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

Deadbeat Dad Doesn’t Strike Back

OFF-dadtravels

This is not a particularly interesting story. It’s more common than we can imagine. And it’s carried out with swift precision and support of the courts and counselors across the country. Women get the kids, men get the bills, and that’s the beginning of the trouble for the single parents. In my state, Texas, 80% of decrees give custody to the mother with the dad getting non-custodial rights and often a hefty child support payment.

I admit, I was depressed and hurting when I was “negotiating” my parenting plan and thus my divorce from the mother of my children. Right in the middle of the negotiations the counselor rightly slowed the process, as I was more and more aware that I did not want a divorce. But a divorce is what my then-wife wanted. And I learned, pretty clearly, that you cannot continue a marriage when only one partner is IN.

Okay, so the story goes along then in common fashion. Dad leaves the house moves in with family until he can get reoriented and settled in his new role. Except there’s one huge new problem. Not only does he have to look for a new home but he’s got a new debt that decreases his opportunities for re-housing. I could forget about moving back into the neighborhood my kids were growing up in. And I agreed to let my ex keep the house “for the kids.” And while that was the right decision, it did not take into account “where Dad would go.”  I was sort of on my own.

It sure stripped away all my pretense of success. I have failed. I have fallen from the “owner’s” status to “living with my mom” and “deadbeat dad” all in the course of a few months.

Okay, so I struggled with the sadness, the loss of my marriage and closest ally. And the loss of my full-time access to my kids. And the list goes on and on: the loss of my house (which we had proudly purchased on money I had gotten before my marriage); the loss of the pets (I didn’t have a place to keep them); the loss of the neighborhood and community (tennis club, pool, neighborhood friends for my kids). And essentially for about 9 months I was homeless. I was living with my sister, but had zero privacy and very few of my material possessions. They were in the garage of my old house.

The only way out of the situation for me, was to find the next BIG JOB. There was no room for self-employment or consulting if I was going to ever be able to get back into a house. And something about apartment living didn’t resonate with me or my idea of who I had become nearing my 48th year as a man.

Finally, the call came, the big job started and I went looking for a place to live. I was lucky. I had not let enough time lapse between my last big job and my new big job to damage my credit or earning power. I was able to qualify and buy a much more modest house in a nearby neighborhood. And I was happy for a bit.

Six months into the new job, the company restructured and eliminated the entire service offering I had been marketing. And with one week’s severance and no notice I was out. And guess what? I still had my mortgage and my child support payments to cover. And then I was sad for a bit, with this new challenge of faith and ability and willingness to pack in my aspirations and just take whatever job came along.

But the remarkable happened. I didn’t find the next big job. I worked my ass off, sending in resumes, networking, social media-ing (this is what I do for a living) and looking for work. And while I got some contracts and some consulting gigs I have still not been able to replace the BIG JOB income that would allow me to pay my child support AND have a place to live.

The DEAL I got, the deal that was sold to me by our impartial divorce counselor was the non-custodial parent, who sees his kids less and pays for a good deal of their expenses.

And this is the situation with a lot of single dads who were given the same deal I got. And a lot of this I covered in my last post (Love, War, Divorce) but the thing that became apparent, when I was reading the comments on my UNFAIR post, was… This is not right.

The assumption that the non-custodial dad will bear the lion’s share of the expenses after the divorce, is simply not equitable. It’s the law. But it’s not fair. And in our case, my ex-wife got a full-time job (her first since we had gotten married) in order to divorce me, and has been able to keep mostly employed this entire time. What a blessing. And with the child support she has been able to keep the nice house in the nice neighborhood. And that’s what I want for my kids too.

The hard part is, I’m burdened by an additional $1,500 per month, even before I get to think about where I can afford to live. With 50/50 parenting it might have been more difficult for her, and thus we are stuck with a dilemma. I want what’s best for my kids over and above even my own needs or living quarters. But I do need to live somewhere. I do need to make enough money to provide food, shelter, and entertainment for my kids when they are with me. Right? It’s hard either way. Two homes is obviously more expensive than one. Where can we find the balance? Sure, I can make more and more money. And today that’s my only option.

