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

Posts tagged “child support

The Blurry Lines Between Divorced Parents: Entitlement & Narcissism

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

Let’s start with a definition.

entitlement

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

My Family of Origin

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

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

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

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

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

Her Family of Origin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial Entitlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Striking A Blow of Unhappiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

narcissm

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

OFF-delete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

OFF-discontent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t respond.

She sent the same message 15 minutes later via email.

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Patience Please, I’m Doing The Best I Can

OFF-fkyou

When I say to my ex-wife today, “Thanks for your patience,” I’m really saying, “Fuck you and your impatience.”

When we were married she chose to divorce me. When we were divorced she chose to file her anger by setting the office of the attorney general on me.

This week I started my new big job. A victory? Yes. A failure? Perhaps. But such a bellwether moment, when on the morning of first day at the new job, the ex-y sent me her recommendations on what type of insurance I should provide for the kids and how I should set the child support up on an automatic withdrawal. She even said, “Because it will be so much better for the kids, that way.” The crow in my mouth was hard to swallow as I thanked her for her support and advice. Of course…

When you are a parent you never quite get to part ways with the ex partner. Now we are co-parents. And everything we do can be couched in terms of how it best supports the kids. Except when it doesn’t. And the things that my ex-wife did to get me to this point (not the new job) are inexcusable. And yet, we have to let that pain and suffering flow right under the bridge of life, in the best interest of minimizing the ongoing animosity and friction between us.

But make no mistake. In the darkest moment of my single parent life so far, my ex-wife not only refused to give me some slack, she actually filed against me with the Attorney General of Texas. As I was struggling to find new work, and trying to keep my house around me and the kids, she struck her final blow. There’s not much else she can do. She’s done turned me over to the authorities for collection. And in that moment, I believe, she revealed the core of her anger. Only through a lot of work and self-reflection, I have come to understand that our marriage may have unraveled around the issue of money.

If she didn’t really want to go back to full-time work, she could prod, push, shame, and fight me back into the big corporate job, and she might be able to work a 20-hour flex schedule. Except we wanted to keep the nice house in the nice school district. And when the big job had spit me out with a 6-month severance, in stead of regrouping with me, she went on the offensive. She was determined and adamant about *my* next job. And she stayed focused on that issue for a year. Sure, she was retooling her ideas about what she wanted to do for a living, but if she could just shoehorn me back into a big job… Things would be so much easier. For her.

That’s not the way it went down. And in the end, when she made plans to divorce me, she also had to find gainful employment. It seemed easy once she had her plans in place. She got the new job, she met with an attorney, she made her *options* spreadsheet somewhere on her computer. We divorced.

And when you find yourself in some dire straight, in some position of need, in the future, I will NOT do the same to you.

But as we were both making our way in the world, as “co-parents” she turned much more pragmatic. It wasn’t about a relationship, or mutual support, it was simply business. And when I stumbled in my work, and I told her I would be late on a few payments, she took the harsh approach, much like she had when I was voicing my ideas about self-employment during my sabbatical. And when the complaining and anger didn’t motivate me back into a job (in either circumstance) she fired off her final weapon.

When we were married she chose to divorce me. When we were divorced she chose to file her anger by setting the office of the attorney general on me. And this ultimate anti-co-parenting action has lasting consequences. She’s removed the actual compassion from our relationship. It’s now just business. Perhaps that’s a gift as well. Perhaps that’s a more accurate representation of our core relationship anyway.

Her actions against me with the AG’s office stripped me of any options for keeping my house. I was forced to let it go. I had to withdraw my map and plan for the future, and I returned home, defeated, to my mothers. FK. I won’t ever forget it.

And some day in the future, when she finds herself in some dire straight, in some position of need, in the future, I will NOT do the same to her. I will have compassion and patience.

Here’s my closing statement.

You were my partner and mate for 15 years. I will always give you the benefit of the doubt. I will always err on the comfort and joy of our children over any animosity I have towards you. Now and in the future, I will remain calm and patient.

I want you to know, I am not thanking you for your patience today. As my income stream comes back online, I am slapping you with my gratefulness. When I say “Thank you for your patience,” today, I’m saying exactly the opposite. Fuck you for your lack of compassion and patience. And fuck you for putting your selfish needs above those of our children, or me.

I will never forgive you. Perhaps I will learn to forget.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Isn’t Dad’s House Is Also Important In Divorce?

OFF-loss

As my wife was proposing divorce, I asked her, “Do you think we can afford two houses in this neighborhood?” She had no response.

There is something amazing about being cut free from all of your worldly possessions. It’s a bit disorienting. I remember the first year without a house, when most of my “stuff” was in my old garage, her garage. We had agreed that she would keep the house, and I would get some of the retirement savings she had socked away while we were married. While the financial split was equitable, the appreciation of the house and the penalties of early withdrawal from retirement accounts were not really factored in. Oh well, water under the bridge.

Well, last week was an amazing succession of unfortunate events.

  1. The AG’s office took control of my banking account. (AG’s Office Round 2)
  2. My storage unit (since I’m homeless again, at the moment) auctioned off all of my “stuff” for a $350 late payment.

Today I am finally untethered completely. I guess if I were in a negative state of mind I would be taking this much harder. But somehow, even the “stuff” feels like a release. But I might be in shock. The loss of all of my books, all of my music recording equipment, all of my furniture, the bulk of my clothing, everything, leaves me a bit like I was when I first left the marital house. Very lean and not-so-mean. But I’m prepared to get meaner.

On the same day she asked, “How’s it going with the house,” which might sound like a friendly encouragement, she also told me she’d “turned it all over to the AG’s office.”

Let’s not forget, that in divorce BOTH parents have to have a place to live. Both parents need food, electricity, wifi, and the means to make a living, or continue to hunt for the next job, as the case may be.

I am not certain my wife had thought through the ramifications of the divorce at the time I asked her about the houses. She was not concerned about MY house. Why should she be? Once divorced, it was not her problem.

Except, it is. See, if she wants to have a dad that is able to remain in the kid’s lives, she has to understand that, for better or worse, we are still attached financially. The only problem is, if you don’t keep this perspective in mind, you might think child support is an entitlement. You might begin to imagine that child support supersedes food and shelter for the other parent. And in the eyes of the law you might be correct. But in the eyes of your kids…

That’s where the rub is. If you are willing to file against your ex-partner when they are trying to find work, when they are remaining attached and available, when they are sharing all the information they have about prospects, timing, and money. If your co-parent is doing everything they can to get back on their feet, why oh why would you then file with the Attorney General’s office to enforce the divorce decree? There is nothing to get? The AG’s office got $1,200 on Thursday.

Now, my fault is not figuring out how to deal with the AG’s office sooner. I was advised by my attorney to pay her something. But in the months since I lost my house my income has been almost nil. I’ve made $4,500 in consulting fees, but the rest of my food and living expenses has been a loan from my mom. An on-going loan, that I ask for and renegotiate monthly. And of course it comes with intense scrutiny and baggage. She’d prefer I not do anything but stay at home and look for a job.

