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

Posts tagged “child support payments

The Office of the Attorney General, Child Support Division

OFF-2016-hitting

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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image: piñata birthday party, creative commons usage

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How I Went from Good Guy Dad to Dead Beat Dad

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Okay the process was a long time coming. BUT… the recent responses to my #childsupport post (Dead Beat Dad) got me thinking.

FIRST: the primary online response (100% women) was “pay her what you owe her.” In fact, one woman went on to tell me she imagined my observations about my divorce were not how she saw things. (Um, duh! And thanks…) What I heard was a lot of anger about dads not paying their child support. And an immediate vilification of the man, even me, who appears to be making excuses.

In my mind I was trying to be the good dad. I was anticipating the income that hadn’t turned up yet. I WAS/AM working my ass off to get there again.

I’m guessing that’s what my ex-wife thinks as well. That I’m making excuses. But that’s not the reality of the situation. Not by far.

SECOND: When pushed to the state as guardian model of management, I felt an immediate relief. Never again would my ex-wife be allowed to pelt me with the “when can I expect the money” emails and texts. Once the Attorney General’s office is involved, I can simply refer her to her caseworker. Sounds kind of hard ass, but that’s how it feels to me too. Getting my good will tossed back to the lawyers, or in this case, the legal machine of the great state of Texas.

THIRD: The kicker in the process is this. I have been OVERPAYING. I was aware I was OVERPAYING. I was willing to keep OVERPAYING in “anticipation” of returning to my previous corporate high of earning. So now, rather than OVERPAY any more, I’m going to reset the numbers and will start paying the actual awarded percentage of my income to my ex-wife. (approximately 20% before taxes) And going back the near three years that we’ve been divorced, that looks like something between $12k – $18k.

So my monthly bill payments are going to go down significantly with this reset as well. Hell, I’m starting to feel kind of chipper about the whole thing.

In my mind I was trying to be the good dad. I was anticipating the income that hadn’t turned up yet. I WAS/AM working my ass off to get there again. And in a moment of impatience and impulsive anger, she set me off to reevaluate the entire situation.

Maybe never having to be harassed about money by my ex-wife will be a good thing too. It’s not personal, right? It’s just business.

I warned her that I would do this. And I did my dog-like grovel, “Are you sure this is what you want?” JUST LIKE IN THE CLOSE OF OUR MARRIAGE.

Today I sent her the response, updating her with my PLAN. Just an FYI, “here’s my unofficial estimate.”

I walk into this Memorial Day weekend, a long-weekend WITH my kids, with a sense of relief. I’m not sure what she’s feeling about now, but that’s not my problem. And I could be wrong. Maybe the accountant will add things up differently. Maybe I made a lot more money than I thought I did. I don’t think so, but maybe…

Set the machine in motion and I’m gonna get a refund in the form of no-payments until we’re caught up. And then, I’m guessing my actual payments, based on reality rather than good-guy math, will sober her ass up pretty quickly. Again, not my issue. But you can almost see the grin on my face, right?

Now, I’m guessing, this post will cause another round of women being mad with me at being an asshole. What I thought I was doing in being the good guy dad was to provide for my kids and ex-wife in the way they had been accustomed to living. Unfortunately that didn’t account for the economic recovery. And of course, SHE didn’t have too much concern for MY LIVING CONDITIONS. So being 45 days behind is going to turn into the equivalent of winning a small lottery prize.

Again, I’m sorry for the anger this kind of negotiation and settlement causes people. And I’m sorry there are real dead beat dads that have no intention of every paying what they are supposed to pay their children and ex-wife. But that’s not me. I’m ready to get things back to the REAL picture. She really liked working the spreadsheets. I guess this is information she’s going to have to re-calculate. And now I can do the same.

And now I can pick my head back up off the ground for feeling so beat up and trying to manage an unmanageable expense. Heck, maybe never having to be harassed about money by my ex-wife will be a good thing too. It’s not personal, right? It’s just business.

Note of self observation: I’m feeling really sad now, at having written this post. It cuts back to the left-over hurt of the relationship, and my own wish that we could’ve afforded to have my kid’s mom be a stay-at-home mom. But we couldn’t manage that dream if we wanted to live in our neighborhood and send our kids to the good schools. So here we are. And now, giving her less money, feels good to me, it also re-scuffs the hurt of losing our dream together. But that, of course, cannot be recovered.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Winning the Battle, Losing the War

i'm late but I'm not a dead beat dadShe’s ready to turn my month-and-a-half-late ass over to the Attorney General’s office. (See: Sting) She let me know yesterday via email. And as I was responding via email, I think I identified and called out the crux of the issue.