But the real issue is, my ex-wife and I are still in this financial boat together. So when she got frustrated with my fluctuating income, and my two months of late payments of “her child support” she filed the whole issue with the Attorney General’s Office, basically threatening me with a lawsuit and (horror of horrors) completely damning my credit rating.

So wait, now I’m a deadbeat dad? In what way was I trying to skip out on my child support? Is it fair for me to have shelter as well? Is there any consideration about where Dad will live with the kids when he has them?

The DEAL I got, the deal that was sold to me by our impartial divorce counselor was the non-custodial parent, who sees his kids less and pays for a good deal of their expenses.

Okay, so I hear the women in the audience groan with each retelling of this story. And the comments on earlier posts bear this out. Women don’t want to hear how hard it is for a man to get by after divorce when his living expenses just doubled. They tell me how hard it is to be a single parent with the majority of the family duties, and very little money to do it all. But wait, that’s the DEAL they got, right? The got the TIME with the kids. So don’t complain to me about how hard that is. I was asking to do it 50/50 just like we discussed our parenting when we were imagining our first child.

I’m a 50/50 dad, but I was sold the non-custodial parent role by a system that favors mom’s in this situation about 80% of the time. And I did not want to FIGHT my ex, I was trying to fulfill a cooperative divorce agreement. We were trying to be non-confrontational. And so I got the bill and she got the kids.

This is the summer of my discontent, and something will give. And then I will give my ex-wife the money to continue in the lifestyle my kids grew up in, even though I cannot afford to live it with them.

I don’t know what the right answer is, but 50/50 is where we should’ve started. I should not have had to fight with our well-paid counselor about how 50/50 parenting might make sense for us. And I don’t know what I’m going to do now.

The rest of the story: I lost my house. I tried to file for bankruptcy just to keep the house, and my ex-wife’s AG filing prevented that from working. And I offered to give her a secured loan agreement if she would allow me to move forward, and she threw up her hands and said, “The AG’s Office has said I cannot talk to you about money.”

Fuck. That just about put me in a bind I couldn’t get out of. But I have family here. And my family came and helped me fix up my house and sell it, for a gain. And I moved into a garage apartment on my Mom’s house. Fuck again.

As we liked to joke, “It’s better than being under the bridge.”

Yes, it is better than being under the bridge. Or throwing myself off the bridge in a fit of masculine depressive acting out.

It sure stripped away all my pretense of success. I have failed. I have fallen from the “owner’s” status to “living with my mom” and “deadbeat dad” all in the course of a few months. And this is not how it should’ve gone, nor did it need to go this way. While we are in this together, the money is another issue all together.

Fortunately, my ex-wife and I have agreed to keep the money matters out of our parenting matters. But I fear this issue is about to come to a head, before the kids return to school in the fall. And I’m not sure what my options are. I have had THREE BIG JOBS within spitting distance of an offer and all of them went to someone else. And that’s the way it goes. And I’m even looking to go back to my old BIG CORPORATE GIG where I gained 15 pounds from the grind and stress of the place.

At this point I will do anything necessary to restart my life. I am willing to pay her what she is owed, and not contest the amount, even though it is $20,000 over what she would’ve gotten had it been tied to my actual earnings over this time. But I’m in a catch 22. A: I have to find the next BIG JOB to support her payments and have a half-way descent place to live and B: I could fight for 50/50 custody and not have to pay her any additional child support payments, but then that hurts my kids as she would be pressed even harder to keep their childhood home.

Of course I lost that home a long time ago. And now I’ve lost my do-over home. And I don’t have a home. But again that’s not the point, that’s whining. My actions are what matter. I’ve got more job interviews this week, and a call back from the BIG CORP for next week. This is the summer of my discontent, and something will give. And then I will give my ex-wife the money to continue in the lifestyle my kids grew up in, even though I cannot afford to live it with them.

And I seem to be complaining, but I don’t feel defeated. I’ve had a major setback. And there were lots of factors at play. And not unlike my divorce, I didn’t get what I wanted out of the deal. But everyday I have a chance to make a new deal, set a new plan in motion, get back on the road to recovery. I’m happy I have this insight, because things have been pretty damn hard.

Thanks for listening. Keep coming back, it works if you work it. (12-step rejoinder after a hard sharing)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: veronica lake and joel mcrea — sullivan’s travels , robert huffstutter, creative commons usage

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