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

money

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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You Are Ahead by a Century

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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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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?

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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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Money is a Bitch After Divorce

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

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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.

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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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image: loneliness is such a sad affair, creative commons usage


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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image: maid in america, creative commons usage


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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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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What I Continue to Misunderstand About My Ex-wife

OFF-froghouse

I should be over it by now. But things keep happening. Keep f-in happening that have me scratching my head. I’m no longer trying to understand what caused you to go frigid, or what last straw broke your compassion and empathy for me while we were married. What’s still got me bamboozled and frustrated is how today, six years later, you are still pulling juvenile stuff, still acting against your own best interests in some act of vindictiveness or revenge. I don’t get it.

Whatever you were thinking at that moment, it wasn’t about the best interests of the kids, or preserving their future. What you did, at that very moment, was strike a blow for the evil empire.

Today I caught a glimpse of what I don’t understand. I tried to imagine a scenario that would give me the choice between messing with you or helping you and here’s what I came up with:

First: I would NEVER act against you in any way that would damage your credit, your relationship to your job, or your kids. I always try to keep the kid’s needs and best interests before my own. Always.

Second: When I attempted to work out a financial agreement with you regarding the back child support you pretty much laughed at my hope that we could remove the AG’s office from our relationship.

Her words…

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.

Yes, dear. The key word here is “income.” When I lost my job, I had zero income. I lost my house. I moved back in with my mom. Which part of my “income” were you referring to in this circumstance? Of course, she can’t hear me. And I’ll admit, I’m not listening to her very well either.

And she continues…

Until  there is an alternate method to oversee the result of [kids] receiving a percent of your income for their support, I’d be laying down my obligation if I said no thanks to the strategy that has coincided with you more consistently paying support.

Wait what? Let’s say I’m whining. Let’s say your right, the Attorney General’s Office IS the reason you got paid… No wait… That’s not it, it’s THAT I LANDED A NEW JOB! What you fail to understand my poor misguided ex-wife, is there is no sharing of the income if there is no income.

Okay, so let’s keep rolling the tape and look at an event that happened today that may illuminates some of our divergent core goals.

Your car breaks down today. I get a text from my son that he’d like me to come get him since he’s stranded at a doctor’s office. At this moment of vulnerability, I have a decision to make. Do I support my son and come get him? Do I support you and offer a ride and help to you as well? Do I do nothing?

Off with my head, off with my financial recovery options, and off with any sense of civility we might have preserved in our “conversations” about the situation.

I was pondering these choices when it hit me. I would NEVER strike out at you, car break down or not. Of course I don’t have the belief that the imbalanced divorce decree empowered you with an entitlement. So I’m not mad at how things went down. Wait? Why aren’t I mad? Why, today as you were sweltering in the parking lot with a broken car and a pissed off teenager, why at that moment didn’t I go ahead and file a custody lawsuit against you?

Seems extreme right? I mean, what an asshole! Right?

Let’s look back a mere 18 months and see the reversed situation. I had lost 50% of my income from my job. (We’d lost a client and were desperately looking to replace the business.) I was begging you to be patient, to believe that I was working to both find a new job and pay you all the money you were owed. (You are right, there are no other options, the law allows you full recourse until you are paid in full. And you will be, but…) And at this time I was also, consequently, falling behind on my mortgage. I was in trouble financially, emotionally, and was struggling to keep it together.

And let’s look at your exact words on the day my loan restructuring offer was rejected by Wells Fargo.

YOU: How did it go with the house?

ME: Not good. Looks like I’m going to have to declare bankruptcy to keep the house. Of course, that doesn’t affect your child support.

YOU: I’m so sorry.

ME: Thanks.

YOU: I went ahead and filed the papers with the AG’s office.

BOOM. Whatever you were thinking at that moment, it wasn’t about the best interests of the kids, or preserving their future. What you did, at that very moment, was strike a blow for the evil empire. With some heart of black anger you asked if my home loan modification was going through and then proceeded to use that information to inform me that you had dropped our business into the “enforcement” arm of the Texas legal system. WTF?

What is your justification for doing such a vindictive thing? When you KNEW I was not asking to be relieved of any of the money I owed you, nor was I trying to get out of my obligation to support my kids. I was saying, “I HAVE NO MONEY AND NO JOB, I’M TRYING TO KEEP THE ROOF OVER MY HEAD.”

At that very moment, as my head was bowed in prayer, you stroked downward in a coup d grace. Off with my head, off with my financial recovery options, and off with any sense of civility we might have preserved in our “conversations” about the situation. You appeared to be caring. You then struck while I was in distress.

So today, if I try to understand the blackness you must’ve been possessed by, I would’ve said, “Gee, I’m sorry your going to have to buy a new car. I’m filing my lawsuit with the court today, and our hearing is in two weeks. Good luck.”

But I would never… You should never…

And yet, TODAY, you’re still saying the AG’s office gives you some power over me, to assure you that you will get your money? What? You will get your money, that’s the law. The AG’s office just sticks a sandy finger up my ass at every opportunity to see if I’m hiding any money from you, or if they can garnish my wages. There is no trust in this relationship. It’s just business.

Well, that’s your approach. It’s just business. It’s money. It’s part of your spreadsheet and your 10-year investment planning. And with the AG’s office keeping me in line, you figure you are more likely to get your money in a timely manner. You’ve said it yourself, the money will be yours. There’s no dispute there. But it’s how we go about it as human beings, as parents, and former lovers, that defines who we are as people.

You’d prefer to keep the court’s attorneys on your side. To compel if needed, my compliance with the decree that I willingly negotiated and signed.

In my moment of need you struck your blow and joined up with the spawn of hell, in my mind. Today, even as you were espousing how the AG’s office seems to have compelled me to pay you money, you failed to understand, it wasn’t the AG’s office, it was simply a job. I have to have a job to have income. And when I get income you get income from me. What you do to hurt me, or damage my credit, actually comes back to bite you in the ass, because several high-paying jobs froze up when they ran my credit report.