Perhaps this can provide some illumination into my thinking. It’s not that I’m late, it’s not that she needs this money right this second. It seems to be the “principle of the thing.” And what I understood while writing this message to her, was how closely this situation echoes much of the trouble in our relationship. These actions closely resemble the actions and misunderstandings that led to the divorce.

I don’t think it’s about the money. I don’t think it’s about her fears that I won’t ever pay or get caught up. (I’ve never failed before.) I think it’s about having someone to focus your anger on. Whatever is wrong with her world, I am still at the center of her problems. Now, I don’t believe this. I didn’t believe it in the closing moments of our relationship. As I asked her, “Do you think you are suddenly going to be a happy person when I walk out the door?” She didn’t GET HAPPY.

And she’s still unhappy with me. And of course, I am to blame for her unhappiness, because she’s owed this money, and she might never see it, and… WAIT. In what universe? Like I’ve got an option to bolt on my child support? NO.

So if it’s not the child support, really. Well, I think it’s easier to see from here. Let me know if I’ve got something wrong. I’m prepared to hear that my logic and emotional truth is OFF on this one. But it felt so right when I wrote it, that I knew I had to continue the drama from yesterday.

And with this letter, I’m setting in action the process that will remove “money” and “timing” and “enforcement” from our vocabulary.

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Dear ___,

I am certain that I don’t know your situation. And I’m not sure it has any bearing on my options.

I did not run out of money. And I am not trying to keep you in the dark about my situation. My company shifted to NET 15 on me. Instantly changing my cash flow. And, of course things happen (car repair, computer loss) that can compound the situation. That’s all that has changed on my end. A couple new clients in the pipe for both my company and me personally, SHOULD open things up again.

Your responses to the information I have been able to give you is, “that’s not good enough.”

And yesterday you basically said you’d rather have the AG’s office sort it out for us. For the next 8 years! Wow.

So that’s what you’re gonna get. It’s fucked. And there is no way to unplug once we’ve entered the system.

Therefore, my responsible duty is to recalculate what your are owed, what you got in credit based on my projected income. I’m guessing it’s a bit more than half, averaged-out since we’ve been divorced. So you can re-run all your calculations based on that idea and see where you end up.

My preferred approach was to honor the expectation, even as it affected me quite adversely. In the name of being nice, giving you everything I hoped to give you, that is what I was trying to communicate to you.

But it feels like some macabre redo of our divorce. Me asking, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

Want to calculate the money based on reality? Want to bring the AG in to help you?

Done! And done!

My “thank you” response yesterday was genuine. You are forcing me (again) to look at an unhealthy relationship. I am being given an opportunity to clean up my own shit. And, with the help of the state, I will gladly disconnect from the cash flow crisis mode one of us seems to benefit from.

I hope this process will allow us to remain friendly and cordial with our coparenting. All of us benefit from being flexible. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the AG’s process is setup to fight against flexibility. And maybe it will help us keep our business to parenting.

You will now be able to call your case worker and explore “collection” and “enforcement” options with them. Hope that serves you.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Stinging the Hand that Feeds

sting the hand that feeds you

Just days ago the ex-y and I were exchanging ideas around me catching up on my child support payments. (I’m a bit more than a month behind.) She continued to use phrases like “enforcement” and “collection,” but I was certain she was saber rattling. Until today when she basically gave me the option to turn our process over the the Attorney General’s office, or she would start the process without me.

So much for working it out between us.

Here’s the sting. Our divorce decree was based on an expected income that greatly exceeds the amount of money I’ve actually brought in since the divorce. The result of her actions will now cause me to reset the child support payments based on my actual income. Rather than smooth out her “payments” she’s most likely will get less than I was planning on paying.

And, in fact, she’s forcing the issue, in the same way she forced the divorce. But rather than be angry, as I was when I first got her ultimate escalation email, I am now feeling some relief. I sent her a follow-up email, after my “are you sure this is what you want?” email. In the second email, I said thank you. Again. It is like a replay of the divorce.

But even this is going to be a good thing.

