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

SPO

Why Fathers Give Up After Divorce

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I see why divorced fathers give up. It’s all stacked against you from the first. The very first time she utters the word “divorce”, a father is screwed. The more you fight, the more it’s all your fight. The less you fight, the more is taken away, little by little. It’s really a no-win. It’s not just the system, it’s those ingrained by the system. It’s the everyday attitudes, the automatic assumptions, the resistance a father gets from those situated in his child’s life, which typically are women (nurses, secretaries, administrative, teachers, etc.). It’s being marginalized while being smiled at, patronized so “the father will just go away satisfied so we can get on with business with the REAL parent”.

Nathan S from a Father-centric FB Group.

Nathan is expressing the essence of divorce for dads. There is no WIN in divorce, and yet the courts are stacked in the favor of the mom from moment one. In Texas, where I live, 80% of the time the dad gets the SPO and the non-custodial parenting role.

SPO – standard possession order
You will have your kids approximately 30% of the time. Every other weekend and one day on the off weeks.

Non-custodial parent
She’s going to get the house and a nice child support check from you until each of your kids turns 18.

Parenting plan
From that starting point you will be asked to design a parenting plan. But really it’s designing what 70% of your kids lives you are going to give up. You decide on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays, and the summer. Oh, the threatening summer. And there’s this little carrot they give to the non-custodial father, the summer MONTH. If you’ve got a day job it’s never going to happen, but they like to balance out the imbalance on the books by giving the dad a full month in the summer. This is very important if you live in a distant city. But for us trying to make lives WITH our kids we cannot afford to have them for a full month, nor could we afford the additional child care if we had to work.

The deck is stacked against dads. And once the dust settles from the divorce decisions and getting the decree in place, you’re going to have to look for shelter, outside the home you once knew, with a significantly reduced paycheck. My ex-wife gets $1,300 per month for our two kids, AND I pay the health insurance for both of them, adding another $400 – $600 per month. So take that $2,000 out of your take home pay, because it’s taken AFTER taxes, and then see what you have remaining for rent. How does a crappy apartment sound to you? While your wife and kids get to keep on living in the style they have become accustomed to.

Money troubles are part of the biggest issue for dads after divorce. Just making ends meet after the child support and healthcare have been subtracted, well, you can see why a good full-time job is of critical importance. For me, I had to move in with my sister for several months before I was able to get a good-enough job to get a place on my own. While that arrangement had some advantages, I also had zero personal space, and zero disposable income.

Dads often give up because it feels like the deck is stacked against them. The money, the courts, the ex-wife, all want the dad to pay, and when he can’t pay (due to illness or layoffs) the court doesn’t care, the $2,000 is still due each month. No matter how careful you were when you set up your savings or retirement accounts, no matter what you make, that first paycheck to the ex-wife becomes a painful reminder of what a crappy deal you just got.

I’m not saying it’s easy for moms. Divorce is difficult for everyone. But the days when “moms were the best nurturers in the family” are long gone. In fact, my ex was not very nurturing at all. I was the breakfast-get-the-kids-to-school dad. That was me. She either slept in, or was doing her makeup and clothes for hours before leaving on some mysterious job interview, or business opportunity. That she made little more than $15,000 a year for the last few years of our marriage was fine, we made an arrangement, but she was NOT the top nurturer in the family.

Well, Dad, if you can afford it, get a lawyer, no matter the terms of your cooperative divorce, you need representation. Then fight for 50/50 parenting, joint custody, and NO CHILD SUPPORT. Yes, kids are expensive, but they should be equally shared as an expense and as a joy. This 70/30 split is bullshit. It’s demeaning to fathers. And it’s based on a parenting concept from the 50’s. Sure it makes it easier on the courts if everyone just goes with the plan. But don’t. If you want the time with your kids, fight for it.

Maybe it’s too late for me. Fighting my ex-wife for 50/50 custody would now be more upsetting to the kids. The benefit now, as they are teenagers is different. A lot of parenting teenagers is being a hotel and a taxi service. That’s okay, that’s the age they are. But as a parent, there are better things I could spend my time doing. Sure, I want my kids 50/50. It’s what I argued for when we first started divorce discussions. But in Texas, in 2010, I was likely to lose my court case. Today, I am told, you have a fighting chance, if you want 50/50. You should go for it.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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I May Never Reach Serenity with my Ex-Wife

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Divorce is hard. Coparenting is hard. Being civil to someone who is constantly attacking you is hard. Being solid and positive for my kids, above everything else, above all she throws at me, is not hard.

Sure we do it for the kids. We tried to keep the marriage together “for the kids,” and that didn’t work out so well. After divorce, you’ve got a harder hill to climb. You can NEVER let your angry face show. You’re coparent is golden in the eyes of the kids. There is no other option. Any anger you voice to your kids about your ex comes back to haunt everyone. I can’t say I’m not tempted.

And her best, today, means the AG’s office gives her some reassurance that she will eventually get every dollar she was awarded in the divorce decree. It’s a shame she sees that as an entitlement and not a cooperative agreement.

Just yesterday I was really really tempted to tell my 13 yo daughter, “You know at 15 you can decide who you want to live with.” I’d never say it. But I wanted to. I wanted to reclaim my daughter for the last few years of her attached child role. Once she’s gone to college all things change. And their mom made some decisions that forever changed our trajectory together. And to say I got the short end of the bargain would we an understatement.

I got the typical non-custodial role. I pay child support to the tune of $1,300 per month, and I get the kids about 30% of the time. That’s not fair. But that’s Texas. In fact, that’s still most of the country. The dad is a second class citizen. Oh, and did I mention she got the house and paid-for car too?

Still, there is no time to be angry with your ex. If you spend time fuming at them, you are wasting your own life. If you can channel that energy into something creative (writing a blog for example) then you can make use of the wonderful power that anger brings. I’m angry with my ex-wife. She does things daily that confound me and clearly do not live by the “do unto others” rule. But she has also abided by the no negatives rule. We focus on the parenting of our kids. There may be money issues, and basic courtesy issues that are all out of whack, but we make our best effort to keep our kids out of the fray between us.

The best result is that our kids are happy, productive, and thriving in high school and middle school. You will do almost anything to keep that positive result as the focus of your relationship with the other parent. Yes, I named this blog in an attempt to capture some of the “off” things that my ex does, but it’s also a testament to venting anonymously and keeping the shit-storm out of their lives.

I’m sure she does not see it the same way. I’m sure she doesn’t read me anymore, but she knows this blog is out here. And yes I’m cataloging the ills, tribulations, and trials of being a father with a narcissistic ex. My coparenting skills are tested almost weekly. I have to breathe and stop all action. From this calm place, I can remember the faces of my lovely children and take the next right action. It is NEVER to attack my ex. I’d like to. I’d really like to let her have it. I’d like to sue her and get 50/50 custody as I had asked for. But I won’t.

Yes, it’s my kid’s problem, because they have to deal with her attitude and resentment 70% of the time. But when they are with me, I can be 100% positive, no matter what.

I have to admit things are working out for me. I’ve got a new relationship (2 years) that’s heading towards marriage in several months. I’ve got my health. And in the near future I will also be rebuilding my credit.  She says, “I just don’t see it,” when I ask about removing their boot from my ass. But she too is doing her best. I have to believe this. And her best, today, means the AG’s office gives her some reassurance that she will eventually get every dollar she was awarded in the divorce decree. It’s a shame she sees that as an entitlement and not a cooperative agreement. Yes, it’s enforceable. And yes, she’s enforcing it. But she doesn’t need to. I am paying 1/3 of every dollar I make. Every. Single. Dollar. Suing me is not going to change the pace or the improve the volatility of the employment market.