But my job search has been aggressive and fruitful, but has not produced the required salary that would support my child support obligation AND a place to live. At this point even an apartment is out of reach. And if I can’t figure out a path forward with the AG’s office, I suppose I’m going to jail.

My guess is that my ex-wife would not have wanted me to go to jail. But she didn’t show any remorse about the embarrassment of the AG’s lien against me on Thursday, or the fact that this shut down 100% of my financial options for the long holiday weekend.

We lean on family in times like these. And I am grateful that my mom has not only a place for me and my kids to live, but also a little money to help me get through this moment between a rock and hard place. But I’m feeling the squeeze.

When my kids leave their mom’s house it is expected that I can shelter, feed, and entertain them. But when my ex-wife filed against me with the AG’s office, while I was showing her my income, talking to her openly about my financial issues, essentially showing her all of my cards. And even when I was negotiating with the mortgage company to reset my mortgage, and she was aware that I was trying to do this to keep the house, she filed.

On the same day she asked, “How’s it going with the house,” which might sound like a friendly encouragement, she also told me she’d “turned it all over to the AG’s office.”

I am proof that you can co-parent with a gun to your head, but it’s a lot harder.

Today, stripped of my house and of all but my bed and a few clothes, I am lean and getting mean. I’m not sure what options are available to me today. But as things get better, and I get stronger, I’m going to revisit the entire agreement between us.

Starting with my court-ordered weekends. I’m going to ask we go back to 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends again. I gave them up to allow my ex-wife to sync her schedule with her boyfriend’s schedule. Well, since his kid is now off to college, it shouldn’t matter to her. But to me, it’s the possibility of an extra weekend about 4 – 5 times a year.

Dad’s house is important. Please remember this. If you are fighting to hurt your ex, your fighting WILL hurt your kids. As you strike a blow of entitlement, you are also stripping away some of the trust and goodwill you both agreed to in cooperating during the divorce process.

Well, I am proof that you can co-parent with a gun to your head, but it’s a lot harder. And I can only imagine, how in that moment, when I was nearly begging for compassion, she must’ve been holding onto some anger, some vindictiveness that prevented her from seeing the kid’s experience of what she was about to do. But I can’t imagine doing the same, had the tables been turned. If you are still angry with your ex you need to get that stuff out in other ways. Rousing the “enforcement” of the state has dire consequences. And there was no “enforcement” to be had. Even in seizing my account last week, she is no closer to getting the monthly support payments back on schedule. But she has thrown me, and thus the kids when they are with me, back a year or more in this journey back home.

I initiated some talks this summer to see if “birdnesting” in the house might be an option. It was at the request of the kids. During one of the first sessions my ex got so angry, lit up the room with her fury, about how I was not doing my part of the parenting, with doctor’s appointments, and dental appointments, and etc. Her list, I am sure was as endless as it had been when we were married. Except I am not the cause of her anger. She’s responsible for her own on-going anger issues.

I was happy to have a counselor in the room to settle things back to reality. And the next day I let the counselor know I wasn’t going to be pursuing the birdnesting. I don’t ever need to open myself up to that rage again, about anything.

Update: I saw my Asteroids machine for sale on Craigslist. So asked them if I could get some of my personal items. Here’s how they responded.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.24.53 PM

 

Update #2: this was hard, but at least positive.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 6.11.45 AM

And a bit of a sad moment, my Asteroids machine, that I bought during college is for sale on Craigslist. And you can see my dresser and dining room set in the background. I am negotiating with the guy to see if I can get one thing back, maybe trade for it. It’s humiliating.

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 11.38.02 AM

 

And I am meeting the gentleman and his wife this afternoon to recover some of the personal items that they couldn’t sell. They are also selling me back my printer and a hard drive. It feels like something out of Risky Business. “Never fuck with another man’s empire, Joel.”

Hopeful, happy, and upward.

Sincerely,

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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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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Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody

OFF-dance-d

[This post is a continuation of a discussion started here: Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight]

My dad was fighting my mom in their divorce. And he was fighting to win. I’m not sure it was all about me, but that’s what the courts were involved in. My dad was going for blood. He wanted my mom to have very little of his ample estate, and he wanted me, the only minor in the family at the time. And in those days, in that circumstance, I am grateful that my dad did not WIN. I am grateful that laws and judges were in place, to protect my mom and me from my dad’s wrath. He was angry, bitter, and vindictive.

When he married his new wife, my only step-mom, before his divorce was even final, I’m sure the consequences could’ve been dire, had my mom had the money or resources to fight back. But she simply wanted out. And she wanted a way to provide shelter and food for her sole remaining minor child.

I am grateful to my ex-wife for having the job, so far, while I have struggled to find full-time work while continuing to do my best as a consultant while I’m looking.

In those days, the courts started with the assumption that the kids belonged with the mom and that the dad would provide for their maintenance and health, in accordance with the lifestyle they had become accustomed to. In my dad’s case, that was a pretty fancy lifestyle. And I think he was most angry about the money. Sure, he fought for me, but it was mainly to get back at my mom. (Of course this is all mythology by now, what really happened is up to interpretation.)

And yet my father fought and lost. It was not such a huge loss for him financially. ($500 a month in payments until I was 18.) And it wasn’t really about losing me either. I think my father’s anger and war was waged because of his hurt pride, his sadness, and his own depression around his failed marriage and how he had ultimately turned to alcohol as his mistress.

Today, I am guessing many of the divorce battles are similar. If you are in a contested divorce, you need to gear up for war. And if you spend any time on the web discussing divorce, it’s not long before the very sad stories emerge about how warring parents try to damage and hurt each other. This is a fact. I do not contest that there are really messy divorces and often they are driven by really angry men, who are madder than hell about having to pay the money to their damn ex-wives, who seem to be living in the continuing lap of luxury. I get that.

That is not how my divorce to the mother of my children went.

Divorce sucks. It’s expensive. It’s painful to all parties. And I would do anything to make things easier on my kids, and thus, my ex-wife.

And still, as I was negotiating, in good faith, with my soon-to-be-ex and a highly paid divorce counselor, I was fed the non-custodial and paying father option as if it was a given. And the real sore spot was, it was being presented as “what’s best for the children.” And the earliest disagreements in our split-counselling sessions were about who was the fittest or most “responsible” parent.

Again, these are heated moments. Emotional and hard to navigate without feeling attacked. And the counselor did a good job of helping us talk. And then she advised me to take the deal.

What?

“In the best interest of the children” was used a lot.

And I bucked for awhile. I brought in examples from books I was reading. I made a sample 50/50 calendar for consideration. And somehow, it was like I was not part of the deal. And when I confronted the counselor she was quick to point out, “if you went to court… blah blah blah.”