  1. I need to clean up my shit, financially.
  2. We can take the “we” process out of the money.
  3. I will likely get a payment schedule that is more in-line with what I’m actually making.

So a full reset. Steps along the path.

She said something kind of funny at the end of her flaming fuck you email.

“This is a tough patch but we always seem to work through things.”

Um. Yes we do, of course. There’s not a lot of choices, for the next 8 years. So now the courts will be my keeper. Oh boy. It’s a bit like our marriage. For some reason she did not believe me. Or she has merely grown tired of dealing with me. Again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Flat Out Broke: Money Survival Basics After Divorce

losing my financial freedom in the divorceHow is it possible? I’m a successful professional in my 49th year of life and I have a negative balance in my checking account and $14 in my retirement account? And even more amazing, how is it that I am not freaking out?

Since the full child support payments kicked in I have been scrambling not to bounce checks. I’m astounded by the amount of money I am now paying to my ex-y. I know it’s “for the kids” and all, but I am barely keeping gas in my car and food in my belly at this moment. Much less food in my kids bellies and the occasional splurge, eating out or going out to see a movie.

Every other expense, bill, financial obligation, was on hold. Paused. Put in a file and forgotten about. I could not pay my credit cards for the first time in my life.

I am lucky, too, I have a high earning potential, and even in this dropped economy I’ve made a reasonable, though severely reduced, income. And my ex-y has remained fully employed since about three months before the divorce was final. (Go figure that?)

And, I’ve got some new clients and good financial forecasts for next month. But it always takes a while for new business to ramp up to full-hours. I’m close, and I have invoices out to be paid, but at the moment, I can’t buy a Starbucks. Oh, and I forgot to mention, my three credit cards, useless burdens at this point. Another source of frustration. But I’ll get to them as well.

Of course, “the kids” come first. Of course they do. And I will say it to myself again and again, “I want my kids to have a healthy life.” And I have to believe I will rise above the cash drain with a significant uptick in my income. That’s about all I have, the faith that I will dig out from under this.

Once I got over the shock of not being able to pay all of my bills I started researching strategies to survive. Here’s what I learned.

The bankruptcy/debt counselors really only have one solution: consolidate your debt and agree to a payment plan. Um, this does not work when your income is ZERO.

The counselor did say one very valuable thing. “At some point you will run out of things to sell off and you will have to make a decision about what bills to pay.”

My decisions revolved around a few things.

  • I wanted to keep my house. (mortgage payments were critical path)
  • I had to eat and drive to work. (groceries and gas were non-negotiables)
  • I needed electricity, water, and high-speed internet access to do my work and live comfortably.
  • I committed to the child support payments and I was going to pay them. (I did negotiate a deferral on also paying the kid’s health insurance until my work re-stabilized.)
In the meantime, my job is not to thrash, not to share the stress of this trying moment with my kids, and to carry on. It sucks sometimes.

Other than that, every other expense, bill, financial obligation, was on hold. Paused. Put in a file and forgotten about. I could not pay my credit cards for the first time in my life. Okay, I’m over it. Ignore the calls. I had to tell my ex-y that I could not pay the health care but that I would make good on the debt as soon as I had positive cash flow. I had to negotiate the timing on my payments to my ex-y so I could make two payments during the month.

And then I have continued to work like hell to get my work situation back to full-productivity. Yes the economy is hard. I’ve had a lot of interviews but no offers. And my consulting business has kept me alive for almost a year since my last FT job.

But the bottom line is, I’m surviving. I’ve cut back to the bare basics. And today I’ve still got nothing. I can’t take my kids to the movies tonight. And the groceries in the fridge are what we’ve got until they go back to their mom’s on Monday.  And IT IS OKAY. It’s not fun, but it’s workable. The clients will pay, the credit cards will eventually get back on a payment plan, and the ex-y will get her full legally awarded child support.

In the meantime, my job is not to thrash, not to share the stress of this trying moment with my kids, and to carry on. It sucks sometimes. And I’m not 100% sure being the non-custodial parent was a good move for me financially. BUT, today it’s what I’ve got.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho!

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Update: A new reader tweeted at me today about this post. It made her hot under the collar. “Paying child support is not heroic.” She said. She missed the gist of this post. Yes we are both struggling with money issues. But I was at ZERO. Not by some bad behavior or fatal flaw. Not because I was not looking for work.

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