Today I can say I love my ex-wife and hate her at the same time. Yes, yes, “it’s a thin line…” but this is something more. She still carries a lot of contempt and anger towards me. This is exemplified in her need to keep the state’s lawyers in the picture. Heck, she even works for lawyers, so you’d think she’d get some counsel. And today she’s married to a wealthy man. She’s still not happy, but guess what? It’s no longer my problem. Yes, it’s my kid’s problem, because they have to deal with her attitude and resentment 70% of the time. But when they are with me, I can be 100% positive, no matter what.

Get that engraved in your heart. Positive no matter what.

And love on.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Rationalizing Your Divorce

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 1.40.53 AMThere’s no getting over the fact that a divorce is a failure. And I may never forgive my ex-wife for changing my time with my kids forever. The system is rigged in a mom’s favor, and as a dad I was given my “deal” and told to grin and bear it “for the benefit of the kids.”

FK That.

My kids were 5 and 7 when they lost me. And my ex-wife made the plans to move on, without even letting me know. Sure we were in couple’s therapy, but I thought we were doing it to save our marriage. I think she was doing it to plan for her future. I never understood how cynical she’d become, and I didn’t clue to the fact that her toxic anger was directed 99% of the time at me. I didn’t get it. I was so in love with being a parent and being a good father, that I missed the clues she was putting off.

There were some clues I couldn’t ignore. In the last year, when I was still clueless to my then-wife’s scheming, she would occasionally burst out with a, “Fuck you.”

She had to apologize several times when she shot the verbal FU in-front of friends. She was incapable of keeping her rage contained. “Where,” I wondered aloud, “is her individual therapist in this situation?” How could a good therapist allow their client to seethe month after month.

While divorce is a terrible thing, a worse crime is staying in a marriage “for the kids.” I suppose, if I were to be honest, in the last few months, before she went to see an attorney, we were not very happy. I was definitely “staying for the kids.”

But I was staying out of strength and conviction that our marriage and our love relationship was worth saving. She was occupied with another pursuit. She wanted to know her options. She wanted to build financial models base on our assets. She must have known months in advance, how much money she would need to survive after divorce, even if I gave her the house.

I didn’t fight, once she’d told me she’d consulted a lawyer, “to understand her options.” I should’ve lawyered up at the same time, but I didn’t. I naively thought that our good intentions would serve us. I stupidly imagined that the phrase, “In the best interest of the children,” actually meant we would cooperate to find the resolution of our relationship that would benefit our children the most.

Her idea: Mom gets 70% of the kids time. Mom get’s the house. Mom gets a nice monthly stipend so she doesn’t have to work quite so hard at being a breadwinner during this trying time.

My idea: We shouldn’t be getting a divorce at all. If she would get real she’d see that this hard time was the perfect moment to reset, rebuild, and recommit to our marriage. AND if we were going to divorce, I wanted 50/50 parenting, with a 50/50 schedule.

The divorce therapist we met with sold me down the river. Sure it was 2010, but I really didn’t have a chance.

“This is what you would get if you guys went to court,” the therapist said to me in private when the 50/50 idea was being railroaded by both her and my soon-to-be-ex. “So why don’t we start there and work on the things you have some say over.”

Wait, what? I was paying this woman to tell me 50/50 was out of the question. I still wonder if my ex had been talking to her on the side, before we got into our parenting plan negotiations. I was almost laughed out of the therapy session when I brought in my 50/50 schedule and my three books that told why coparenting was better than custodial parenting.

I lost everything. For every night I had my kids, my ex-wife had two nights. I fell into despair. Had I been more susceptible to alcoholism, I know this would’ve done the trick to slip me into the addiction. As it was I dealt with a nasty episode of depression. Ouch. AND I dealt with missing my kids twice as much as my newly divorced ex-wife had to.

The deck is still stacked in the mom’s favor. In Texas, my home state, the man gets the non-custodial role in 80% of all divorces. The mom gets the house and the child support payment. I guess in a wealthy divorce that’s the split that makes everyone happy. Dad get’s less time with the kids but more time to make money. Mom get’s to hold on to her matriarch role and get paid well for the privilege of staying home with the kids.

The good news, I don’t ever have to go through that again. More good news, the state is doing 50/50 plans, with ZERO CHILD SUPPORT, about 50% of the time these days. And if the parents agree to joint custody and 50/50 parenting, the AG’s office doesn’t get involved.

That’s not how it worked out for me and my kids. As a result I will always have a sad place in my heart and memory about that time. But we’ve moved on. My kids are now 13 and 15 and we are entering a new “teen” phase of our relationship. And I have to hand it to my angry ex-wife, we’ve done a good job at being civil and keeping the relationship between us focused on being good parents first, and financial partners second. We’ve never gotten our priorities mixed up. Well, except for my wife’s angry move to involve the AG for enforcement of the decree when I was 60 days behind on child support. She will never be forgiven for that violation of trust and integrity.

It’s water under the bridge they say. And today I focus on my happy and well-adjusted kids. She’s 50% of that parenting team. And while she still holds the loaded gun to my head financially, she’s kept her mom-hat and mom-responsibility in the proper ratio. Our kids are doing great in school, they seem to be thriving in their lives, and as they grow older, I know our relationships will continue to change and prosper. But when we were going through it, it was all I could do to agree to the divorce, much less FIGHT with my soon-to-be-ex about custody, parenting plans, and money.

I give you my thanks dear exy. And I hope you choke on your own vitriol while keeping our kids happy and well-fed.

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Dear Ex-Wife, You’re Missing the Point

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Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 8.18.40 PMThree years ago when my ex-wife tossed our child support issue to the Attorney General’s office I had no idea the world of hurt I was about to get slapped around with. She was doing “what she thought was best for the kids” by making me into a dead beat dad in the eyes of the state of Texas.

Even though:

  • I told her I had lost my income due to a client loss (I was working for a small business at the time and the one client was 90% of my income)
  • I told her I would get caught up as soon as I could, and that I was not looking to reduce the amount owed
  • She agreed that I was not hiding income from her
  • She didn’t need the money, she had a nice job and the house was nearly paid for

But that wasn’t reason enough for her to delay her bomb drop for more than a month. Somehow she thought that filing with the AG’s office was like adding an accountant to the equation, so THEY could keep track of what I owed vs. what I paid. Of course, my ex was an excel wiz so she was doing models and spreadsheets herself, but maybe the state’s attorneys would help.

A week before Wells Fargo refused my restructuring offer, she said, “Sorry about the timing, but I just filed with the AG’s office.”

She thought that she would get me back in line sooner if the law was involved. Well, in theory I guess that would’ve happened if I had disappeared or was trying to not pay her at all. That’s what the Attorney General’s office is for. Dead beat dads skip out on their kids, refuse to pay, demand paternity testing, and basically try to not pay for anything for their kids.

In our case, upper middle-class white folks with 99 problems… But my commitment and stated plan was 100% in compliance with the law. But, and it’s a big but, I had lost my client and income for an unknown length of time. I worked daily on new business, on getting a job (It was going to take me about 100k a year to pay the child support and live in an apartment.) and told her she would get a percentage of everything I made. It wasn’t good enough for her.

Today, three years later, I can’t get a used car loan on my own. Unless I’m willing to pay 19% interest. I’ve been turned down on two job offers once they ran my credit as part of the background check. And while I didn’t get foreclosed on, I had to sell my only, my post-divorce house, in a hurry. I did make $5,000 on the deal. And, of course, she wanted her cut of that as well.

Did she think what it would do to me? No. Did she think it was going to get my checks coming regularly even when I didn’t have a job? I don’t know. Did she think of the best interest of her children when she threw the father of her children to the debt collectors know as the OAG? (Office of the Attorney General) Absolutely not.

Today I ask her if she’d consider getting the AG’s office out of our pants. She says, “I’m not there yet.” I say, “Did you know they take a 10% fee out of the child support payments I make?” She says, “Are you sure of that?” I say, “You only get money when I make money, I don’t have any assets. You’re living in the only asset we had.” She said, “Help me understand why I only started getting paid after the AG’s office was in the picture?”