Of course that was the reality. But that wasn’t the reality of our parenting roles, nor the reality of what was best for the children. It’s hard to describe this without coming across as vindictive or angry. I’m not. But I’m concerned that most men are put in the same position. And in our case, we were negotiating a cooperative divorce, uncontested, and with both of us willing to forgo lawyers and fights. AND in this case, I was still given the “deal” of the non-custodial dad who pays a hefty child-support payment, regardless of my employment status.

We need to rethink what’s in the best interest of the children. If it’s not staying together and working on the marriage, then it might not be an assumed financial stipend for the mom who just wants out.

And I agreed to the deal. What could I do? Fight our counselor and my wife? And then head for court and fight again? I’m guessing this is the situation facing many dads who are wanting to do the right thing. And we get screwed for being the nice dad. Did I have to start with war to get a fair deal?

Now, four years into the divorced parent role, the child support payments have become a battering ram. If you know anything about the economy, you know that many folks are having a hard time finding a job, much less a job at their previous splendor. And I’d have to say I am grateful to my ex-wife for having the job, so far, while I have struggled to find full-time work while continuing to do my best as a consultant while I’m looking.

And there was no need for her to file against me and go to the Attorney General’s office to enforce the payments. THERE WAS NO NEED TO INVOLVE THE COURTS. But she did. Even while she’s had the good job, and she’s had the house and equity in the house, and she’s got the children a lot more than I do. It’s been hard.

Again, I’m not bitter, and I’m not trying to sue her to change the “deal” we made.

As a nice dad, I am working to find work at my old income level, a level that would allow me to support her and at least have an apartment of my own. As it turns out, I was forced to sell my divorce recovery home, due to some of the shenanigans of my ex-wife and her pursuit of the money. Even though the money was never at risk or even being contested.

I do get that she has bills, just like I do. And I do understand that the money for food, clothing, shelter, and health insurance are requirements for any parent to provide to their kids. And I do get that she’s been the “more responsible” one in being able to stay employed at this wildly competitive time. I bless her daily for her efforts in this.

And yet, I cannot earn enough to have a house? Where is dad supposed to live?

Divorce sucks. It’s expensive. It’s painful to all parties. And I would do anything to make things easier on my kids, and thus, my ex-wife. And this is why, I am NOT fighting for 50/50 custody. This is why I hired a lawyer only to protect my credit and did not take any action to change my child support payments, even though my earnings have been much less than our projected agreement.

But what are my options? Earn more money. Give up a healthy job and balanced lifestyle and return to the big corporate job? Or file for joint custody and let her fend for herself in the housing and credit markets just as I have for 4 years?

It’s not fair, it never was supposed to be fair. But we were supposed to be negotiating in good faith for what was “in the best interest of the children.” And today, in many cases, this is simply: mom gets the kids, dad pays. It’s the same starting point that my dad fought against as an angry and vindictive ex.

We need to rethink what’s in the best interest of the children. If it’s not staying together and working on the marriage, then it might not be an assumed financial stipend for the mom who just wants out. The greener grass has a history of child support payments to help pave the escape path and provide the ladder over the fence.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight

OFF-mermaid

Let’s get something straight right off the bat. Divorce is not about being fair. It’s about following the law, and hopefully, doing what’s “in the best interest of the children.” But that’s not really the intent of the law either. The laws surrounding divorce and custody in Texas are in place to streamline the average divorce, and provide the mother with some support once the father is gone. Staying in a bad marriage just because of the money is a bad idea. But again, that doesn’t mean the law is fair.

Early on, when we I was finally convinced that divorce was the only option, I agreed to seeing a counselor who would help us build the perfect parenting plan for our kids. The idea was, that in cooperation, we could lessen the impact on the kids, be civil to each other in a difficult process, and go through the process of divorce as simply as possible. We were “kids first” in our approach to splitting up. All that was good.

Building the parenting plan, and the agreements we would abide by as parents was the most important part of the divorce for both of us. And the “impartial” therapist was there to help us work it out. So we paid a lot of money to her, rather than lawyers, to advise us in setting our kids up for success in the post-family world.

And then, somewhere along the way, during the process this statement came out of our counselor’s mouth.

“This is what the mom would get if this went to court. So we can start here.”

What about me? Well, that’s where the fairness ends. Because if I can’t make the full payment, at any time, my ex can file against me at the Attorney General’s office and wreak all kinds of havoc on my credit and career.

I had been heading towards 50/50 parenting or bust. I had made my case for how much care I had provided in the past, and how much care I was willing to provide as a single dad. Still the words from the therapist’s mouth were hard to swallow. She was saying, if we went to court, my ex-wife would get primary custody and the SPO, as they always did. Oh, and, “this is what’s in the best interest of the children.”

What?

I didn’t really know what all that meant, but I trusted the counselor and listened to her. It was not fair. But that’s what my ex would get if I fought her in the courts. I was confused, that’s why we were paying her all the money, because we were not going to go to court. We were using her to avoid court, and to come to an equitable arrangement as civil adults and caring parents, without fighting about it.

We were meeting weekly with her to determine what was best for our children in our case, not to abide by what the State of Texas generally did in the case of divorce. I was pissed, but I didn’t really have much support for my view. I had bought a few books about cooperative parenting, and suggested a 50/50 schedule that was recommended in one of them. This was the offer that was being shut down by our cooperative therapist with the approval and appreciation of my soon-to-be ex-wife.

Here’s what I am slowly learning.

  • 85% of divorces in Texas end up with the mom as the primary custodian. Dad’s are considered non-custodial parents as a default.
  • And most of those dads are then given the SPO, as what’s “in the best interest of the kids.” The SPO (Standard Possession Order) is the governing calendar for your time with your kids.
  • The SPO is not near 50/50, and the “month” in the summer is a joke to offset some of the inequity. But show me a dad who can take a month off in the summer to make up for time lost with his kids, and … Well, it’s just not realistic.
  • With the non-custodial role comes a big fine. In Texas someone is going to pay. And the non-custodial parent is saddled with a set fee, based on estimated income, that is defined by the state and enforced by the state. If you’re the non-custodial parent get ready to pay.

While 50/50 parenting is not uncommon, it is not the norm. And if that’s what you want (as I did) you should fight for it. In our case, I should not have had to FIGHT for it, that was why we were mediating and paying a counselor to help us determine what was best for our kids. What we got was a good parenting plan, with “if you go to court this is what she’s going to get.”

So using some abstract numbers for a second, let’s see what that non-custodial assumed fee (called child support) looks like.

Let’s say you have two kids. And for simplicity’s sake let’s say your mortgage on your house together is $2,000. When you divorce, you’re going to 1. give her the house for “the kids;” 2. pay her a monthly support fee for “the kids;” 3. pay for the kids health insurance; and then, if you can afford it, 4. figure out how to put a roof over your head too.