You see, in the AG’s eyes, I’m a dead beat dad. Obviously, that’s how you see it too. And it’s just fine with you that we keep the AG as a watchdog on the behalf of our kids. It seems to you, that’s the only reason you’ve gotten paid recently.

Um, wrong.

Today, however, I’m pausing on my legal action. I’ll give you a chance to catch your breath. I’ll not help you with your distress and drama today, but I also will not take any action to make your situation worse. Wouldn’t you imagine that you too had the same kind of compassion once? I sure believed you did.

I keep thinking you’re going to change. You’re going to thank me for my efforts and once again join with me as coparent as a trusting equal. I am wrong. Again. And wrong, yet again.

You’d prefer to keep the court’s attorneys on your side. To compel if needed, my compliance with the decree that I willingly negotiated and signed. As you wish.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What You Gave Up On Is Still Shining In Me

off-happy-nyc

They say that living well is the best revenge. And while it’s taken me 5-6 years to get here, I am happy to report that my shining qualities are back up and shiny. And I’ve found someone who can appreciate me, as perhaps you did near the beginning of our relationship, before kids, before money, before the house, and 9/11, and unemployment, and all that hard stuff.

I can’t help thinking you are targeting my happiness in hopes that somehow you can get some of it. That somehow, my joy and your needs will sync up and make you (finally) happy.

The thought of you giving up on me, however, still has a sting to it. From time to time I wonder, wow, what would it have been like if we’d stayed together, rejoined in our marriage, and continued to combine forces to build our family and the empire of love we set out to create. But you didn’t.

At some point you decided, made a decision, to seek a different path. I hate you for that decision, and while I still love you for being the mother of my children, I will probably never fully forgive you for that transgression. And when I wonder, in those sad moments of reflecting on what could’ve been, I still feel a bit of anger. Some days, a lot of anger. Some days none. But I’m getting better at forgetting what you did. I’m getting better at loving you as the mother of my kids, and as a woman who made some judgement calls that went against us staying together.

But the part that makes me mad is how you gave up on me. Not only our dream together, but me personally. As I began blogging for fun at the beginning of 2010 you felt threatened and angry that I would be spending ANY TIME doing something other than looking for a job to replace my big corp income. And that Twitter thing that I kept writing about and spending time on, well, that was just some form of mental masturbation and distraction from what I “should be doing.” Again, in your eyes I was not doing what you wanted me to do.

Today, I’m in the process of pivoting my entire career around the blogging and writing that I started and continued even as you protested and threatened me with leaving. There was no call for that kind of manipulation and there is still no call for it today. And today I say, “Well, you missed on that one.”

If you could separate your joy from mine I think we’d both be a lot happier.

It’s not enough that I’m doing well, it’s in these exact moments that your angry teeth come back out and you start grabbing and exclaiming for more. You start screaming of the injustice in the debt you have incurred because I lost my job during the last 5 years. It’s like Pavlov. When I do well, you send in the daggers and demand more of something. You push into my happiness with your demands. And again, I can’t help thinking you are targeting my happiness in hopes that somehow you can get some of it. That somehow, my joy and your needs will sync up and make you (finally) happy. But I’ve got a reality check for you:

  • My actions are not the cause of your anger and distress.
  • My joy is also not the cure for your ennui.
  • We are parents of two great kids, but that’s it. For them, anything. For you, only what serves them.

You seem to get these things mixed up from time to time. Asking me to consider your situation. Asking me to take into account your hardships and what you’ve endured. And then, with consistency, asking me for something, in the “name of the children” that is really a request for YOU.

If you could separate your joy from mine I think we’d both be a lot happier. See, I was trying to do this when we were married. And in those days, I DID have some responsibility to support your happiness. Today, my responsibility stops with the care and parenting of our kids. I’ve worked hard to divorce myself from your needs and your wants. But I’ve done it. I’m free.

Until I think about the leisure time we could be enjoying if we hadn’t needed two homes, two mortgages, and all that silliness with the AG’s office. But that’s where we are. I do, in fact, wish you well. But more in terms of how you support my kids rather than are you happy or not. I think that’s as it should be.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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see also: the nyc poem sequence: nyc m

image: the author and the object of his affection, cc 2015, creative commons usage
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Trusting Your Unreliable Ex

OFF-stones

The course of divorce is long and winding. You have good weeks, good days, maybe even good periods, but something is bound to come up. At some point during my 5.5 years of being a divorced dad and coparent to two great kids, my ex-wife decided that rather than negotiate and work with me on the money part of our contract, she would file everything with Attorney General’s office with the state of Texas. I’m sure, somewhere, she thought she was doing the right and responsible thing.

That action has caused repercussions in my life, chronicled here in this blog and thought the time since being listed as a dead beat dad. Not because I was refusing to pay, but because I had lost my job and was unable to pay child support and keep a roof over my head. But at that time, she was not concerned or even considerate of me, the father of her children. She wanted her money. And some part of her afraid mind made her feel threatened enough to turn me over to the state to deal with.

She’s tired of having the majority of the school morning parenting. It’s hard. I get it. She’d like a break.

The consequences of that action now carry a weight in our relationship that is hard for me to ignore. I should forgive and forget, right? I mean, “in the best interest of the children” I should always strive to be positive and accepting of my ex-wife and her requests. But there’s this sword that’s kind of over my head. I suppose if she got mad she could get the police to arrest me and put me in jail for back child support. It’s not that I’m hiding the money. It’s not that I diverted any of my income to extravagant luxuries, or that I squandered away money that should’ve gone to her. No, she’s simply entitled to the money, due to the contract we agreed to when we got a divorce, and she wants the fucking money.

I tried, and am trying to work out the details yet again with her. But now we don’t have any way of negotiating between us. If we wanted to change anything it would require lawyers and more money. And yet we have to continue parenting together. We have to put the loving parent face on for our kids. And we have always agreed to keep money disagreements out of the parenting work and out of our kid’s lives.