It’s because I didn’t have a job. When I got a job I started paying you 45% of every dollar I made. For the care and feeding of my kids. Excuse me, our kids.

I ask, “How do I know what the money is going to?” She says, “It’s none of your business.”

When your ex throws you to the wolves, what sympathy does she deserve? How do you maintain a civil relationship “for the kids?” I don’t know the answer, but you just do. I have never mentioned to my kids that their mom was the reason we lost the house and had to move in with grandma for 9 months. I never told the kids that the reason my bank account was frozen twice was due to their mom’s actions, and the AG’s aggressive actions to recover “her money.”

I could be mad about it. I could do things to get even. But I won’t. I have to rise above the blame and “imagine” that she’s doing the best she can. That keeping me in the dog house does something for them. Perhaps it makes her feel better. Demonstrates how childish I was. How I was irresponsible.

All I think it does is fuck me on a daily basis when I go looking for a job, try to rent an apartment, or rent a car. All I think it does is give her a stiff spike stiletto heel on my neck.

Oh well, in 5 years this will all be over. I’ll still owe her the money, but I’ll be paying her back as fast as I can. Cause, “it’s the kids money.” Um, yeah, right.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What I’m Missing Today as a Divorced Dad

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It’s been nearly seven years since my divorce and on average that means I’ve missed 2/3 of my kids lives since then. I’m not depressed about it, but the sadness does occasionally creep up on me on the nights they are with their mom. I fought for 50/50 parenting but was shown the law book as an excuse for doing the right thing. If you parent 50/50 both mom and dad should have equal access to the kids after the divorce.

What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce.

For me the loss of my kids and being thrust into alone time was the most traumatic part about divorce. We had built a happy (somewhat) home and I was determined to keep it together. And sure, I was keeping it together for the kids, but probably I was holding on to a crumbling marriage because I didn’t want to be alone again. I loved the routines: 1. home from school; 2. homework and play; 3. dinner; 4. bath; 5. bedtime stories. My kids were young when we split. And the harsh interruption of this family dance was almost too much to take. I survived. We all survived. But for the most part, their lives stayed the same and my life was upended and cut off from all I knew.

It’s odd when you leave your house for the last time, all the little things you’re never going to remember to ask for, but you leave behind. In my case, I didn’t have anywhere to move to, so I moved in with my sister while I tried to get my act together again. So 95% of all my stuff stayed in the house. At some point, a few months in, she and one of her girlfriends packed all of my clothes and belonging into boxes and moved my material corpse into the garage. I’m grateful I didn’t have to do it. But it also felt like I was being buried, or put in my place.

I was fortunate to have a sister in town who happened to have a mother-in-law plan that worked out for me and my kids. While I didn’t have any privacy, my room was next to the media/tv/gaming room, I did have a place to sleep. And the room was big enough that over the summer the kids could spend their dad-weekends with me. So, I didn’t have it to bad. Or should I say, it could’ve been a lot worse.

But seeing my kids and ex-wife in the house, with all my stuff, continuing on with life as usual. It was like “daddy was on an extended business trip.” But I would never be back.

A few nights ago, on a typical kid-free Monday (M-T-W nights were always kid-free) I was feeling sad and I tried to examine what was making me ache. Again, this is seven years later. It was easy to identify that I missed my kids. Their laughs and stories about their day at school. Getting to hear what’s going on in their lives. But it was deeper.

In my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about.

What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce. And I’m sure it cut both ways. I’m sure that my ex-wife was sad on the nights when they were with me. Those young-kid nights when everything was about them and their connection to you and the world and each other. Here I was, seven years later, feeling sorry about what I’d lost when they were younger.

It’s different today, being in parenting relationships with teenagers. Most of the time the parenting role is about transportation and food. And with friends and boyfriend/girlfriends they’d mostly like to be somewhere else. We still have the tender moments, but they are sparsely scattered throughout our time together. What I was sad about a few days ago is the loss of that time, the tender time. My kids are still precious, and I am completely devoted to them, but there’s a longing, like wanting a puppy to stay a puppy, for that earlier time. Of course, it’s never coming back, and my sadness is just about me. Perhaps it’s me feeling sorry for myself all these years later, about what I lost back then.

This was the pain of divorce for me. The minute she said she had seen a lawyer I howled. And in my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about. When I lost my dad in divorce the loss was absolute. It was as if he fell off the deep end of his isolation and alcoholism. He was gone from my life. What I had after the divorce was a ghost of a dad.

I am not a ghost to my kids. I am a fully alive and empowered father. I was handed a less-than-fair deal and we’ve all learned to deal with it. Today my ex has been mentioning a 50/50 schedule, toying with the idea rather than making an offer. We haven’t reached any agreement, but there are more things in motion. And again, it’s just an “idea” she’s floating.

I’m also considering letting my sadness be my own and not mixing it up with my kids-of-divorce sadness, because, my kids seem extremely happy right where things are. My sadness is my own. It’s more from my little boy than my middle-aged man. I can recognize that and deal with it, on my own. And we’ll see how our relationships evolve over the coming years.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Divorce and the Goodbye Monday Blues

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Divorce is about goodbyes. Goodbyes you never thought you’d be saying. Instead of everyday, like I imagined, I only see my kids 10 out of the 30 days in an average month. That’s a lot of time without their smiling faces. And when you’re the off parent, it’s a lot of time alone.

In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it.

Today I’m in a much better place with it, but it’s never easy. I miss them. And I’m amazed when days go by without even a text or Snapchat. But they’re teenagers and doing their own thing. I get it. Still, it’s a heartbreaking situation for someone who’s emotionally open and connected. I suppose there a people who are more business like about it, but I’m a card-carrying member of the attachment parenting movement, and perhaps the attachment is just as strong both ways.

I’ve been a divorced dad for almost seven years and I’m still going through empty nest syndrome. Perhaps this is one of the gifts of divorce, the real empty nest won’t be so hard for me, since I’ve been 2/3 empty already. But the gift is a painful one.

On Monday mornings, at the end of my four-day run with the kids, I drop them off at school and then return to my old house and drop off their bags. Early on in the divorce this was hugely depressing. Everything about it brought back the pain. My old house. Dropping them at school knowing I wouldn’t see them for several days. And that one day thing on the off week is pretty hard too, but drop off Mondays were really a bitch.

Just this past Monday I had a moment of sadness and overwhelm. There were a lot of other pressures that converged on this particular Monday, but something about the drop off really struck a deep chord of pain in me. There’s no explaining it. I used to get sad sometimes dropping them off at day care when I was going to see them that same night. I miss my kids. I like to hear about their day (what they’ll tell me) and their ambitions for whatever. Being around them in their daily activities is a joy.

Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.

The only tonic to this sad dance is picking up your own life and moving on. In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it. And I continue to work on myself outside of my relationships, doing the emotional excavation to understand my sadness.

I was asked by a friend the other day what was the hardest part of divorce, losing my primary relationship or losing my kids? Kids. It wasn’t even close. Maybe that’s still some of the anger of the divorce talking, but I could imagine myself without my ex-wife, I could not imagine my life without my kids. It’s not that I’m living for or through them. But your love for your kids is something unlike any other relationship. There’s no explaining this to someone without kids. It simply doesn’t compute.

Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.

Do I still get tripped up on drop off Mondays? Yep. It’s part of the ebb and flow of life as a divorced parent. One day things seem okay and the next day the universe is split in two: time with your kids and time without them. I’ll take what I can get and do the best I can in that time. The rest is up to me.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Complaining Never Ends, Even After Divorce

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Yesterday my ex-wife texted me about my son’s phone. She’s still got the kids for 4 more days, and I knew the repair was about $80 bucks, so I asked her why she thought it was necessary to give this task to me? I mean, they spend an exorbitant amount of time at the mall, a simple drop-off and pick-up while they were shopping…

I asked, “Why are you giving this to me?”