So let’s see. If together we were paying $2,000 for our house. And separate she’s going to pay $2,000 for the same house. But I’m then going to pay her $1,000 for child support, and $500 for health care for the kids, then in theory she’s paying $1,000 for the house, and if I can find a 3-bed-room apartment nearby for $2,000, then I’m paying $3,000 plus $500 just for living expenses. I mean, I do what what’s best for my kids, and I do want them to be able to keep the house, but…

What about me? Well, that’s where the fairness ends. Because if I can’t make the full payment, at any time, my ex can file against me at the Attorney General’s office and wreak all kinds of havoc on my credit and career. So to start, I’ve got to make $3,500 a month before I get to think about electricity, food, water, clothes for myself. Um, that’s not such a good deal.

So how could we have made this more fair? Well, to start we could have negotiated in good faith, rather than this “what she’s going to get” BS. That was a low blow, and I’m still a bit angry with the otherwise, stellar, counsellor.

As it turns out, I agreed to the non-custodial deal, and the SPO and the payments to my ex-wife. And as it turns out, the economy has beat my income stream into ever-changing levels. And when I began to get behind, even as I was explaining to my ex exactly what was happening, and that I was not trying to get out of paying 100% of what she was owed, even with all that good will, and “what’s in the best interest for the children” talk, my ex-wife filed on me for being two months behind on my child support.

The cascade of my financial collapse was pretty swift after that. While I had been able to buy a house (shelter for my kids) I was falling behind on my mortgage too. And since my great job evaporated, I had not been able to replace it. I was working as a consultant, but I wasn’t making enough to cover all my expenses (survival expenses, not travel, or new things, or extravagance) and make the $1,500 support and health care payments. I was confident I would get caught up, I was expressing that to my ex-wife, and for some reason she filed anyway. Not fair, I thought. But that’s not what it’s about.

The point is not that I owe her the money, or if she is entitled to the money. She is entitled to every dollar awarded to her through our agreement.

I had to sell the house to get caught back up on my debt to Wells Fargo. I had to hire a lawyer to protect me from my wife’s actions with the AG. And I’ve been struggling to find a new full-time gig, at a much higher salary, so I could pay for all of this AND a place for me to live, preferably with three bedrooms so we all have our own space.

But in the SPO world, there really isn’t much consideration for what I will do, how the dad will do if he struggles a bit. It’s good for the moms to be taken care of. And most of all it’s good for the kids to be provided for, without a lot of drama or fighting between the co-parents. But I was unceremoniously tossed out of my house, which I agreed to give her, and told to pay a whopping $1,500 fee to her, and THEN look for somewhere I could live. In an expensive city, with kids in an expensive school district, it was not a pretty story. And while I nearly made it, my few months of struggles were enough for my “friendly” ex-wife to basically use the State of Texas to sue me for her back child support.

I’m waiting today for the expected good news that I will be starting a new full-time gig shortly. One that should provide for my child support and even a place for me to live. If I can afford a three bedroom place to live, is yet to be seen. I’ve got my fingers crossed, and am still putting in applications elsewhere every day. And other than how it would affect my kids if I were homeless, I’m guessing my ex-wife could care less, unless it means the full child-support payments will resume immediately.

That’s the plan. I’m not sure it’s a fair plan, but that’s the plan.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

[Please note: This post is likely to draw a lot of heat from the single mom’s. The point is not that I owe her the money, or if she is entitled to the money. She is entitled to every dollar awarded to her through our agreement. And she will get every single dollar awarded to her, as I promised/promise her. The point is, had I known all my options, I might have fought for the 50/50 parenting plan I wanted.]

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On the Turning Away: Fighting with Your Ex About Money

scorched earth husbandWe give and we give and we try to find ways to mend, and sometimes it is not enough. And while we are married we try to adapt. But after the vows are broken it can get ugly.

Today I am angry and I’m going to rant for a second.

I have some money in the bank, and I owe my ex-wife some back child support. BUT… I can’t pay her. I mean, technically I could, even though she’s asked me to deal with the Attorney General’s Office going forward, so there’s that. And I need to start paying her again, and I will.

Today I am saving my cash to pay the retainer on a lawyer rather than paying money to my ex for my kids. This sucks. I have tried everything but begging to get my ex to stop battering me with threats, but of course, now it’s too late, the paperwork has been filed, and shortly I’ll be on the AG’s list for back child support issues.

But it was never an issue of willingness. I have not been holding out, or hiding money from my ex. It’s the same crash landing advice we’ve been hearing on airplanes for years. The part about the seat cushion being a floatation device and the more relevant part, “put your mask on first and they help your child.”

You see, there’s this little matter of food and shelter that outweighs even the wrath of my ex-wife. And it wasn’t like I was trying to hide or be an asshole about it, I was being quite upfront about the problem as soon as I knew there might be a shortfall. But she no longer has to listen to me or take my side of the story as a partner, now I’m just the dead beat dad who’s not paying his child support.

I’ve never tried to hide my situation, or shirk my liabilities and responsibilities.

But wait. Again, this is a simplification of a very complex issue. When my business took a turn in May I began renewed efforts to find work, and even full-time employment, abandoning the business I’ve been building back up for the last three years.  And even though we didn’t use attorney’s to fight over the kids or the divorce, she’s now perfectly willing to call foul and throw me to the system for dead beat dads.

The good news is, talking to a family attorney, he assured me that the court would hear and understand my side of the story. And the goal of the court would be to make sure we had a plan in place to make her financially whole again before my daughter’s 18th birthday, when the child support obligations would need to be satisfied in full. WAIT. What did he say?

So while I’m about to put money into the pockets of the legal system rather than my ex-wife and children’s, there is some good news. In my case, it’s clear I have been trying to work out a deal with her. I even offered a full agreement of her accounting, including incidentals and miscellaneous if she would come to the table without having to hire attorneys. There was no reason not to, it’s how we settled our divorce.

But for some reason, she chose the quick out. “The AG’s office made me sign a letter that I would not negotiate with you on child support.”

So tonight, with money in the bank, I am still short on amassing the small fortune required for my attorney’s retainer. Fuck. That’s so wrong. That’s NOT where this money should go. EVER.

So tonight, a full flip of the bird to the ex-y who still refuses to negotiate in good faith and would rather pitch it to the state rather than talk to me. At least I like the guy who’s going to represent me. And did you know we’re likely not to see the courtroom for 3 – 6 months? More BS.

So to you, dear ex-y, there is no reason for this. You even admit that I’m not trying to hide money from you. But you’d rather pay attorney’s fees, and yes, you will probably require some representation of your own, than simply getting along with our lives as best as we can.

Request to other mom’s in similar situations. Make a note of who your former husband is and if they were honest and forthcoming while you were married to them, and when there are hardships sit down and talk things over. Because throwing things to the state, or the lawyers, especially if you have a willing ex-partner who is open to sharing and problem solving is stupid. And it makes parenting issues more difficult. How can I be flexible and loving when you ask for adjustments to the parenting plan, when you’re suing me in court?