And yet, there it is. I have a huge black mark on my credit that hinders me in getting a car, a job, a rental house. And I won’t get that mark off my name and credit score until I have paid her in full, all the child support she is owed, past, present and future. But here’s the rub. That was ALWAYS my intention. I have never attempted to hide or keep secrets from her regarding my work or my commitment to pay. Yet, in spite of my pleadings with her, and in spite of my promises and agreement to be more transparent about my financial plans, she brought in the state to account for my delinquency.

Maybe it was a punishment and she was mad. But today it gives us no room to discuss other options for payment, or delays or transfers to other things that the kids need money for, like summer camp. Nope, the state knows the divorce decree and any changes will require legal fees. So I’m a little stuck. When she said something like, “And we can talk about reducing the child support accordingly,” as it relates to the story below, I have to wonder… Does she get it? Does she register it was a mistake and now limits us and severely limits me for the next 6 – 7 years?

I don’t know. But it puts a bad taste in my mouth when she asks for changes and hints that we could offset some of the money I owed. Because we BOTH KNOW that THAT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. She’s happy to let the clock roll and her money clicks along, rain or shine, regardless of what job I have or if I am able to have a place to live. Again, I understand her priority to protect and provide for the kids, but their OUR kids. And my health and welfare is also in the equation when measuring out the relationship between the four of us. She obviously doesn’t see it this way.

+++

My exey asks for things, and she’s good at it. She’s always asked for what she wanted, regardless of the cost, regardless of the consequence. I think the divorce happened a lot along those patterns as well. And were at it again.

So, it’s easy to ask for an adjustment in the schedule. And two years ago when she was dating a new man I agreed to alter the parenting plan to her alternating weekends so they matched up with his weekends. I didn’t need to do it. I actually lost my occasional double weekend in the bargain. But there was no reason I could think of to deny her request, except to be mean.

There are ways to do this that don’t involve me taking on more days in some vague promise of reducing my child support payments.

And more recently, she’s been asking to switch up the parenting schedule in a big way. To go on a more “week-on-week-off” schedule. The reason, she says, is to alleviate the multiple house changes each week for the kids. And yes, there is some frustration about the constant moving, but I don’t think that’s the real reason she’s asking for the change. It could be. But I’ve come to be skeptical of her good faith requests, they usually pack something underneath.

Now, I don’t think she’s suggesting this new schedule to be mean, or to upset the growing relationship in my life. But I also, don’t fully trust WHAT she is asking for.

Here’s my take. She’s tired of having the majority of the school morning parenting. It’s hard. I get it. She’d like a break. She’d like me to take more school mornings. Just as she’d like me to be more attentive, more responsible, and better at helping out. “Wait, that sounds like when we were married.”

In the bargain, that I cut in the closing days of my marriage, I agreed to the standard possession order (SPO) and non-custodial parent role. I was asking for 50/50 parenting back then. But that would’ve been a very different outcome. As it stands, I am obligated to pay her 1,150 per month in child support for the remainder of my kids pre-18 years.  And for that hefty stipend, I get less time with my kids. I guess so I can go earn the extra money.

Okay, that’s the way it is. And then she felt it necessary to file with the Attorney General’s Office to enforce the child support, even though I was talking to her and never trying to withhold any money that I had. So that’s put us in a difficult (correction) that’s put me in a difficult situation. She’s owed the money if I have a job or not. She’s owed that money, AND I’m responsible for the kids insurance as well.

She even hinted that we might consider a reduction in payments if we went to this new schedule. (Something she’s never mentioned before. Even as she’s riding behind the AG’s enforcement.)

It’s hard to trust your ex-partner when they have done so many things to hurt you. When they have put the state’s attorney on you that allows for zero flexibility and zero negotiation. So as far as that money is concerned, it’s hers and the state will extract it from me and tack credit crushing levy against me until I’m caught up again.

So in that light she’s asking to get fewer mornings as the custodial parent. She wants the money, the 50/50 schedule, and it’s really because of the kids.

I’m not so sure and I’m even considering giving back the off Fridays. If it’s about the kids switching, we can reduce that. But if it’s about the school day hardships, well, she’s already taken most of that early school years from me, so she can deal with more of the teenage years as well. I mean, as long as I’m paying for her to handle more of the kid care, at least I should get that benefit.

Yes, it is because of the kids. Yes, I would like to make my kids happier about transferring from our two houses less. But there are ways to do this that don’t involve me taking on more days in some vague promise of reducing my child support payments. And I’m standing firm that this request is about the kids and her. And my response will be most appropriately focused on the kids request rather than hers.

It’s hard to keep up the positive attitude with so much sludge under the bridge, but that’s the only choice I have. But when she is requesting a major schedule change, this time I’m going to remember MY requirements, and also what’s best for me.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: our stones, rebecca partington, creative commons usage


Her Unfair Advantage and My Loaded Weapon

OFF-clint

There’s no doubt, I get some sense of power from this blog. And certainly a sense of release has come over me, as I continue to write my way out of my marriage and into “what’s next.” And while this material is not intended for my ex-wife or my two children, there is a bit of self-satisfaction in the writing and releasing of this work. When the ex-y is making my day a bit more unpleasant than usual, I write and publish and promote with an additional zeal. I’m aware that my dark material must feel like a loaded weapon to my ex-wife. I get that.

And I wish I could say, I’m above it. I’m not. Well, let me take that back. I am unashamed of my own struggle and emotional collapse as a result of my divorce. (My second divorce, but the only one that involved children.) I have struggled. I have ranted. I have celebrated recovery, slipped back into depressive episodes, and refound my inner strength, again and again. But in all of it, I have continued to strip myself bare and attempted to uncover the dynamics at work in my life and relationships.

I am weaving a story.

