But what it really should’ve been was a BIG RED FLAG to get the fuck out. I didn’t.

She called me several months later, saying, “It’s done.” I was excited and we jumped into the “relationship” part of our courtship rather quickly and easily. She moved in with me a several months after that. And I remember our first fight was over when we would start trying to have a baby. She was getting freaked out by her age, and really wanted children. I did too, but didn’t subscribe to the drama of how quickly we needed to start trying. She freaked out. I consoled. We agreed we would start trying soon after we got married.

We bought a house in the fancy part of town (great schools, expensive, both of us had gone to the same fancy high school and we wanted the best for our kids) and rented my condo. Very quickly we had a mortgage together and were constructing our nest for the kids. She suffered an early (first trimester – were we even into a trimester language yet, I don’t think so) miscarriage. This gave her some sense of urgency that we try real hard to get pregnant. She was very goal oriented.

With the first kid came the burden of the child care and the house upkeep weighing down on us, we began to show some stress. I was working freelance, but had a steady gig with an online magazine. Times were good. 9/11 swept my business right out the door. And she was working part-time for her big employer, mainly to keep the insurance that would provide the coverage for our second child. I was crushed. We were both freaked out by money. We continued down the path to have a second child, but we were both struggling personally.

I suffered a major depression after 9/11 and during the medically challenging birth of our second child. She and mom suffered from a rare medical condition known as Kell. Their blood was incompatible and the mom’s body was trying to kill the daughter’s body. We visited a neonatal specialist every Monday morning for a sonogram that determined if our daughter was would need to be delivered in an emergency C-section, or if we could make it another week. It was harrowing. And our relationship suffered rather than got stronger. Doubt began to creep into my mind for the first time.

Then the hard middle years. Me struggling with depression, trying to find work, and the two kids eating up time, energy, and budget. Of course we were also in the glow of being new parents. We did bask in the amazing joy of being parents. But it was more us and the kids rather than us as a couple.

Nothing ever seemed to be settled for her. There was always something wrong. There wasn’t enough money. There wasn’t enough housekeeping help. There wasn’t enough spontaneous super-dad repairman around the house. She was mad that she had to ask me a couple of times to change a light bulb in the hallway. I was asking, “But the bulbs are right there, you can change it.”

During this hard time she confided in a new male co-worker. They shared several lunches together (just how she and I had gotten started) and I stumbled on an email between them where he was consoling her for being married to a person with depression. In my mind they were having an emotional affair. She apologized when confronted, and though she never apologized for the actual dating, she said she understood how it could make me upset and she would stop immediately. She never said she was sorry for doing it. She was sure she had done nothing wrong. But she would stop because she saw how it was hurting me.

This issue drove a wedge between us that may have been the crack that broke the marriage. We took it into therapy. We struggled with our financial issues. We were both stressed and not really going to each other with the work that needed to be done. I was using the energy to stay up late and write poetry, stories, or go into my music studio and compose. She was going to bed with the kids and waking up groggy and late. I became the “kids to school” dad. I was up. I was energetic and enthusiastic. She was always still getting ready.

Somewhere in that hard period she must’ve thrown in the proverbial towel. I don’t think she suffered from the same eternal optimism I did. I was solid and sure that we could return to the good times. I’m not so sure she felt the same way. She began to tell me how much I was disappointing her. It was part of our therapy that you could and should complain when something was out of balance. So she complained a lot. I struggled to find the way back to the joyful life that I knew was just around the corner. She began saying she didn’t believe that therapy or any of this “working on it” was getting us there.

In the end she made a decision to leave the marriage. While I was still sunk in the business of rebuilding she began to imagine life without me, parenting without me, and perhaps finding a new love, finding happiness again, with someone else. That’s the only motivation I could figure. More happiness elsewhere.

The final straw was certainly on my back. I was let go from the job that had saved us financially. And for three days I struggled to keep it a secret as I was working a new contract gig and interviewing for new jobs. I wanted to tell her, but not from a defeated place, from a place of hope. I wanted to say, “I lost my job, but I’ve already found the way to replace the income, so don’t worry.” It didn’t go down that way.