And the money that I should be paying to you, right now, tonight, I’m saving for a legal retainer.

Again, I know there are couples who find themselves in this situation for real, where attorney’s are the only way to go. But I’ve never tried to hide my situation, or shirk my liabilities and responsibilities. Not now, just as I was when we were married. So why now? What’s got the bee in your bonnet now? Didn’t you get the SPO just like you wanted. The house, just like you wanted. Even the amount of the child support, just like you wanted?

Well, squeezing me out of my house and home is not a viable solution and now I’m going to fight back. And the money that I should be paying to you, right now, tonight, I’m saving for a legal retainer. AGAIN, not to fight the amount, or the obligation but simply to slow down the court system you activated from making my financial recovery (and thus YOUR FINANCIAL RECOVERY) more difficult.

You CAN sue your ex and ask for a weekend swap in the same breath, but is sure sucks, for all of us.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Can Things Get Worse? Yes, Easy!

trying to make magic happen after divorce[When we last checked in, back in late August the ex-y had just filed her grievances with the Attorney General’s office.
Here is Part 1: Tell Me Again, Why You Think This Is a Good Idea?]

My email to her was short and … Well, it was short and with as little vitriol as I could manage. I edited for clarity. Essentially, I told her I wished she had accepted my offer to talk before taking this action. (We have a mutual friend who actually works for the AG’s office.) But she hadn’t, and now she was going to put us both through some unnecessary process and procedure. I tried to explain, the AG’s office really is a way of accounting for the payments made or not made. They had limited enforcement capacity. And I was not disagreeing with the amount owed nor the fact that I owed it.

You can’t extract money from a person who is filing bankruptcy. There’s no money here. That’s the point.

She was clear and consistent in her message, the same message I got today as the closer on a round of emails about child support and AG’s cluster.

 “I’m not contesting that you asked for us to meet and talk, and that I said no unless we could talk about child support $. It’s in our parenting plan that we use email; it was a unilateral decision on your part that you’d only talk with me about certain things face to face.”

Her refrain at that point, every single time I brought up talking in person, was “How Much” and “When.” SRSLY? That’s it? That’s all you have for me? That’s all the care you have for planning and strategizing about our kid’s future?

I’m jumping ahead and skipping the the throat punch again. Sorry.

So, here I go, heading into bankruptcy trying to figure out how to keep Wells Fargo from taking my one asset and my ex-y has nothing but more process and procedure to throw at me. Let me slow down and take it step-by-painful-step.

In discussing the options with my new bankruptcy attorney, who extracts his $1,000+ fee at that first meeting, it’s clear we need a strategy for dealing with my ex-y. And let’s get this straight. Not a tactic, not a way to hide the truth or tuck away some assets for protection. If she’s so hopping mad at me, thinking I’m spending all her child support on strippers and blow, this should clear things up.

I can’t imagine being in the reverse situation and doing anything that would damage her chances of keeping her house.

In that first meeting we decided that I should ask my ex-y to accept a lean on a small piece of property my family still owns, thereby securing her “debt” to an asset. The plan was for me to agree to all of her financial grievances to-date, sign a document giving her first-blood on any sale of this family asset, and… AND for the privilege of me doing this I could then free up some money and begin paying her child support ASAP.

I said to the attorney. “I think she’ll go for that. It’s a win-win for her. And we’re cordial. I should be able to get that over the weekend.” I left feeling like I had a plan to keep my shelter. (Back down to the base of Maslow’s damn hierarchy again — Dammit.)

When I asked, via email of course, I thought my proposition would put me back in the good-guy champ. I was agreeing to sign any accounting she had (and you can bet she had them) and begin the process of getting payments to her again. Her response floored me.

“I appreciate your kind offer. But I signed an agreement with the AG’s office that I would not negotiate with you about child support.”

BOOM.

10-days later, I was in the attorney’s office again. Turns out, without her cooperation I don’t qualify for my chapter 13 bankruptcy.

“So what, we’re going to burn the place to the ground now?” I asked.

“Not that bad,” the attorney said.

So get this. I withdrew my bankruptcy filing, telling the court that I would probably be filing in the future when I get my income levels to an amount that would allow me to qualify for the plan.

GET THIS: I’m trying to file for bankruptcy literally to keep the roof over my head, to get caught back up on everyone’s payments, and move forward. And I didn’t qualify. WTF?

I’m not sure what the next bold moves might be from the ex-y. I got the letter today from the AG’s office that they were prepared to file a mark against my credit report showing my back payments as past due. Oh boy. I guess that’ll foul up my grim options on the bankruptcy even further.

You walk away from the marriage, but you can’t walk away from the financial enmeshment. Like it or not, we’re still dependant on the other’s earning power.

The silver lining, if there is one, is this. Wells Fargo now has to go through the process of resetting my account and restarting the foreclosure process on me again. (Boy, this is not fun.) And I have a couple months to increase my income by about 20% or lose everything. I guess my sister’s spare room is still an option if I lose my house.

Again, I can’t imagine being in the reverse situation and doing anything that would damage her chances of keeping her house. I wrote that to my ex-y yesterday as part of the exchange that ended with her email above.  She’s complaining about the cost of violin private lessons and I’m talking about trying to keep a house over my head. A place, BTW, where her kids spend 33.5% of their time.

Scratching my head, all I think is she’s still hoppin mad. So mad she’d like to see me fail in the biggest way. Meanwhile she’s living in a house, that was afforded by my downpayment and my corporate jobs, and that is almost double the value of mine. Oh well.

You walk away from the marriage, but you can’t walk away from the financial enmeshment. Like it or not, we’re still dependant on the other’s earning power. I’ve been doing everything I can to find the next opportunity for my work. And I would tell you that I’m not worried. But again, I might have delusions of grandeur. I’ve been working on replacing this income since June.

But again, unless she has me arrested, going for contempt or whatever those charges might be, I think I’m safe for a few months. I think my kids and I have a place to sleep and play and be a smaller family.

NOTE: I was really enjoying the part where this blog was becoming less about divorce and the ex-y and more about aspirations and seeking love. Ho hum. And yes, I know, I’m the asshole man/dad who’s behind on his child support. So in my assessment, the dead-beat dad is a man who is doing things to prevent his ex-wife and family from thriving. A dad-having-trouble is simply a dad who cannot afford a place to live and the court-ordered payments to his ex-wife. It might be a semantic distinction, but it gives me some comfort. Forgive me, but I’m trying.

After chatting with several women friends, who are also divorced, they all shared their own outrage at how I am being treated. A couple books come to mind.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Tell Me Again, Why You Think This Is a Good Idea?

divorce - child support

So you sued me. Um… For the last six months you won’t talk to me, other than txts and emails. Okay. I think it’s a terrible idea, but okay.