I am clear today about several things.

  • The divorce was my release from a dysfunctional relationship
  • My kids have seen both my ex-wife and I struggle and regain strength.
  • My kids emotional, mental, and physical well-being trumps most of my plans, for now.
  • Only I can be responsible for my own health and fitness.
  • While I crave a next relationship, I am happy and content as a single dad.

Finding that balance in my life, between parenting and self-actualization has been one of the great teachings of my divorce. I learned again, as I had known before we married, that I am essentially a happy being. I wake up happy. I meander through my days, happy. And it is this happiness in spite of the tumble and turmoil of life, and this divorced life, is what I have given to both of my children.

I have released and ranted here with my perceived injustices. I have complained, whined, yelled, and cried at the unfortunate evolution of our divorced with kids relationship.

Finding happiness is one thing. Learning to maintain an inner happiness even when things are not going to plan, is another skill that I celebrate in each of my kids. We’ve even talked about how the transition of the divorce has ultimately been good for all of us. Sure, there are times we’d rather be together when we are not (those times are about to pass through the teen years) but for the most part, my kids flutter between our two homes with little drama and stress in their lives. They can focus on school and friendships and developing their passions.

I am also involved in a similar trajectory. I can focus on myself, my work, and my passions. And, is it happens, my next primary relationship.

Still, there is this matter of the loaded gun. I can sort of understand how my ex-wife resents and angered by this semi-public exposé of our lives. The highs and lows of marriage as well as the rough business of coparenting in less-than-optimal financial times. And sometimes I wonder if she thinks, hesitates for a moment, before taking action against me. I can’t really ask her (because I have and I only got back loud noise) what caused her to file with the State of Texas as a deadbeat dad. There was no call for it. Somehow she convinced herself, or was convinced, that I was not going to abide by our decree.

Even as she knew the child support we agreed upon was way over the income amount I was able to achieve, even as she knew I was struggling to restructure my mortgage so I could keep my starter house, even as she agreed that I was not trying to hide money from her… Even with all of these indications she chose to load her own weapon and threaten me with it. Perhaps her “AG’s Office” threats were her version of this blog. You’d better get your shit together or I’m going to turn everything over to the state’s attorney.

This blog has been an unwinding of dark things, an opening of new ideas and possibilities, and even a release and prayer for the health and happiness of my ex-wife.

But wait. I am still the same person she parents with. I am still the same partner she asks to take the kids when she needs to travel for work. I am still the man who agreed to change-up our parenting plan to accommodate her schedule with her boyfriend. I’m still the father of her children who gave her a nice house while I was jettisoned off into the wide world, alone, with a new $1,500 monthly payment, that didn’t include any food or shelter for me.

And some how I’ve managed to take the higher ground. Except with this blog. I have released and ranted here with my perceived injustices. I have complained, whined, yelled, and cried at the unfortunate evolution of our divorced with kids relationship.

And still, I have also risen back up several times from despair. And writing has been like a continual therapy for me. And unwinding of dark things, an opening of new ideas and possibilities, and even a release and prayer for the health and happiness of my ex-wife. She will do what she does. And I’m sure she will do more dumb stuff. And I’m sure she will think I am being an asshole about something, yet again.

I’ll keep writing, and doing my best to leave it here rather than echo it back into my kid’s lives. Yes, I have the loaded gun too, but I have made a vow never to fire it off.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: paris, marais 2013, denise bocquet, creative commons usage


The Blurry Lines Between Divorced Parents: Entitlement & Narcissism

OFF-sharing

Entitlement is a hard word. It’s a bit harsh. It carries a lot of judgement, so I’m going to try to take this one apart and examine it from all angles. If I can stay objective, perhaps I can learn something as we go along together in this post.

Let’s start with a definition.

entitlement

Okay, so now we’ve got a few starting points. First let’s start with me, that’s usually the best place to begin a self-examination.

My Family of Origin

I do have certain rights. And I do believe I am deserving of good things, but not necessarily special treatment. The fact is, my father was a successful physician and made a ton of money before his death at 56 years old. I wouldn’t say his success made him happy.  But a lot of his path was colored by alcohol, so his happiness is not a very good touch point for my sense of entitlement. I do have something though, that rubs up close to that last, less flattering, definition.

I was raised to believe that I too would have financial success. But even with this auspicious beginning, at some level I equated financial success with devastating dysfunction, both emotional and physical.

I lived my formative years in two very nice houses. But by the time I was progressing through 4th grade my mom and dad had begun a knockdown drag-out divorce. See, my dad was also an angry drunk, and he was determined to ruin my mom, rather than see her enjoy any life after divorce. He used a scorched earth mindset to attack, sue, and humiliate my mom. And some of it worked. My mom has always been frightened about money. And some of it backfired. Seeing my sometimes raging and sometimes despondent father made it clear to me at an early age, that I would never go live with him. No matter how awesome his mansion became, no matter how inviting the views and the swimming pools, he and I were mortal enemies. As he tried to destroy my mom, in some elementary school Oedipal complex, I became her champion. I became a shining defense against my father’s hate. And in many of those years the hate spewed out directly at me, for siding with her. But that wasn’t the story. I was hiding from him and his unbridled fury as much as I was trying to support and survive with my mom.

Anyway, in my early years, I knew what it was like to have a lot of money. Money covered with furious guilt and anger. But nonetheless, I was raised to believe that I too would have financial success. But even with this auspicious beginning, at some level I equated financial success with devastating dysfunction, both emotional and physical.

But my inner-core of  entitlement must look something like this: I can achieve great success if I work hard, stay sober, and keep a positive outlook. So far, things have not always gone to plan, but I do believe I have used that inner belief as part of my resilience. Somewhere deep down inside, I believe I will enjoy the fruits of my labor. And every time I do, even if it’s just having enough money to buy the groceries I need for the week without having to check the bank balance, I am not only relieved but grateful. I have a lot of appreciation for life when things go right. It’s not luck or fate I’m talking about, it’s faith and belief in my own ability to thrive and survive even within horrible circumstances. I’ve always had this inner voice. I believe this is the gift of my entitlement. I will make it. We will make it. Things will be okay, eventually. No time to fret or worry obsessively about, it’s time to get back to work.