My ex-wife, even when she was my wife, is rarely happy with how things are. She used to always complain that she was the only one who cared about the house, who paid bills, who took the kids to doctor’s appointments.

Then came the extraordinary reply that went into her health, her schedule, her work, and how if she “ever asked” me for anything it was with great effort. Um, yeah, I don’t think so. She asks for other’s to do her “work” all the time.

Am I enjoying some of my ex-wife’s exhaustion too much? Hmm. Good question. Am I withholding support of my kids in order to punish her? No way. So she’d like me to handle this mundane chore while the kids are with her? What? I just didn’t get it. Then in a conversation with another parent, not divorced, I said, “You could be dealing with the exact same shit as a divorced parent. It doesn’t stop.”

And that’s when it hit me. My ex-wife, even when she was my wife, is rarely happy with how things are. She used to always complain that she was the only one who cared about the house, who paid bills, who took the kids to doctor’s appointments. And this is when she was either not working or working 10 – 15 hours a week. Yeah, she was right. There was an imbalance, but it was never enough, no matter how much I pitched in.

And there is one tiny bit of poetic justice here.

At the beginning of our divorce I was asking for 50/50 parenting. I was thinking about the kids and not the child support. And I was denied my request for a number of reasons.

  1. She was the primary caregiver.
  2. The kids needed their mother more than their father.
  3. She was the more responsible parent (keeping track of doctor’s appointments and kid’s school assignments)
  4. (the big one) If we went to court this is what she would get.

So in the heat of that discussion, I was railroaded into giving up my dreams of being a 50/50 parent. I was told what I was going to get and I accepted their verdict. But I did not agree with 1, 2, or 3 at all. It simply was not true.

What was true is she got the house, a nice child support payment, and 2/3 of the kid’s time. It was a trade-off, I guess. For the money she was given, she would also provide for most of the child care and extracurricular activities. That’s just how it broke down. And this is when our kids were 6 and 8.

Now our kids are 13 and 15 and she’d like A LOT more help with all the parenting duties. That’s understandable. But, it’s not what we agreed to. So perhaps the non-custodial role has some benefit later in the divorce. Perhaps my reward, or my consolation prize (because I would’ve preferred having the kids with me 50% of the time) is that now she also has most of the extracurricular duties as well.

What I can do is be the best dad I can be given the time I have. And I don’t rub the situation in on my ex-wife, though I chuckle a little every time these complaints get filed on me.

Let me be clear. She was not the primary caregiver. We split that down the middle. From diaper changes, to nighttime feedings, to cleaning up around the house. And I do not agree that mom’s are more necessary for the kids. I believe dad’s get the shit end of the deal in traditional divorce. I think if you parented 50/50 you should divorce 50/50. And finally, she was not the most responsible parent, we had divided some of the parenting duties up, and scheduling was one of hers.

My ex-wife complained when we were married. And now that we’ve been divorced over 6 years she’s still complaining. And while I hear her requests, I also hear her asking for a more 50/50 parenting arrangement, something she denied me. Is it bad that I’m holding back on this? I don’t think so.

Today, with teenagers, I’m not so sure I want 50/50 parenting. Had I been given the same consideration when they were younger, I might think differently today. But I’m getting enough of my kids, at the moment. Sure, I miss them when they are away, but I can’t ever get back their early years. I can’t make up for lost time.

What I can do is be the best dad I can be given the time I have. And I don’t rub the situation in on my ex-wife, though I chuckle a little every time these complaints get filed on me. We’re no longer married. You no longer have my undivided attention for such things as “being tired.”

I love my kids and I still love my ex-wife for being such a good mother. But she’s still the custodial parent, and with that comes a salary and additional responsibilities. That’s what she asked for, that’s what she gets, even today.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce

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At the time of my divorce my ex wanted primary custody. I wanted joint custody. She wanted the majority of the children’s time. I wanted 50/50. In my understanding of parenting and what my kids needed, I was certain that our roles were equally important. For some reason, probably financial, she did not agree. And in our fair state of Texas she was awarded the custody just as she knew she would be.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent.

So, for the last seven years from the time my daughter was six and my son was eight, she’s had the responsibility and pleasure of parenting my kids two hours for every one hour I get. Back in the early months and years of the divorce this was devastating. I never got enough time with my kids. I longed for them twice as often and twice as long as she did. And in those tender years our kids really needed both of us. My son needed his dad more than he was getting him. My daughter craved my hugs and happy lifestyle. But that’s the way the divorce went down.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent. Well, she is engaged, but it’s a separate house, separate living quarters kid of engagement. And I imagine she is not lying when she says it’s hard.

And there is a part of me that still misses my kids during the 2-for-1 hours they are with her. But today, as teenagers, the quality and type of relationship with your kids is very different. Back then I wanted to teach my son to ride a bike, I wanted to take my daughter fishing more, I wanted to expand their horizons and let them see and be with their happy father. I didn’t get as much of an opportunity to do that. But back then it was a different type of parenting.

Today, as teenagers, my kids are even more interesting and self-driven, but they are also a lot more work. Most of the parenting activity in the teen years is driving them from place to place, waiting for them and their friends to get ready, and feeding and clothing them. It’s not as rewarding. It’s still engaging and important, but the “kid years” are really the golden age of parenting and attachment parenting specifically.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent.

My life is also very different. A bit over a year ago I started dating a woman who quickly captured my heart and imagination for the future. Today we are happily engaged and living together in a modest house that has two rooms in the back for my kids. And I relish every hour I have with them. But I don’t necessarily want more carpool and cafeteria shifts. That’s the hard work, low return, parenting duty that makes up the majority of parenting teenagers.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent. I am more than happy to carpool them. I thrive and excel at making them breakfast before school and getting them to their appointments on-time. It’s not a chore, it’s a pleasure. I’m guessing, my overwhelmed ex is asking for 50/50 parenting now because the mundane teen years are harder and less interactive than before.

So I lost the golden years of parenting. My son is a bit less masculine at times and he still doesn’t know how to ride a bike. He doesn’t want to learn, either. That’s okay. We have the relationship we have as a result of those years of absence. All those years where their mom tried to fill in the dad blanks. But I was not there. And I was given that share of the parenting duties by her selfishness and greed.

I’d love more time with my kids. But… I am okay with the time I have with my teenagers. In the time I do have with them I know I am the best dad they could ever have. And they are not begging to go 50/50 or anything. Why would they want things any different? It’s my ex that wants the change and today, unfortunately for her, she’s got the Standard Possession Order (SPO) she argued for and won. She’s got the kids about 2 hours for every 1 of mine.

Today, in the long tail days of parenting, it makes me smile. I’m still missing my kids just as much as I was as a newly divorced dad, but I’m missing a different role. I can’t get back that early dad role. They are grown and growing now and have different needs. There are different ways I can be an influence on their lives. And one of my greatest gifts is showing them how to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Now, I need to go wake one of my teenagers up so we can have breakfast together and talk about the world.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Office of the Attorney General, Child Support Division

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I started this blog even before I was divorced. The cold truth is, it only takes one person to ask for a divorce, there is very little the “still attached” party can do. I was mad. I was afraid. I was certain I had failed in some massive parenting test. And my greatest shame was what was going to happen to my kids. I “knew” about loneliness and missing a dad. I knew what growing up without a dad had done to me.

Turns out I do suffer from depression. And in my case, what that meant was I often withdrew from activities while I tried to figure out my own head. I often shut down and got quiet. I did not rage or get suicidal. I got sad.