Money has never been easy to talk about for me and the ex-y. And the awful realisation, probably for both of us, is even in divorce we are strapped in the same financial boat together, for the duration of our kids young lives. Ack. It doesn’t have to be terrible, or adversarial, and it didn’t start out that way, until this summer.

The economy… Yadda yadda. My primary contract hit a snag in April, and my income was cut in half. And I have been working in a number of ways to replace that gap since, even applying for full-time gigs and giving up my on-going business development. Everything is on the table. I’m scrambling.

The reality was that our two household family unit, required even more money than when we were married.

When we defined our agreement I was anticipating a quick-hire, buy a company that was “working up an offer” for approximately 80k per year. (great money if you can get it) The contract didn’t go through, but my divorce did, and I agreed to child support payments in the amount that would be in-line with that income level. The problem is, I have not yet achieved that income level since, at least not for more than 6 months at a time.

Okay, so, as things are getting REALLY tight, I let the ex-y know that I was going to get behind, but that I was going to keep her informed of my income and potential to pay as soon as I had the information. This did not go over well.

I understand.

She too has bills to pay, and her projections were based on counting on my support. I was apologetic, but I didn’t have an answer to her question. The question she began to hammer home week after week. “When” and “How much?”

So I was sliding, unwillingly, down the slippery slope towards becoming a dead-beat dad. The reality was that our two household family unit, required even more money than when we were married, and she was as dependant on my job as she had been when we were married. The fact that she was still living in the very nice house in the very nice neighborhood was a bit of a sore subject, but I wanted what was best for my kids. And uprooting them during the divorce, three+ years ago, was not an option that either the ex-y or I considered reasonable.

Today, however, the kids are older, well-adapted to the divorce routine, and she is sitting on a house that is nearly double what mine is worth, in today’s hot market. So she’s got that as an option. But let’s go back to the early summer.

As the first month behind wore on my ex-y’s patience also began to fray. Her emails became more accusatory and demanding. I even started taking them into my talky therapist to see if he could help me parse out the anger from the request. With his help I tried to craft week-after-week reasonable responses to her requests. The demand for payment or an exact payment schedule was not something I could produce. And I kept looking for work.

During the second month (again I am behind, it is my fault) she began to rattle a different saber at me. She started mentioning the Attorney General’s office. As in “maybe it would be best just to turn the whole thing over to the AG’s office and you can sort it out with them.”

My initial reaction was disbelief. I was not hiding anything from her. In fact, my talky therapist and I agreed that giving her a weekly update would alleviate some of her anxiety and stress. We were wrong. She wanted her money and now was prepared to turn me over to the state.

At this point I took my first defensive posture of the entire process. I told her, “If you do this, I will want to go back and review what our decree said and how much I was agreeing to pay you, and reset that amount based on what I actually made.” But I was asking her not to take such an adversarial position, I was trying to give her information and updates, but I could not agree to a timeline and budget that I had no idea how I could project or meet.

She presses on and says she’s going to file. I do a rough (and very conservative) review of what I had actually made in three years and that initial 80k per-year estimate that my child support was calculated on. I sent her my back-of-the-napkin calculations showing I had over-paid her 16k over three years. And again, asked her to reconsider filing against me with the state. I was happy to give her all the information I had.

She took my calculation and plea as a threat. Again, never once, did I dispute the amount she was owed, nor say that I was not going to pay all of it, when I had the means. But at this point I had missed a mortgage payment as well, and was taking action to try to prevent losing my house.

In a seminal email in August, one day before my house was to be foreclosed on, she asked, “Any update on your house?” It seemed like a caring question. I reported back that Wells Fargo had given me another 30-days to provide additional proof of income. Five minutes later her reply came.

“I know this is bad timing for you, but I filed with the AG’s office, today.”

The story continues: Can Things Get Worse? Yes, Easy!

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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A Fool and His Money Soon Go Separate Ways

my angry ex-wifeI’ve shied away from the big money post before. But on my “getting healthier” walk today I heard a song that made me sort of rethink: WTF?

Let me see if I’ve got this right.

When we met my ex-y was living in a rental house (really living with her boyfriend at the time, but I didn’t know this until later). She had a great job, and seemed to be making plenty of money. (Or should I say, money didn’t seem to be an issue in her life.)

At that same time, I was living in a pretty swanky condo downtown (thanks mostly to my father’s estate) and working full-time at my own consulting and marketing business. (Pretty much what I’m doing now.)

When we began talking mating and offspring we both agreed on a couple of things:

  1. Mom should get to spend more time in the early years with the babies
  2. Mom would probably have to work part-time, eventually, since we wanted to live in a really nice neighborhood
  3. Dad would work full-time and do whatever it takes to make #1 and #2 happen
  4. We were in this equally, equitably.
  5. We made a great team together.
Maybe she was having a mid-life crisis at that moment. But in this very cash-starved moment in our history together, she was thinking about going into a new field. Okay. And she was casting around for what to do next. Fine.

For the most part, we were growing our family to plan, when 9-11 happened and changed the world for all of us.

In our little universe, which consisted of a one-year-old son, we had some cushion. But the fall of so many of our norms was  hard to recover from. (I guess I’ve also shied away from telling the longer story of my depression… Hmm.)

So here’s what happened to me, personally.

  • My long-time client transitioned all of their business to a new company the August before 9-11.
  • In my rebuilding plans I had scored several new clients, both real estate developers. The day after 9-11 all of my income, 100% of it, froze. My income went to zero.
  • My mental wheels began to come off about nine months in, though I did manage to land a few new clients in the new post 9-11 era.
  • Finally, with the upcoming birth of my daughter becoming more and more medically complicated, I snapped. Something broke inside of me, and I no longer assumed that things were going to be okay. I broke down.

This breakdown took the form of me turning down a very stressful, but lucrative opportunity that my then-wife had helped secure. And I didn’t back out very gracefully. I freaked out of it. “I can’t do it. I can’t give them the presentation.”

Over the course of the next several years, my emotional sobriety was mixed. I had good months, good runs at work, and then I would go pop and drop back into the pit of despair. The good news is my pre-marital condo sold for a very nice nest egg. The bad news is, while this was taking place, we were burning through that nest egg at a pretty alarming rate.

Here’s where things got a little weird. And here’s where the money part of my marriage really came into question for me.

While we had agreed that Mom would get to stay at home with the kiddos as much as possible, I began to see how dependant we had become on MY income. Rather than beginning the process of collaborative work search, WE had somehow both become overly focused on me and my ability to earn enough for our new family of four.

Now, I’m not blaming her for this perspective. But it got a little absurd. And the depth of it, with 20-20 reviewing capabilities, goes deeper than I realised while I was married.

Okay, so back to pre-marital imbalance. I’m a home owner with some money in the bank. She is not. No worries, we’re in this for the long haul.

The thing that really became obvious, wasn’t obvious until she decided she wanted a divorce.