Her Family of Origin

Now, without taking too much time, since I really can’t give much insight into her family of origin experience, I will give you a skeleton view of my ex-wife’s family of origin. Dad was a severe disciplinarian and a hard-working engineer. Money and fame were not part of the routine, but hard work, perseverance, and a strict attention to spreadsheets and details and mechanics was always at the center of the plan. Mom, on the other hand was slightly unstable, but very creative and artistic. She was a bit of an Amelia Earhart type: she even raced airplanes, rode a motorcycle, and had a touch of the delicious madness of emotional imbalance. (BTW: I have a good bit of that too.)

I can’t blame her for seeing the money around me and imagining the money and good times to come.

The result of this early training for my ex-wife was that she gravitated to the safer parent. She too became very pragmatic and less emotionally focused. Sometimes in our marriage, and in couples therapy, the lack of emotional energy was really an issue. She too liked to build financial models, built scenarios, and project future trajectories. But she didn’t like things to get too touchy-feely. So in some ways, as polar opposites, we fit together like a circuit. Her logic and financial prudence, matched nicely with my emotional epiphanies and earning potential. But there was more of a business-type fit, rather than an love-type fit. I didn’t know the difference when we started dating. I thought I had met my perfect foil. The perfect woman who could collect and multiply the financial rewards of my genius. (Oops, that’s probably a bit of that grandiose thing I do.)

I can’t blame her for seeing the money around me and imagining the money and good times to come. And I’m sure I was (and still) project great confidence about my potential. But of course, that’s part of the issue between us, always, I’m saying, “Things are looking up, this deal is just about to break, I’m on the cusp of a big breakthrough” and she was saying, “But we need to put another $2,000 in our IRAs to take advantage of the tax breaks.” Oh, that was music to my ears. Well, it was, until things didn’t go so well.

When the financial plans got a bit more complex and more faith-based, after 911, my wife began to drop down into the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. Her focus turned, naturally for her, to spreadsheets and bank balances. And cash flow was a problem for everyone at that time. I did my best to rebound from the total loss of my freelance business, but it was a dark period for us personally over the next 5 years as we weathered the storms of our economic free fall and the emotional separation that began to divide us along our two vastly different senses of entitlement.

So things got messy. I got depressed. She got furious. I held the emotional heart of the family while she managed the spreadsheet and the withdrawals from our next egg, put there courtesy of my dead father. We rallied around the parenting duties and the great love of our children. Between the two of us, however, something was beginning to pull apart. I wasn’t aware of what was going on, but I knew she was more pessimistic and angst-ridden than I ever remembered.

Financial Entitlement

Okay, let’s cut forward to today, to our lives now as two separate but connected households. In many ways she’s still counting on my big paycheck each month. And when the child support checks stopped arriving, when I lost my work, lost my house, lost most of my possessions, she got even more furious. As if her fury and demands were going to motivate me to do more, be more, earn more. Except that wasn’t the problem. But of course, as things got tense between us, as I missed my first child support payment (even with two months notice that I was about to hit an unexpected financial problem), she moved in to hyper-accounting mode. This was her M.O. This was how she dealt with stress, both while we were married, and now almost 5 years after our divorce.

I kept telling her, “I’m going to get caught up. I’d never skip out on my obligation to you and the kids.” But she must have been hearing something completely different.

See, the problem is, when you divorce, and you’re the man who 80% of the time get’s strapped with the child support obligation, it puts a very large additional obligation on your balance sheet. In the divorce, since I didn’t sue to get the 50/50 plan I proposed, I wound up agreeing to a child support payment that was based on the good years of my full-time employment history. And to make it crystal clear, here’s what you’re going to be obligated for, if you get divorced in Texas and are given the standard plan. (I didn’t have this information going into the divorce, or I would’ve understood why she fought so hard to get primary custody.)

And somewhere along this journey, she began to see that obligation, that deal, as her entitlement.

I was asked to pay child support based on prior income, not income that I was currently making. (I had a few good job prospects at the time, and in my optimism and attempt to smooth our way into the conflict-free divorce decree, I agreed.) I was also asked to pay the kids health insurance costs. (Again, since I didn’t have a job at that moment, it would be in the form of cash to my ex-wife, to cover the premiums. Okay, still all good, if I had solid and lucrative employment.) And when you add those two items together, in my case, I came out of the marriage with a 1,200 – 1,600 monthly payment.

Again, it’s not about the deal. That’s a standard deal. Dad pays approximately 20% of his gross income AND the health insurance. And this money allows the mom, theoretically, to be able to afford the lifestyle she has become accustomed to, and more importantly the kids have become accustomed to. I agreed, because I didn’t know what my options were. I agreed because I was optimistic about several job opportunities. I agreed because I wanted to do what was best for my kids and even my ex-wife, before I considered what was best for me. I gave in to the idea that she was the primary caregiver and thus should be paid to maintain that role and to give me additional nights and weekends to work. To work so I could pay the child support payment.

And somewhere along this journey, she began to see that obligation, that deal, as her entitlement. Just yesterday, as she was railing against me about the dog and my obligations and responsibility, she was saying, “The money you owe me.” And somewhere along the path, she saw my financial contribution to the family (even after divorce) as more important than my health and welfare.

She some how, got the idea, that she was entitled to everything and then some.