I was let go on a Friday. She and the kids were out-of-town for the weekend. When she returned on Sunday, I should’ve told her. Maybe I should’ve told her on the phone, but I didn’t want to wreck her holiday. She needed a holiday, for sure. So Monday rolls around, we’ve hardly had a chance to talk and I roll out the door just like I was going to my job, but I was going to my contract job, and later that day going to an interview. I kept the devastating news inside for one more day. I mean, I did have work. I did have a plan. It was a shitty plan, and a shitty thing to do. I thought I was doing it to save our marriage. What I was really doing was giving her the perfect reason to ask for a divorce. My untrustworthiness.

On Wednesday, while I was out at my “job” a letter came in the mail about COBRA medical coverage options. The jig was up. She was rightfully freaked out, more than usual. I was the liar, the untrustworthy child who wouldn’t grow up and take responsibility for his life. And in that position the only thing I had to argue was, “I think this is a turning point for us to regroup, reconnect, and recommit to our relationship.” It was a weak case at a bad time and she didn’t buy it.

That snap took place in March of 2010. In order to keep our kids in school through the end of the year, I argued to stay in the house and keep things “as is,” so they would not have to deal with this until summer. She did not agree, but the school counselor convinced her to wait. “Give them the summer to process this. Don’t do it while they’re finishing up their 3rd grade and 5th grade years.”

We lived in stasis. One of us slept on the couch or in a bed with a kid. I still did the morning breakfast routine, but the “relationship” was gone. In June I left the house and moved in with my sister. In August the divorce was final.

What I brought to the divorce.

I am conflict adverse. I’d rather settle, negotiate, lie, suppress, than get in a fight. My dad the raging alcoholic didn’t give much room for conflict in my family of origin. This caused me, over time, to avoid raising issues with my then-wife as things got tough. When sex went south in the marriage, I simply took care of myself and hoped for better days. I should’ve stood up and demanded we figure it out together.

I also brought my depression to the marriage. As an artistic soul I fluctuate sometimes between inspired highs and hopeless lows. I believe it’s manageable, but to some people it’s too hard.

I also have had a strong desire to work for myself. The “day jobs” I had were often a struggle as I scrambled to find the hours late at night, or early in the morning, to do my craft. It strained the marriage when I was always looking to steal back a few hours for myself. In the last years of my marriage I was helping put the kids to bed at 9 and staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning. Then going to work. I was burning the candle at both ends, and somehow napping, to my then-wife, was a sign of weakness, not a strategy to get more time later at night.

What was good about the marriage.

We did share some tremendous love in the early years of our marriage. While the time with the young kids was stress provoking, we mostly managed to focus on the bliss of becoming new parents, and the amazing evening activity of observing and interacting with these little humans. We loved our kids more than each other, I think, and that was ultimately the decision she made. Towards them (with 70% custody) and away from me. But for a good portion of our marriage we were two artists in love with our children and each other.

We did a good job of focusing on the parenting rather than the issues in our relationship. In divorce, this has been the saving grace. Our kids are now 14 and 16 and are showing signs of being intelligent, well-adjusted teenagers. While the fires have raged over money and the AG’s office, we’ve kept our kids above the fray. I’m sure there are frustrations they are aware of, but for the most part, the story is, we still love each other, we were just not right for each other in the long-term.

I did learn to love full-on in this marriage. I learned to put my whole soul into the project and come back with the joy of being a parent, and being in love, and being married. This total commitment is part of what blindsided me in the divorce. I was okay with things being a bit out of whack, because I “knew” they were going to sort out. I knew we would be happy again. In fact, inside, I was still happy, though the relationship was quite hard for the last year. I still woke up with joy and hopefulness in my heart. I’m not sure my then-wife ever recovered that joy in herself as she seemed consumed by a deeper rage and a sadness that was deeper than our relationship.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

 

@theoffparent

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Just Be Mad, Don’t Be Passive Aggressive

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Okay, so she’s mad at me. She was mad at me for the last year of my marriage to her. Turns out, she’s just mad.

If my ex-wife could own her madness. When we were married she started letting it out sideways. She wasn’t telling me she was mad, or what she was mad about, she’d just occasionally blurt out, “Fuck You.” And what’s going on six years after our divorce is not much different. She has plenty she could be mad at me about, I guess. I owe her some money. And she could be convinced that her life would be much happier if she just had the money. Well, we all know, it’s not about the money. But if it is, she should be telling me she’s mad at me about the money.