Now, I’m not so bad, but I’m a bit of a sensitive guy. A man that’s more in touch with his feelings than his bank account. And this has caused problems in my life. It caused problems in my marriage. Not insurmountable problems, at least, not until my then-wife decided she had simply had enough. The trials-by-fire had worn her resolve down. Her family of origin story with a mentally ill parent had set her up to react badly to my depressive episodes.

And even as those depressions were behind us, and even though the employment situation was ON, she was afraid of something. She was afraid of what would happen next. Now, she liked to focus this attention on me and my mental illness, but over time I’ve come to understand that the “unknown” she was so afraid of was more about her, and her future. She was comfortable working 15 – 20 hours a week and letting me do the heavy lifting to keep our house paid for and our kids insured. Each time my situation changed we entered into some crisis counseling to figure out what was wrong with me. Every time.

Turns out I do suffer from depression. And in my case, what that meant was I often withdrew from activities while I tried to figure out my own head. I often shut down and got quiet. I did not rage or get suicidal. I got sad. I tended towards hopelessness and giving up. And to her credit, my then-wife and I weathered a number of trying times. 9-11 took out all of my income in one morning, and the economy was not very friendly after that even if I did know what I was doing, and even if I did give 100% of my attention to making a living. It was trying times for everyone. And my marriage suffered.

But we persevered. And in most cases that type of resilience builds strength and shared optimism. But some how in my marriage, things continued to feel hard even when things were going great. I got us back into therapy, hoping to rekindle the flame, or at least understand what was still causing my then-wife to react with such anger towards me. The therapy sessions tended to be about some crisis or another, but not about the heart of her animosity or growing frigidity.

Some seven years later, I’m still unraveling parts of the story. And one of the ways I’ve been deciphering what happened, all along, has been writing this raw blog about the entire experience. The loss and depression is here. The hopefulness and optimism. My attempts to repair the relationship with my ex-wife, even just for the kids, is here. And her continued actions against me, that seem to me to be against her own best interest, are all here too. It’s a complicated story. And the story seems to get richer even as I move further away from required interactions with her. As our kids get older, the parenting decisions required are less collaborative and more economic in nature.

My payments will likely be cut in half, or perhaps a tad more. The child support payments will more accurately represent the reality of our lives.

So yesterday, I attended a Child Support Modification session at the Attorney General’s Office. This was a meeting I had called, finally, to reset the child support payments that were negotiated 7 years ago, and that reflected my own optimism at finding the same big corporate job. Truth is, my employment has never equalled my Dell income again, and that’s okay. Except I was paying her based on that much-higher salary. Yesterday, I came to the table with my new salary, and asked for the payments to be reset accordingly.

Needless to say, she’s not excited by the prospect. She’s lived on a very healthy payment, and she would like me to go on paying. And even when I lost my job for a short period, rather than work with me, she filed everything with the AG’s office to “enforce” her decree. She feels she is owed that money. And every month that goes by that I don’t catch up on those “lost payments” is time that I am doing her wrong. She still angry about it. It comes out in everything she does. Even yesterday, she called the progress to a halt to make sure the economics would work out in her favor. So we postponed the decision two more weeks.

The funny thing is, it’s not going to change the amount of money she’s going to get. That writing is on the wall. My payments will likely be cut in half, or perhaps a tad more. The child support payments will more accurately represent the reality of our lives. Now, if we were in 50/50 custody situation, I could probably ask the court to make her pay me at this point. I’d bet that would piss her off even more.

This is not the system my wife needed. She needed compassion for her former spouse, and the patience to hear me saying, “I will pay you 100% of the money.” Instead she’s wasting tax payers money, and costing us 10% of the child support payments, to have the state’s attorney’s oversee our case.

She feels entitled to the child support. And even when I was suffering from a job loss, she didn’t give me time to catch up, she sent our documents for collections by the state of Texas. Well, in two weeks, she’s going to get another chance to take her medicine. Perhaps it’s the same medicine she didn’t want to take when I asked if we could renegotiate our working/money agreements to have a little more balance between us.

Turns out she’s making good money these days. And to get a divorce from me, she had to find that next job, that paid well enough, or she wouldn’t have seen her way forward. And as much as she liked the 15 – 20 hour work week, and playing mom the rest of the time, she’s now working a good bit more than she would’ve had we stayed together. You see, divorce is expensive. Two houses are more expensive than one. But the cost of living with someone who is angry with you 99% of the time, is not worth any compromise.

Just like the child support, she threw a wrench in the process ONE MORE TIME, to see what she could come up with to make HER situation better. It’s not about the kids. It’s not about better health insurance. It’s about HER and HER lifestyle.

I hope she has a productive two weeks figuring it out. The reduced child support amount is already set.

END NOTE: One thing I noticed while I was waiting with all the other parents in the Attorney General’s Office was how desperate they looked. These were poor women who were struggling to get by and hoping to track and bill their dead beat dads into paying their child support. This is not the system my wife needed. She needed compassion for her former spouse, and the patience to hear me saying, “I will pay you 100% of the money.” Instead she’s wasting tax payers money, and costing us 10% of the child support payments, to have the state’s attorney’s oversee our case. We did not ever need to end up in the AG’s office. Ever. Had the tables been turned, we would’ve worked it out, collaboratively.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Without Blame or Malice

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I say some mean things here about my ex-wife, and I want to be clear about a few things.

  1. It’s not really about her. It’s about the experience that happened. My experience of the events is very different from her’s, I’m sure, but this is MINE.
  2. She’s not a bad person. But she is still (6 years later) making very bad decisions. Decisions against her own best interest. I can’t seem to convince her of this, so I stopped trying to convince her of anything.
  3. She really did do some stupid shit. I’m still uncovering how deep the BS went. I’m still amazed at the amount of lies she told while claiming I was the dishonest partner.
  4. I did everything I could to keep the marriage together. She did not. She made a decision, well in advance of telling me about it, and there was little or nothing I could do to change her mind.
  5. I’m grateful for the release at this point, but back when it was happening I was devastated. I’m still a bit sore about the lost time that I can never make up with my kids. She should’ve agreed to 50/50 parenting.
  6. Even as I’m angry and restimulated by writing about this stuff, I am also released from it. A good rant post is like a good therapy session. And you, my readers, are my therapist. Comments and encouragements are always welcome.
  7. I won’t ever get over the divorce because I won’t ever get over my loss as a parent when my then-wife chose OUT rather than IN. I am not angry about the divorce. I’m not angry at her today. But I can access and release the anger here, and it’s a good thing.
  8. She doesn’t read this blog. She knows about it, but I’m certain she avoids it. And that’s a good thing. These posts aren’t written to her. She’s got her own life. She can suck it, for all I care.
  9. As much as I’d like to leave that “suck it” comment there without comment, I have to recant just a bit. I still love parts of my ex-wife. She’s the mother of my children and I would never wish harm on her. I would never act against her in any word or action. (Other than write this blog, that is.)
  10. As honest and revealing as I am, I’m certain I’m not getting to half of it. There’s always more, triggered by an event, a memory, a phrase I hear passing strangers say. And I take those opportunities to release more of the distress.
  11. My distress today is over being a good parent. I want to be the best parent I can be. I support their mom financially, and emotionally I’m 100% positive. (Except here.)

It’s good to have a place to let off steam. I don’t think I would’ve recovered my center nearly as quickly without this release valve. And I keep it anonymous so that my kids (13 & 15) don’t accidentally google me and find it. This is not for them either.

In divorce there are a lot of moving parts. If you have kids together things are exponentially difficult. Every action you take in support of your ex-partner is in support of your kids. Every action you take against your ex-partner is against your kids as well. When my ex-wife filed our decree with the Attorney General’s office she essentially said, “Fuck you. I’ll let the state sort out your financial problems.”