  • The down payment for the house came from my pre-marriage assets.
  • 60% of the money while we were married came from my employment, while 100% of the cash contributions to her retirement plan came from my pre-marriage assets.
  • Getting to keep and stay in the nice house was a financial deal, made possible by my child support payments
  • We had always agreed and parented 50/50 she was the better and primary care-giver

She believed that the money, the obligation was hers. Not a promise based on actual income. Not a percentage of salary earned. No she believed, still believes, that the child support is her entitlement. This is no longer a relationship it’s just a business contract. I am no longer a person to her, I’m a debtor. I’m the problem. I’m the reason she’s unhappy.

Striking A Blow of Unhappiness

So in the ultimate blow of her financial frustration and power (even as I was pleading with her to remember me as the father of her children, and still the man she married) she sought enforcement of the degree, enforcement of the child support payments, enforcement of her entitlement, buy turning me into the state’s attorney for collections. She was owed the money. And now it would show up as a BAD DEBT on my credit report until she was paid in-full.

Somehow she’d gone from being a partner in parenting to being an angry business partner with deal that had gone south.

Despite the fact that her retirement account was still full, and was built on the proceeds of our life while married. Despite the fact that she was living in the marital home and had never been threatened with even a late mortgage payment. She could see that I was asking for compassion, she could see, and even acknowledged that she believed I WAS working and looking for work. She could see, because I told her, and showed, her, and gave her all the information I had, that I was at risk of losing my house, losing my shelter. She did not see me as a struggling former partner, she saw me as her dead beat husband, who needed to pay his child support.

How we got that disconnected I’ll never understand. How could she imagine that suing me with the State of Texas’s AG’s office was a compassionate idea? Did she understand that she would be making it ever so hard for me to get my next job? Did she know that my housing options would be forever diminished by her vindictive blow? Didn’t she see that the money she was living on, the house, the retirement, was built from joint contributions?

No, somehow she’d gone from being a partner in parenting to being an angry business partner with deal that had gone south. She wants her money. Above all else, she’s owed that money. And I can see now, that the future money (oh, in the neighborhood of $120k) is also already hers. It’s the contract she won. It’s in her spreadsheet and financial models for her future. It’s not about the kids, when you repeatedly shut down your partner’s options. It’s not about the kids when you do things that hurt your coparent.

It’s all about her. Is this the definition of narcissism?

narcissm

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Best Will Come Out, Eventually… But First This

OFF-madwoman

[This story is a continuation from this afternoon’s drama: Texts From the Ex. What’s the Crisis?]

As we continued on our journey towards the weekend with the little dog’s fate hanging in the balance I tried to enter my ex-wife’s house with as little fanfare as possible. It’s hard to explain to your kids that you’d really rather NOT pick them up at their mom’s house after school. But it happens. And it’s really no big deal for them. And of course, their mom get’s a little bit more cuddle and hug time.

So I stayed in my son’s room, helping him pack up his computer. I was summoned to the “other room” so we could talk about the dog. So much for the sleeping idea.

I tried to listen. I really tried. As she was telling me about how hard it has been for her with the dog I really tried to join with her and empathize. But that’s not what she wanted. I’m not sure what her objective was, actually.

I said, “Yes, I’ve been giving it some thought and trying to get into the idea that the dog isn’t really mine or yours, the dog is like another child and we’re just doing the best we can to provide for his comfort.”

“Except you’re not doing it,” she said, putting my bridging efforts to an end.

“Not doing what? I asked.

“There’s some huge gap between you saying you’re doing everything you can and then doing nothing.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s all on me,” she said. “And you just magically think it’s all going to take care of itself. But you’re not doing your part. You’re not taking responsibility for your part.”

Because I wasn’t doing enough. Because I didn’t have a solution right now. And because she was mad about a lot of stuff.

I felt my anger flaring. “What would you like me to do?”

“You’re not acknowledging how hard it is. You’re not doing anything. And it’s all on me to take care of it.”

I snapped. “One more fucking week.”

“You’re not taking responsi…”

“I can’t do anything about the dog for one more week. I don’t have any other options!”

“So you’re getting the house?” she said. There was something of disbelief in her voice. Or perhaps that was me. My own defensiveness.

There was this moment on Monday, before her torrent of texts began blowing up my phone.

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.47.02 PM

Wait, what? There are so many things wrong with this out-of-left-field statement. She isn’t very good at containing what she’s really thinking.

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.40.27 PM

She clarified that the kids had mentioned a house. She didn’t know that I wasn’t buying it. (Yeah, maybe she really has no clue what her AG maneuver cost me and is still costing me.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.52.25 PM

And it was a day later when we got the plan together for her to take him on Friday, because, as I understood it, it was just too much for him. And obviously too much for her. When the house fell through on Thursday, I was sad but determined to go after the previous house, that I actually wanted even more.

So now we’d made it, the dog, my ex-wife, and me, through one week. And yet, somehow the crisis was hotter now and exploding again. Because I wasn’t doing enough. Because I didn’t have a solution right now. And because she was mad about a lot of stuff.

I walked away. I was angry. I had let my own rage flare, and I wasn’t all that proud of the exchange.

“Can we go outside?” she asked, wanting to diffuse the anger or shield our son from hearing what was going on. (He was in his room with his earbuds playing loud music.)

“No,” I said. “This is exactly what I was asking about. Shouldn’t we do this with our therapist? This is exactly why we got involved with her in the first place.”

“I’m not paying for that any more. I’m not scheduling that any more,”she said defiantly.

“Don’t you think it’s worth $35 dollars to talk about this *with* someone?”

“It’s $55 dollars and two hours of my time. And I’m not paying for it any more.”

“I think that’s exactly the place for this kind of discussion. That’s what I’ve been saying all week.”

“I’ve got to get back to work. I’m not scheduling anything. If you want to invite me to a meeting, I’ll consider it.” And she was gone.

+++

I’m still trying to decipher the encoded message, beneath the anger. Money. Time. Lack of responsibility. Lack of belief that I was ever going to be able to afford a house.

Because… the alternative was what?