About six months before the shit hit the fan, the financial shit was still hitting the fan. As we were struggling to make a couple of mortgage payments, I ended up selling 10k of my music equipment to make ends meet. We were stressed out to the max about money. And “I thought” both of us were working together to find work to support our family.

Maybe she was having a mid-life crisis at that moment. But in this very cash-starved moment in our history together, she was thinking about going into a new field. Okay. And she was casting around for what to do next. Fine.

Thankfully, the Thanksgiving before our divorce, I got an amazing job offer that started up immediately. We were saved. Kind of.

The YEAR that we were struggling, the YEAR that I sold two guitars I’d owned for 15+ years to make our mortgage payment, the YEAR that she was mad at my about 90% of the time, was the YEAR that she lost money?

As I began that path of “hi honey, I’m home” fatherhood again, and she was still “searching” something was different. The money was not enough. She was still extremely angry. And really seemed to be directing that anger at me. When the change happened from stress and anxiety to actual focused anger at me, as the problem, I don’t know. But it was palpable. She woke up angry.

Maybe she was mad that she was still having to look for a job at all. I don’t know. I tried asking, but it was fruitless. She was just angry. And when she got angry, she also closed off 100% of the intimacy. I guess that’s natural. You can’t really make love to someone if you’re angry with them. But months would go by, and I’d be the only one seemly noticing that we were not having sex. Like EVER.

So, she was mad. Woke up mad. Went to bed mad. Just mad.

Eventually this got me a bit angry back and I started looking at the dynamics of our relationship. Here I was working the “good job” again, providing the money and insurance for her to continue her search for meaning in work, and things were not getting any less stressful between us. What the fuck?

As we moved through the holidays and through January, my job continued to be stressful, and her work search continued to be fruitless. And while the idea of coming home to a happy family and a meal on the stove was kinda cliché, I was hoping for some of the fruits of my labor to be affection.

In February I began voicing my dissatisfaction with the status quo. And while I was primarily talking about our physical closeness and her obvious anger and angry outbursts at me, I was also talking about  something more fundamental. In all this angry venting at me, I was beginning to get angry back. I started asking about her job prospects. I started asking about sex. I started asking about dinner when I got home.

And we were having to get our taxes together around this time. And I pushed the final hunting and gathering of the documents on her. I, after all, was working a job that was beginning to kick my ass more than I liked. But I was gung-ho, and we were doing soooo much better, financially.

Then a mini-crisis happened, just in this fragile time, as I’m beginning to stand up for what I needed. I got fired. A wrongful termination suit was brought against my former friend, because I was fired for someone else’s mistake, clear as day. But it broke the final ounce of trust and hope for my ex-y. SHE WAS DONE.

Here I was working the “good job” again, providing the money and insurance for her to continue her search for meaning in work, and things were not getting any less stressful between us.

I was not done, I was certain this break would provide a pivot point for us to get back on even footing. For us to finally broach in therapy what was happening in our sexual relationship. But I was the only willing party, at that point. She was finished.

Then two amazing things happened in rapid succession. 1. She found a job. (Like magic.) and 2. She showed me the tax return documents for the previous year, and she actually had a negative contribution to the family budget for the year.

BOOM.

The YEAR that we were struggling, the YEAR that I sold two guitars I’d owned for 15+ years to make our mortgage payment, the YEAR that she was mad at my about 90% of the time, was the YEAR that she lost money?

How amazing that the minute she decided she wanted a divorce, her motivation for finding work changed dramatically. Or maybe it was just the marketplace. You tell me.

Anyway, in the divorce, while I chose not to fight about any of the money, I think she came out pretty well. She’s got the house. She’s got the child support income. (When I get caught back up.) And she’s got the kids a large percentage of the time.

I wonder if she’s still mad at me. Or if, now, she’s found something else to be angry about.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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I Am Failing In One Critical Area Of Life

divorce financial troubles - the off parentAnd it’s not my best area, money.

I was listening to two men today in some kind of mentoring conversation. I heard one of them mention the areas of life work.

Spiritual Health
Mental Health
Physical Health
Financial Health

And I was like… Uh oh.

You see, I’ve got a problem. It is a big problem. And perhaps one I’ve had my entire life.

I’m kinda crazy about money. And at the moment, while I’m feeling so solid in the first three areas of life, I’m about to go down the black hole of financial melt down. And here’s the rub. The divorce has a lot to do with it. (Maybe My Ex Is Just Unhappy)

On Monday, I will declare chapter 13 bankruptcy to keep Wells Fargo from foreclosing on my house. It’s the only asset I have along with my car. And in the middle of this, while I try and negotiate a “catch up” plan with my ex-wife she’s holding up the “sorry but it’s out of my hands” card. She’s turned our child support “issue” over to the Attorney General’s office.

Another example of “oh, I’m sorry that didn’t work out for you.” She cloaked it in “I know this is not a good time for you…” The velvet has worn thin on the gloves. There’s no courtesy from her. No consideration of my struggles. And I guess that’s okay. She’s got her own issues, her own money requirements, and my reduced income over the Summer didn’t help her either.

I’m not proud of my necessary intervention. But it doesn’t diminish my obligation to her. And still, she says in sympathy, “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this.” But she really means, “Where’s my money, mf?”

The one thing she could do, to help me get the terms of the bankruptcy in a safer place, is to negotiate an agreement about the back owed child support. (About 10k.) The agreement actually secures the debt with a note tied to a family asset I still have potential claim for in a future sale. It seems like a way validate and secure her accounting of what I owe her. (She’s really good with spreadsheets.)

When I was talking to the financial attorney, I said, “Oh this should be easy. It’s actually good for her. And we’re still friendly.”

Her email tonight put the relationship in starker terms.

“The document I signed when I submitted the application to have the AG manage the child support process, one of the things the form said was I was forbidden to negotiate with you about anything related to child support.”

Yes.

Thanks hon. You’ve essentially turned us over to the state’s attorney for negotiation.

Again, perhaps this is for the best. I will go another route to get my bankruptcy affairs in order. And I will remember, YET AGAIN, that I can’t ask her for anything. It’s just business. And in the business of things I owe her money.

The last 5 times I’ve tried to get us together to talk about things, her response has been very simple. “About what?” All she wanted to know was, “How much can you pay me?” And, “When can you pay me.” That’s it.

Maybe that’s the way it needs to be. Maybe she’s dealing with pressures I don’t know anything about. Maybe she’s just mad at me, still. Either way, she’s “sorry I’m having to deal with this” AND “it’s out of my hands.”

I give thanks for this illumination. I may have to get the message tattooed on my arm, so I can remember what I’ve learned. If she needs something she will always ask, regardless of my situation, or if it’s best for the kids. When I ask for something, I’d best not count on a cooperative response.