This is not how we parented together. This is not how you treat a friend and former spouse unless you are still really angry. And it was HER idea! So, I never quite understand what she’s so pissed about. I don’t have to understand her motivations. And I no longer have any responsibility for her happiness. Again, I don’t think I would ever act adversely towards her, even after she sold me off to the collections agency of the state. But again, I’ve moved on in a way that releases me from that anger. I’m not mad at her, unless I think about the fact that TODAY she is still making the decision that the AG’s office is of benefit to her and our children.

NEWSFLASH: I have given my ex-wife a percentage of every dollar I’ve ever made since the divorce. That she didn’t like my job loss a few years ago is unfortunate, but it’s not the AG’s office that got me paying again, it’s the job. She caused me to lose my house. She caused me to not get several jobs that ran my credit report as a last-step and then passed. And today her actions are still obviously motivated out of anger. And today she’s still got the AG’s office on my ass.

I’m sorry she has so much anger. Maybe she needs a blog. Works for me. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Data Set of My Divorce: Adding Things Up

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We were married over ten years. We spawned two great kids. But I’d have to say there were very few years that weren’t somewhat tumultuous. It seemed like I was always begin accused of some transgression: not doing enough of the chores, asking for sex too often, not being honest, not being responsible enough. And while these weren’t leveraged at me as an excuse for not wanting to make love, it was more often than not one of these complaints that shut her libido completely off. Zero.

What she failed to mention, well into our “lunches” that got progressively more flirty, is that she was living with a man.

But there has been a lot of time since then, and you think I’d let go of it, but some parts of the divorce and thus marriage still have big question marks for me. Could I have done more? Was I at fault? Was I a child? In trying to examine these things about my role in the relationship, I’ve come to discover there were a lot of things in her story that didn’t add up. There were some key pieces of information that were being left out at various points along the way, that have me wondering. Was it her fault? Was she dishonest from the beginning? When she told me, in couples therapy, that she’d already seen a lawyer, was it couple’s therapy or divorce counseling we’d been doing?

The first big X was when we were just getting re-acquainted with each other. We’d known each other in high school and had started “doing lunch” on a semi-weekly basis. What she failed to mention, well into our “lunches” that got progressively more flirty, is that she was living with a man. Not just dating him, but living in his house.

The second big X came during one of our hardest moments. As 9-11 had torn everyone’s financial stability to the ground and I was struggling with how I wanted to reenter the work place, she began a series of lunches with a young man she worked with. It wasn’t that she was having lunch with him, it’s that she wasn’t telling me about him. And the day I stumbled onto an email about “his depression” and “my loneliness” I knew I was discovering what emotional infidelity felt like. We weathered this one, she admitted her mistake and vowed to never do it again. But a deep fundamental trust had been broken.

So three strikes of dishonesty and deceit. And I was the one always being accused of being untrustworthy.

The final X came when she confessed to consulting with an attorney while we were in couple’s therapy. She didn’t let on that things were that bad IN therapy, and only admitted her “discovery phase” because I asked her. She was not being honest. She was not opening up in couple’s therapy. She was planning her options. She wanted to know what she was going to get if we divorced. It’s a fear she had expressed to me earlier, in some moment of wine-induced honesty. “If you leave me, I’ll have nothing.” It was a false statement, but it was an indication of just how deep her fear went.

So three strikes of dishonesty and deceit. And I was the one always being accused of being untrustworthy. Sometimes it is projection that shows up. If she was feeling unfaithful, untrustworthy, perhaps projecting those fears on to me help her deal with her own guilt.

In the dataset I see, she was withholding and misrepresenting herself all along. This is a hard nut to swallow at this point. But it’s easier than trying to figure out what I did wrong. Because I was the partner who was still ALL-IN at the end. She’d made a decision to leave, made plans to cover her needs, and then with the backing of the State of Texas, she ripped my world in two.

I was given a 1/3 – 2/3 parenting schedule. (Called the Standard Possession Order). I was given the non-custodial parent role, that comes with a large child support payment. And I was asked to leave the house I funded. Because it was “in the best interest of the kids.”

What was not in the best interest of anyone was the bad deal I got. Rather than cooperating during tough times, she decided to file on me after three months of being late. I was telling her she would get paid. I was showing her my bank statements and my pursuit of new business. But she was impatient and entitled. So she let the dogs loose on her ex-husband. And while this big X doesn’t show up on the chart, it’s the biggest one. I can never trust her again. Perhaps my biggest mistake was trusting her after she told me she was living with a guy.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Game of Divorce

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If divorce was a game would you be so competitive with your spouse to WIN? Are there limits to which you would not stoop? Like damaging their livelihood? Burdening them with so much debt and payments that they can’t afford a place to live and thus a place to have the kids on their alternating weekends? What’s the fair limit between partners who just want to split amicably? Is that even possible?

Let’s look at the game board and the moves you decide on.

First Move: 50/50 parenting or something else?
If something else, why? Is the other parent worse than you at some critical task? Would you feel more sad if you had your kids less time? Is it about you or the kids?

I was going with the instinct that we had been lovers, parents, and now even in parting we were going to do what was best for BOTH of us. I did not have the same killer instinct my soon-to-be-ex-wife had.

Second Move: Keep the house or sell it?
The kids should be able to stay in their home through this trying time. Sure, that’s a good premise, but if keeping the home pushes the financial picture out of balance, what can we use to make things fair? Retirement savings? Okay, but do you realize those will require a 25% penalty if they are withdrawn early?

Third Move: Joint Custody or Non-Custodial/Custodial Parent Roles?
If not joint, then why? What makes your decisions carry more weight then your former partner’s? Or is this one just about the money?

Fourth Move: Child Support?
Shouldn’t the parent that makes the most money help offset some of the expenses of raising the children when they are with the other parent? Oh wait, what if the other parent wants 50/50 parenting, what’s the financial split then? Can you base the child support on BOTH incomes and not attach it to the dad every single time? That might be more fair.

But again, this isn’t about fair at this point. Divorce is about winning.

Fifth Move: Insurance for the kids?
Who pays for the kids to be insured? Somebody’s got to be the responsible party? How about the parent that already had the child support payments? Why not give them an additional financial burden? And if they lose their job, what’s the plan then? Oh perhaps you can turn the whole thing into the AG’s office for enforcement.

So in the GAME OF DIVORCE I was unaware of the real consequences of all 5 moves. I was going with the instinct that we had been lovers, parents, and now even in parting we were going to do what was best for BOTH of us. I did not have the same killer instinct my soon-to-be-ex-wife had.

This game is rigged and the courts know it, the wives know it, and the divorce attorney’s who’d rather represent the moms, know it.

In 80% of the family court cases the man loses every single move. Unless you are prepared to go to court and spend some money, get ready for the Game of Divorce to hand you a very lopsided playing card. You don’t even get a say in the outcome. Here’s what you’ve lost:

  1. SPO (Standard Possession Order) works out to about 35% custody. She’s getting them almost twice as many hours as you are.
  2. Custody sets child support and in Texas the fee is pretty much set at around $500+ per kid.
  3. Insurance responsibility settles on the non-custodial parent as well. Just to keep things simple, one party owes money and services, the other party receives money and services.
  4. The home will go with the mom, 80% of the time, because the kids usually go with her, and there is case history that shows the kids should be disturbed as little as possible at this difficult time. What about the dad’s disturbance?
  5. The Attorney General’s Office does not represent you, they represent the Custodial Parent. Listen to their voice-tree navigation system. “If you are the custodial parent, press one.” All others, be prepared to HOLD.

I lost the Game of Divorce in a big way. Not because I didn’t play. And not because I didn’t ask for what I thought was “in the best interest of the kids” and FAIR. I lost because that’s the way the game is stacked against the fathers today. The financial hardships often cause newly divorced dads to live in crappy apartments while struggling to make the money to pay their ex-wives so that they are allowed to see their kids.