*breathe*

I walked away. I was angry. I had let my own rage flare, and I wasn’t all that proud of the exchange. However, I did not believe the crisis was a crisis. I believe the dog issue was a manufactured crisis of convenience. Just as we’re about to enter a new era, she’s gets a bee in her panties and has to come screaming in for justice. Justice for the dog. Justice for her wronged life and all the money I didn’t make that I still owe her because I was too nice to file a lawsuit against her to lower the un-attained amount of child support I’d agreed to. Even as I was forced to agree to accept less than 50/50 parenting.

Okay, reset.

I don’t have to respond to her crisis. I don’t have to engage in the drama. When she’s blowing up my phone I can ignore it. When she’s blowing up my phone during a work day I can allow her the revelation that an email might get a response. I can do my best to stay on the lighter side of the situation.

She can no longer hurt me. The story and vitriol is all hers. And I won’t take that on.

I’m hopeful that the house will come through next week. It’s all dependent on how they view my “dead beat dad” credit report. Yes, she’s *owed* a good bit of money. It’s not anything I’m proud of. It is my responsibility. But I don’t have any more things to sell, and just as I’m back to full employment, she’s going to start hitting the fk you panic and crisis button… Why? To stir up my world?

Is she attempting to lower the quality of my life to something more angry and dissatisfied? Is this her way of pulling me back into the morass of misery that we had become in our collapsing final year of marriage? Where I owed her a better life and I was not doing enough to get it back for her. I’m still not. That’s obvious.

She’s doing one thing for me quite nicely. She’s showing me the situation I could be in had we stayed married. She’s showing me who she is at the core. Perhaps in the same way she released us both from a sad marriage, she is now helping me to detach from any idea of compassion that I might still have for her situation. I’m getting there.

But it’s not really about her, is it?

She can no longer hurt me. The scrapes and bruises and huge credit liability and shame are mine. But the story and vitriol is all hers. And I won’t take that on.

She will survive one more week with the old shitting pup. I will survive another week in my mom’s house. And if luck and fortune smiles in my direction I will be moving in to a rental house in my old neighborhood, a half mile from the tennis club, in just over a week. I’ll keep you updated. (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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My Ex and Her Anger: Give Me a Bullet to Bite On

OFF-delete

It’s still hard for me to imagine that my ex-wife sent me into collections for child support. In some foreign state of mind she was doing the best she could. She claimed she was protecting the best interests of our children. But, wait…

Even as I try to make nice and stay positive with my co-parent, things are not easy.

I was not hiding. I was not lying about my current situation, but some how she was convinced that sending my file to the Attorney General’s Office was the right thing to do. Well, it’s seriously messed me up. And there was never any call for it. I told her what was happening when my company lost a significant client. I told her I would be late for a bit while I tried to catch up. I told her to be patient for a month and I would give her constant updates on the status of our new business pitches. I told her everything I could except when, exactly the next check was going to show up.

I’m not sure how we got to this point. I’m certain she had lost trust in me long before then, and this was the “issue” that kept coming up between us. My trustworthiness.

Somehow, we agreed to keep the kids out of our money troubles. I’m grateful for that. But the antagonistic and punitive actions she took were unnecessary, uncalled for, and will continue to do damage to my prospects for employment and housing long into the future.

Do you think she wanted me NOT to have a house? I don’t know. Do you think she was in danger of losing her house? No. So what’s the rationale for throwing your former partner under the legal bus? When we paid more money on our parenting plan than our legal divorce, we were agreeing to divorce compassionately. But somewhere along the road of surviving as co-parents, that compassion turned cold.

Again, I want you to know this was not a dead beat dad manuveur. I was not carping away from my financial responsibility. And I am NOT in any way trying to get out of paying. In fact, I’ve been paying 20% of every thing I make for a while now. It’s not enough. It’s not going to get me out of debt to the AG’s office. No, she’s gone and dinged my credit for the long haul. And today, when I was turned down for a RENTAL property, the credit issue about Child Support came on like a shameful curse. There was no discussion about the situation, just a big fat NO. Obviously, I was a dead beat dad. Why would anyone rent to someone so evil.

Except that’s not what happened. That’s not what’s happening. And even as I try to make nice and stay positive with my co-parent, things are not easy. And today, I had to simply shrug my shoulders as the realtor relayed the news. There’s absolutely nothing I can do at the moment that I’m not already doing.

See, to support yourself and make hefty child support payments to your ex, you need to have a pretty substantial job. Freelance, self-employment won’t cut it. Since the divorce took all of my nest egg with it, I have no cushion. So even when I felt like I was doing okay, even when I was caught up, I was scraping pretty close to the bottom of the available cash flow. And one change, put me under water.

Had she been civil, had she remembered who it was she married, she would’ve been able to see I was not lying. She should’ve been able to understand that I was desperately trying to keep a roof over my head, and when they were with me, my kid’s heads. But she didn’t care about that. I can’t imagine the thought process. I can’t imagine taking such a horrible swing at her for any reason. Infidelity, lying, cheating, nothing could cause me enough pain to strike such a hurtful blow at my former spouse.

She was tired. I didn’t do enough to help. And there wasn’t enough money for us to continue the way we were going. Always.

But her mind doesn’t work the same way as mine. And even before we divorced, she had been withdrawing emotionally and physically from me. She had stopped hearing my love songs. (I was still writing them at the end.) She had stopped recognizing my efforts. Sure she decided to break up the family rather than work on what what separating us, but even that was forgivable. It’s okay that we’re not married any more. And I do still hope she is happy in her new relationship.

She wasn’t at risk of losing her house. She didn’t have to strip her retirement account of all funds. She might have wanted more stuff, and more security, and more leisure time, but that was one of her constant choruses. That was always the issue. She was tired. I didn’t do enough to help. And there wasn’t enough money for us to continue the way we were going. Always.

Always as it is and shall ever be. So at some point that disconnection turned into anger. And at the first sign of blood she went in for the kill, rather than remembering that I was also the father of our children.