But let’s talk about how it manifests itself in our life. Several years ago, when I started getting behind on my child support payments, my ex-wife filed our “case” with the attorney general’s office. I was telling her I was about to get behind. And two months in she filed. But, you file on dead beat dads. Dads who are trying to cut out on their kids or their obligations. That’s a dead beat dad.

So today, the AG’s office has a lien on my credit. And my ex-wife thinks that having them in our lives is a good idea. Not because she thinks they will get the money any sooner, because they won’t. Not because she thinks I’m going to try to get out of my obligation, because I won’t and I can’t. No, she’s keeping the AG’s office on my ass because she’s mad the AG’s office give her the illusion of power and control over me. If we could get the AG’s office out of our relationship we would both have options beyond what we have today.

Today I am incentivized not to be honest with my wife. What? If she could be real about why she wants the AG in our lives, I suppose she could see that it’s just about her anger. If she could be real about it we could come to some resolutions about how and when I could get caught up. But with the AG’s office in the picture, the options are limited. I shouldn’t tell her anything and just let them deal with the account. She harbors some convoluted thinking that allows her to feel justified and righteous about them.

I have a collections agency on my case 24/7. And somehow, some way, my ex-wife thinks it’s a good idea. But really she’s just mad and extracting her pound of flesh.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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I’m Sorry for All the Things I’ve Done and Said…

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…but you’re out of hand these days.

I’ve tried negotiating with my ex-wife. I get delays, abusive emails, and a lot of bs. I’ve tried offering ideas about coparenting with my ex-wife. I get rejection, reasons why it won’t work, or ignored. I’ve asked for facetime where we could work some of our “issues” out and I get excuses, I get her new husband instead, I get a lot of nothing.

My ex-wife treats me like a misbehaving child. I’m in time out.

So I rail. And I feel good about it. And I feel bad about it. I mean, she’s the mother of my children, how can I be talking (writing) so disparagingly about her?

Well, for the first part, she’s a royal b****. Second, she’s decided not to deal with me but to let the state of Texas deal with me. (She turned our relationship over to the AG’s office a few years ago, to enforce her decree.) I guess she forgets I agreed to the terms of our divorce. I guess she forgets that only death can separate me from my debt to her. I guess she forgets that if we’d gone 50/50 like I wanted, there would be no child support, we’d have had to pay our own way. I guess she forgets.

But I don’t think she forgets, that’s a cop-out. She hates. She seethes. And she’d rather not see me for fear for lightening up on the angry legal approach she takes to everything I ask about. I’m not asking for much. I’d like the lien on my credit report to be lifted, so I don’t show up to potential employers as a deadbeat dad. I’d like her to acknowledge that the AG’s office was a bad idea and to make the single phone call that could end their intrusion into our lives. But she won’t.

She’s convinced, and she tells me from time to time, that they provide a service to us. They provide the accounting that we’d eventually have to come up with. They provide an easy way to pay her the child support. She’s convinced that having them in our lives is a good idea. Still. She still wants the arm of the law and the lawyers of the state on her side. I don’t know how to respond. So I learn not to respond. I learn to respond here. I learn to let it out in a healthy way (anonymously) that won’t damage her or my kids in any way.

Am I right? I don’t know. Does it feel right? Sometimes. Do I need an outlet for this rage that comes up when she pulls one of her dickish moves? Absolutely.

I’ve developed a term for what she is. The term was brought into use when referring to a new girlfriend’s mean ex. The dickish ex. That’s what I’ve got: a dickish ex.

She knows she’s being dickish. She knows that sending her new husband to meet with me rather than meet with me herself is a dickish and cowardly move. Well, the AG’s office has a surprise for her. In our child support negotiations it’s only going to be me and her and the AG employee. She’s going to have to tell the case worker why she’s being a dick. (grin)

I’m sorry for the things I say here. I’m also happy I have this outlet so I don’t take my frustrations out in some other way. To my dickish ex I give my middle finger. To the AG’s office I say, “I will comply to the letter of the law, as I always have.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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