I’m not a men’s right’s activist, but am a DADS LIVES MATTER advocate. This game is rigged and the courts know it, the wives know it, and the divorce attorney’s who’d rather represent the moms, know it. But that’s not the way it should be.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post continues with: Not Winning At Divorce

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The Non-Rational Divorce

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Divorce law is biased in favor of the mom. The minute she says, “I’m considering a divorce,” the man’s livelihood and balance of power is stripped away by the courts and my the formerly loving spouse.

Looking at my ex-wife you’d never suspect the painful deceit that lies within. Now, I get that when you’re negotiating divorce many irrational fears and fantasies come up. But we slowed it down. We took the time to get things right. And she still fought for an imbalanced parenting plan. She still argued that she was the primary caregiver. She still went for the payday she knew she could count on.

What would happen if we divorced the way we married. It’s not like divorce, if you have kids, is really an escape from the other person. Divorce is just a changing of the political power in a relationship. When we were dating and while we were married we had a balance of power that worked itself out through bilateral negotiations and cooperation. Once the divorce decree is issued the balance of power is over. And if you’re ex decides to send your case to collections (The Attorney General’s Office) you can be assured that the power is all in the greedy fingers of the custodial parent.

What was my ex thinking?

  • I can get the money.
  • I can get the house.
  • I can get the kids.

Yep, she was right. But that doesn’t make the system or the rationale right. It’s dead wrong. In our case, I was the more responsible party for caregiving. I didn’t get into power struggles with our daughter over chores and choices. I didn’t sleep-in until noon on weekends. I didn’t work part-time and claim even that was a hardship. BS. My ex-wife went for the jugular because she knew she could get it. I mean, why wouldn’t you go for the best deal you could. Well, except for the fact that you’re taking that victory out of someone else’s hide. Must not have been an issue for her. She was scared. She was thinking about the needs of her children. She has an addiction to fancy shoes that wasn’t going to go away.

Today when the wife decides she’s ready for a change, she is making a choice to take 100% of the power in the relationship.

Why does the divorce start with the above three laws? I mean, you could fight them. You might win. But if you’re like me, not a fighter, you might go collaborative and hope for the best. BAD IDEA. The collaboration ends the minute the discussion moves to money or schedule.

What parents should be thinking when considering a divorce.

  • How can we make this equitable for both of us?
  • Isn’t a 50/50 arrangement better for the kids?
  • Money is always an issue, even after they’re 18, shouldn’t we start fairly from the beginning?
  • My ex is not a bad person, we are making changes in the structure of our relationship, but the honor, respect, and compassion should remain between us.

We’ve got to make a change in the way divorce happens. Today when the wife decides she’s ready for a change, she is making a choice to take 100% of the power in the relationship. Before things were cooperative. When divorce is started the law is on her side. To fight about divorce is to sue your former partner. So, for most of us, we end up settling for the standard possession order and the non-custodial role. It’s BULLSHIT.

Dad’s are just as important to their families as moms. Both parents should share the financial burden equally. When one partner loses a job both parties live with less. If the dad has to go looking for a new place to live, shouldn’t they be the one’s given the financial consideration? Why is it the exact opposite. I get less time with my kids so I have to pay more money? It’s all messed up. It’s a historical precedent that must be fought if you are determined to get something better for your kids.

Divorce law is biased in favor of the mom. The minute she says, “I’m considering a divorce,” the man’s livelihood and balance of power is stripped away by the courts and my the formerly loving spouse. Until we change the status quo we dads will start the process from a disadvantage. Just know this is the way it is. Knowledge is power, so lawyer up. Even if you’re going cooperative, get a lawyer, because things will turn political and you need someone on your side too.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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A Thin Line Between Love and Hate: Marriage to Divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

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OFF-header-beewitch

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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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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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.


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


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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image: flogging a dead horse, ben hussmann, creative commons usage


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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Divorce Support: For the Children *and* the Parents

OFF-fighter

We need to dispense with the pleasantries right up front. (You are welcome to let me know how you feel about this in the comments. They’re always open.)

  • Divorce is an awful hardship for everyone in the fracturing family.
  • With two professional parents, the man is likely to make more money.
  • Two homes costs more than twice as much, for the person paying child support.
  • Child support is not an entitlement, even if the law and the benefactor might see it this way.
  • The financial bindings of the family exist long past 18-years-of-age.
  • Both parent deserve food, clothing, and shelter.
  • When adversity strikes, both parents are affected.
  • 50/50 parenting after divorce is not the norm.
  • If your former partner struggles for a few years after divorce, with emotional issues, financial issues, etc. this is an opportunity for continued compassion, not legal action.
  • Some fathers will be assholes and try to get out of paying child support or (in the case of 50/50 custody) their fair share of the expenses.
  • 50/50 custody and a 50/50 financial split actually keeps the father closer to the family.
  • If you married and parented 50/50, regardless of how you feel about the divorce, regardless of which side you were on (stay married or leave), you should work together towards a 50/50 divorce.

You can’t ask for primary custody and then start complaining about having too many parenting responsibilities. Well, you can, but the argument says more for 50/50 custody than it does for your obvious hardship. Of course, you complained during our marriage that I didn’t do enough. Didn’t pay the bills right, didn’t mow the lawn enough, didn’t put the dishes in the dishwasher every night before heading to bed.

So we’re divorced. And in the eyes of the law you are the custodial parent. It’s what you wanted. I’m sure you had your reasons, I’m sure you could’ve told the judge, with a straight face, how you do all the parenting. But you know it’s not true. Not even close.

She didn’t care about me or my house. She wanted the money. She was entitled to it. Obviously. It was right there in writing.

Let’s say you get married and both of you work. In the negotiations for how kids will be possible you both decide that the mom will work significantly less, so that the kids have their mom with them at all times. As they enter school, perhaps you will start back to work, so we can share that load again. And we may decide that you will still meet the bus at 3:00 every weekday, but it’s a privilege not a chore. It’s a benefit not a burden.

So when the grand consul de divorce asks, “So how do you share the parenting duties now?” You can answer, I’m the primary care giver. And I know you honestly believed it. Well, okay, maybe a tad of it was vindictive and defensive. I mean, you had to say that to even begin the discussions at anything other than 50/50 custody. How old school.

Falling back on the line, “It’s what she will get if you go to court,” I was handed the options. Non-custodial parent, SPO (standard possession order), and a hefty child support payment.

But wait… Didn’t we agree to the parenting arrangements? And now it’s being used against me? Didn’t we agree to a cooperative divorce? How is this cooperative, when you come out of the gate asking for well-over half?

If I had really gone the cooperative route, I would’ve hired an attorney right at the beginning as well. She did. Instead I put my faith in the counselor, and in the good will of the mother of my children. I was wrong, or misguided, on both counts.

Here’s the situation. When the court awards custodial and noncustodial roles, a nice child support formula kicks in. That’s how the state likes it. Somebody is going to pay. And in your decree, if you are as lucky as I am, you will have a document that even allows the court to garnish your wages first, before your take-home pay. The message is this. You cannot be trusted to pay in a timely manner. And even if you are having financial difficulties, the child support payments come first.

At least my kids have rooms to sleep in when it’s my time. But did she think of the consequences of taking legal action against me?

I don’t argue that my kids deserve the full benefit of both of our salaries. But when I lost one of my primary clients, and was about to slip into a late-payment status, my ex-wife pushed everything into the Attorney General’s office. Putting my livelihood at risk and preventing me from taking any measures to save my house. She didn’t care about me or my house. She wanted the money. She was entitled to it. Obviously. It was right there in writing. I signed the decree. What was I arguing about.

I wasn’t arguing. I was pleading. “Please don’t do this. I am not trying to hide any money. I am looking to replace the client. I am looking for a job, to leave the consulting practice I had built over the  last four years. Just hold off. There is no need to bring the state’s lawyers into this.”