There was an amazing moment, when things were just beginning to get frosty between during the first month I was late with my child support payments. In an email she said, “Some how you think your bills and expenses are more important than the expenses and bills of your children.”

I counted that I was just trying to keep a roof over our heads. I shared my progress on job hunting and client hunting. But she hadn’t ever been very trusting about future plans, future hopes, future promises. So something clicked over for her, something inside her changed and she no longer saw me as a co-parent. She wanted her money. She needed her money. And if I wasn’t earning the money, maybe she’d give me some incentive.

Except that’s not how it works. I was incentivized. I was struggling and ashamed of my flailing career. I knew I would get back up. I knew I would get caught up on all of the money she was entitled to. But she didn’t know it. And she didn’t believe it. Somewhere, somehow she imagined that I was going to try and skip out on my debt and responsibility to my kids? WHAT?

I’m working hard to keep her in my prayers and well wishes, but it’s all I know how to do. Any action that hurts my ex-wife immediately hurts my children.

There is no way she could believe that. I kept asking her if she was getting prodded by her father to enforce the decree and turn me into the authorities. She flatly denied it. And yet she kept threatening, and by the end of the 2nd month, I suppose she’d waited long enough. She would no longer meet with me face to face about anything. She was shutting me out emotionally and physically. (She’d actually been building up to that for some time.) And somehow she must not have understood the ramifications of her actions. Because if she did actually understand that her angry slap was going to cause me to lose my house, cause me to lose several job opportunities, and now, even at the dawn of my new job, cause me to lose a rental house for me and my kids. Can I imagine actually doing something so damaging to my ex-wife? Never. In fact, just the opposite. I strive to keep 100% of my anger out of our parenting agreements.

Even now, even as her AG-move has caused me untold grief, I’m merely writing about it here in my anonymous blog. I’m working hard to keep her in my prayers and well wishes, but it’s all I know how to do. Any action that hurts my ex-wife immediately hurts my children. We are all deeply connected.

She is still unable to to see that. Even now, her actions do not show gratitude, they demonstrate her anger. Something about the entitlement to the money, the house, the good life. I don’t know. But she seems satisfied in her justification for everything. There’s no sense talking about it. Why poke the bear? Except I’m still getting poked, caged, and wounded over something that should’ve been collaborative and cooperative, like our divorce.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Winter of My Discontent: Ex-Partners and Co-Parents

OFF-discontent

Last week I started my big corporate job again and my ex-wife couldn’t be more excited. So excited, in fact, that the morning before I started my first day she sent me instructions about how I should set up the kid’s insurance and recommending that I set the child support on auto-withdrawal. “It’s better for the kids.”

It’s not much different than the way she acted the last time I got the big corporate job that pulled our family up out of an economic recession. That time I was on my orientation trip to San Francisco, and the first morning, before I’d even had a chance to meet my new colleagues she was hassling me about what day the kid’s insurance would kick in and when my first check would be deposited, and why didn’t the company pre-pay for the hotel room, before I checked in. We got in a dramatic yelling argument about how I was being irresponsible for not getting this information upfront. I hadn’t even made it to the office to get my employee packet, and she was angry with me for not doing it right.

She got mad at some point and stayed that way. Mad when going to bed. Mad when waking up in the morning. And somehow I was usually the recipient of the antagonist’s laurel.

I couldn’t fathom back then, six or more years ago, that she could be mad at me when the tap was about to be turned back on, in a big way. How was it possible that at the moment of my start she was pissed about how I was treating her, how I was behaving. This seems to be a pattern. And unfortunately it does not seem to have abated in the nearly five years we’ve been divorced.

On Monday of this week, day four of my job, she was asking for the insurance card, even though I gave her the group number and company on Thursday (day 2) and said the new plan would kick in on Feb. 1. Even with that information she said she wanted the card to schedule an appointment for our daughter. When I told her about the Feb. 1 start date and the number that I’d already given her, she snapped back that she was just getting ready to set up our daughter’s annual physical. She said, of course she could wait until the policy started.

And there are a few more things she’s on-top of at the moment. It’s as if, the moment things look up, improve, she’s got to act quickly so she doesn’t miss anything. Or is she so aggressive when I have new changes, usually for the better, that she feels she needs to bring me down a notch, knock a little sense into my euphoria.

In San Francisco, I asked her to come join me. I had made arrangements for the kids to be taken care of by my mom and sister. We needed a romantic break. We needed something nice. She got even more mad about this fantasy. She was incensed that I was considering spending the $450 dollars for her round-trip ticket. Of course the hotel room was already covered. And we’d need to be buying and eating food no matter where we were. But she was pissed.

And in some ways she’s never gotten un-pissed. And I’m still not all that clear what she’s mad about. She hasn’t always been mad. But she got mad at some point and stayed that way. Mad when going to bed. Mad when waking up in the morning. And somehow I was usually the recipient of the antagonist’s laurel. Well, I’m sorry she’s mad, but it’s really not my problem any more. Oh yes, I still have to deal with it, but when she began blowing up my phone on Monday morning with angry text messages, I did not have to respond.

I am learning to let go. And perhaps she can still be influenced towards a more empathetic approach.

And I’m sure it has been hard for her, having to do with less in the nice house. Not being able to afford a maid. Having to work full-time. I’m sure those are things that could be pinned on me, as the issue. But I’m no longer there to stand in as her target. And I no longer need to respond to her every complaint or rant. And sometimes silence is the best response.

The culmination of all this angst yesterday came in a text that started, “I hate to text you about this, but…”

I didn’t respond.

She sent the same message 15 minutes later via email.

I am learning to let go. And perhaps she can still be influenced towards a more empathetic approach. Or maybe not. Either way my response, or non-response is up to me. I can only control my own actions, and that’s fine. As a divorced parent, there are a few things I still have to engage with her about. But that tick list is short. And if it’s not about the kids… Well, silence and not attacking in-kind is my compassionate repose.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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