Here filing our case with the AG’s office was akin to her shouting “Fuck You.” Of course, that’s my opinion. And, of course, she is entitled to her money. That’s the law.

But what is the law of human dignity? What does compassion for your co-parent mean? What does co-parenting even mean, when one of the parents has a loaded gun pointed at your head? At this very moment, my attorney tells me, the AG’s office could have my ass thrown in jail for failure to pay child support. A criminal? How cooperative is that?

As we moved closer to AG day, I was asking my ex-wife to understand my situation. “Don’t you think a father also deserves a place to live, and the electricity and cell phone service to continue gainful employment?” She answered, “I don’t know what you want me to answer to that.”

Um… What I wanted her to do was not file suit against me with the State of Texas and turn me into a deadbeat dad. What I wanted was to keep the house I had fought so hard to buy and afford, just barely scraping by, even in the good times. What I wanted was a tiny bit of compassion. “Just pause for a second and think about what you’re doing. Do you think it’s going to help the situation by filing suit against me? Do you think that will make me work harder, or look for a job harder?”

No answer.

I’m not sure what her motivation was at sending me pictures of HER with the kids. Maybe it’s motivation to get a job and get back into the swing of paying for her vacations with the kids.

And she filed. And now I’m a deadbeat dad. I’m lucky. My mom (yep, 51 and living with mom) had some spare rooms in her house. At least my kids have rooms to sleep in when it’s my time. But did she think of the consequences of taking legal action against me? Did she imagine how that might damage my credit? Might take my house out from under me? That it might even show up in my background checks as I’m looking so desperately for those full-time jobs that would afford me both a place to live and her child support checks?

I don’t know what she was thinking. I don’t really know what she thinks today. She’s still hoppin mad about something. The money. My 50/50 effort in getting the kids to doctor’s appointments, after school activities, etc. She’s just mad. But she’s been mad at me for years. At least one full year before she divorced me. So she’s gonna be mad. That’s a fact of life. I hope she gets better. But I can’t count on that.

I’ve had fantastic interviews all summer long. Five of them turned into final-round negotiations. And I still haven’t gotten the offer. Hmm. I’m not sure what’s in that background check. I’m hoping that her AG action did not put a “do not hire” mark in my file. But I guess I won’t know.

Anyway, it’s a long road back to having a BIG CORP job and a happy home. Even getting back into a house, now is going to be a long way off. She took… Wait, it was my fault. I should’ve done better. It’s a long way back. And I’m not sure she would’ve fired off the final “Press Charges” missile had she known her actions would damage my ability to pay her the money she was demanding.

It’s all okay. We’re going to make it. All of us. Her too. She sent pictures tonight of her and the kids at the beach. (That was our family vacation.) I’m not sure what her motivation was at sending me pictures of HER with the kids. Maybe it’s motivation to get a job and get back into the swing of paying for her vacations with the kids. (Sorry, that was bitter and sarcastic.) I’m sure she was just sending me happy pictures along with her happy thoughts of me getting that next big job. I think that’s what she wanted all along. Maybe that was even the unconscious reason she divorced me. (see: please stay gone < poem)

Onward and upward. I’ve been asked to a full-day interview next week with a company I’m very excited about. This is my fourth full-day interview this summer. How do I get a look at that “background” file? (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

this post recast in a poem: please stay gone

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Terms of My Surrender: Our Divorce Papers

OFF-freefall

Under the terms of my surrender, I gave up a good portion of my time with my kids. I was under the impression that this was the path that “was best for the kids.” In fact, it was the path that was best for my ex-wife, the person in the marriage who decided she wanted out. So wait, under the terms of my surrender I am giving her the kids, the house, and a good stipend of my income for the next 11 years? Just a minute, I need to reconsider.

I’m defeated a bit at the moment. But I’ll get back up, I always do.

Of course, reconsideration was not an option. When one person decides they are done, the marriage is done. Sure, you could counsel or work things out, for a bit, but once the door has been smashed open, their exit is always a possibility. And now a threat. And in the case of divorce, just a matter of fact, please sign on the dotted line and be done with this business.

Wait.

We chose an uncontested divorce. I stubbornly agreed to her request for a divorce, because fighting would be expensive, might damage our children, and would echo the hurt still in my young-boy mind from my parents brutal divorce struggle. So I went with the path of least resistance, I bowed my head at the correct time, and allowed the head of my shining promise to be sliced off with little drama or prior bloodshed. That’s the way it was supposed to be, right? That’s what we were after.

But something along the way was not quite explained to me until a few months ago. I was on a date with a woman who had just given up primary custody, she was saying how much better her ex had become once he had to actually do 50% of the parenting rather than complaining about a check and doing nothing. I remember distinctly my reaction, “Wait, what? He doesn’t pay you any child support?”

So if I get this straight, my high-priced divorce counsellor who advised me to just take the deal and get on with the divorce, forgot to mention that the non-custodial parent (man or woman) was the one who pays child support. And why didn’t she listen or fight for my request to go for 50/50? Why didn’t she support the discussion about 50/50 parenting? She didn’t. Why didn’t she?

I guess I ultimately need to ask her. But in reconnecting with my attorney (the one who I contacted re: my wife’s new-found righteousness on turning me over to the Attorney General’s office) he said this.

I wish our counselor would’ve supported both of our requests with the same integrity. I wish my 50/50 parenting plans and 50/50 schedules had been taken seriously while negotiating our peace treaty.

“In 2010 when you guys divorced, she was probably right. Your wife would’ve probably gotten exactly what she wanted. Not that you couldn’t have gone for 50/50.” And he continued, “But today, things are a little different. Even in Texas. The judges today are listening when the parents want 50/50 custody. And more often than not, my dad clients are getting it, if they fight for it.”

Well, that is good news for today’s dads. Not so good for yesterday’s dads, or me.

What are my options today. Reopen the fight, go prove I’m a worthy dad, and ask the judges and the court to readjust my kids custody to 50/50. Is that what I want?

Here are the potential consequences:

  • It will cost us both a lot of money. Money that we tried not to spend in divorce, by consulting a wonderful Ph.D divorce counsellor.
  • It might damage my wife’s ability to continue to afford the house we bought together.
  • My kids might get the impression I am fighting their mom, or saying she’s doing something wrong.
  • It will cause drama and hardship on all sides.

Here are the benefits of doing it:

  • The $150,000+ would still be going to my kids.
  • I would be able to afford housing and perhaps not be forced to work two jobs or give my life back up to the big corporate job.
  • We could parent 50/50 just like we are doing now, but I would also be able to help with some of the clothes and supplies shopping.
  • My kids will know that I wanted them 50/50 from the beginning and was asked to take less.

As of this writing I don’t have the money to pursue the court’s resolution of my 50/50 desires. I wish our counselor would’ve supported both of our requests with the same integrity. I wish my 50/50 parenting plans and 50/50 schedules had been taken seriously while we were negotiating our peace treaty. They were not. I was given the patronizing approval, “that’s nice” but “that’s not how it’s going to work out.” And then I was told to accept what’s “in the best interest of the children.”

Bullshit.

I was sold a bill of goods by my then-wife, who had been consulting with her attorney, and our counselor who was found and selected by my wife. And then I was asked to sign the Terms of Surrender without being given the full story of custody and child support. My bad. I should have paid for my own attorney at this point, rather than stumble along blindly with the hope of good will, good intentions, and honesty.

I got none of the above. What I got was a temporary peace treaty that lasted until I was late on my second child support payment to my ex-wife. Then the courts of the great state of Texas were warmed up against me. And today, according to my attorney, I could be arrested at any time, by the AG’s office. That is certainly part of the Terms of Surrender that I signed, but it’s not in line with the honest and caring approach we took to setting up our peaceful retreat from the marriage.

I’m defeated a bit at the moment. But I’ll get back up, I always do.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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