Calm down. It’s okay. I’ve survived this far. And even with the child support burden set at about 2X what I was actually earning, I’ve managed to get this far. I’m not going to give my house back to the bank and go live with my mom. I’m gainfully employed. I could be MORE employed, but I’m working on that too.

I’ve got three of the four areas of life pretty well in hand. And the last one, I’m struggling with a bit. But I won’t let a little money trouble get me down. Things don’t always work out as we planned. I’m the kind of man who gets back up, with a positive attitude, and gives it another go. Alone for now.

Reflection: There was a moment, during the roommate period before divorce that I asked my then-wife, “Do you think we’re going to be able to afford two houses in this neighborhood?” We’d struggled mightily, just a year prior, just to keep the one house. Of course, she would receive financial help after the divorce. What I guess I was saying, where do you think I’m going to live? And now that I’m edging towards losing my house in a neighborhood that’s “further out,” I know that my lament was closer to the truth than I’d like to admit. No one wants to fail. No one wants to miss a payment (car, rent, child support). The shame is present and real for me at this moment.

Update: I’m now in the process of petitioning the state for my bankruptcy. The good news is I didn’t lose my house. The gooder news is, I’m going to get my financial house in order by the order of the court. The not so good news, my ex-y has filed her petition with the state’s attorney general, so we’ll see how that all shakes down. Fun times.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Marriage and Money: A Fairy Tale

stay at home mom dreamsMaybe I seemed rich to the first two women who became my wives. Perhaps my downtown condo, and simple lifestyle appeared to be something other than it was. I had/have potential, yes, but the real world has a way of changing the game on you, frequently and with indiscriminate outcomes. Maybe the fairy tale went something like this:

  1. Marry a fine gentleman of money.
  2. Have children in a nice house in a top school district.
  3. Stay home and work on parenting and yoga.
  4. Hire weekly housekeeper and part-time nanny.
  5. Live happily ever after.

Something always changes. And when the plans were reset in both marriages, the “stay and home and live the life” part didn’t work out as planned. I had hopes. I had means, during various periods in my life. I still have promise and opportunity. To hone in on the mother of my children, there was never any resistance to working. In fact, for much of the early stages of our relationship she made more money than me. (Yay!) And we had a coordinated idea of how we would finance the children and give her the “stay at home” life, as much as possible. We both agreed, we would like one of us (Mom) to meet the bus when the kids began going to school. And when they were infants, well, of course she would stay at home with them. That’s how we imagined it.

The fact that my dad died of a 4th heart attack and cancer at the age of 55 is not lost on me. But my dad had problems. Mistakes I learned from. Fears I’ve recoiled from. And a devastating divorce I have striven not to repeat.

For the most part, the birthing and getting to school-aged progeny worked. There were some tumbles, mainly 9-11, but we soldiered through, as a family. And reached the “meet them at the bus” stage without too much damage to our credit scores. But the dream (examples set by so many lucky wives in our upscale neighborhood) was not fully realised.

She did have to return to part-time work. We still maintained the nanny and housekeeper, but mid-day yoga classes would have to wait. (Bummer.) And I was bummed. I thought that the dream I saw paraded in the HEB and at our kid’s schools, the cars, the house, the fit-happy-zen wife, was supposed to be within my earnings. I needed to earn a bit more.

So I travelled the big corporate route, to seek relief, for my suffering and the suffering of my family. But even that wasn’t fulfilling the dream. Sure 20-hrs a week beats 50+ with a 2-hour daily commute, but it wasn’t a competition, it was a cooperation. Still, the dream was suffering. I was suffering. I think the wife was suffering. My suffering had to do with my childhood and my father’s extraordinary success. And through many gross legal stories, 15 years after his death, my inheritance was null and void. But I grew up in the most famous house in our town. While things were never very happy there, the outside world must’ve thought we were living the high life.

While I was hammering away and being hammered from both the job and the wife, she was actually losing money? Tough times, yes, but perhaps her encouragement of my career had just a twinge of self-motivation behind it.

Aspire as I might, I won’t likely achieve the financial riches my father accomplished by the time he was 40. The fact that he died of a 4th heart attack and cancer at the age of 55 is also not lost on me. But my dad had problems. Mistakes I learned from. Fears I’ve recoiled from. And a devastating divorce I have striven not to repeat.

Back to me and the ex-y. So, things change. The big corporate job (which had be getting grayer and fatter by the week) went through a major contraction in anticipation of the 2009-2010 financial collapse.

While I saw this as a golden moment to redefine our lifestyles and priorities, my then wife, was panicked. And the road ahead WAS hard. But I imagined that together we would survive and ultimately thrive again. Of course, the economy was hard for everyone, not just us. And the job market was fragmented and getting more ageist by the year. What had been an asset (we’re hiring you for some of your wisdom) became a badge of failure.

I was heading towards 50 and interviewing with 30 year olds. My gray hair had to go. And on the financial front, things didn’t work out as planned there either. The ex-y was fired just days after the big corporate layoff was announced. The good news: my fat corporate job provided for 6-months at full-pay, with benefits, and 70% of my annual bonus. The bad news: with the ex-y out of work that windfall would be eaten away in three months.

Okay, so the work was set out for us. And it was hard. COBRA payments for child insurance are very high. Occasionally we were paying almost as much for our mortgage. And the job hunt was challenging. At one point, nearing a crisis, I sold most of my music equipment to make a couple of mortgage payments. (It was bit like O’Henry’s story, but I wouldn’t know that until later.) Dark times.

And then another fat corporate job came through, for me. This time with even more promise and excitement than before. The ex-y went through some kind of mid-life work reassessment and fished around for multiple job ideas, considered going back to school to learn coding. I shipped off to San Francisco on my first day on the job, to meet the creative team I would be joining. The relief didn’t really come soon enough.

The ex-y was fighting with me on the phone, during my second day in San Francisco. She was demanding to know when the insurance would kickin, when I would get my first full check, and why I had put the room on my credit card. Sure, she was feeling the heat. And sure, she had been paying the bills over the previous six months, while looking for herself and satisfying work. (That’s what we all want, isn’t it, “satisfying work?”) B

ut the proof came out later, something I was unaware of, being focused on breadwinning and not the daily bread. When we pulled the information together for the last year of our joint tax return she actually had a negative contribution to the family budget. WHAT? While I was hammering away and being hammered from both the job and the wife, she was actually losing money?

Tough times, yes, but perhaps her encouragement of my career had just a twinge of self-motivation behind it. See, if I would just get that big corporate job again, we could return to normal, “meet the bus after school” part-time livin. Except that’s not what happened.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

An earlier run at the Stay At Home Mom story

Note: After an early morning chat with my talky therapist, I’ve come up with a catch phrase to frame the renewed attitude of detachment from my ex-y and her future struggles. “Oh, I’m sorry that didn’t work out for you.” It’s more compassion than I ever got from her while I was struggling, and certainly more than I got yesterday. I guess I have to consider the worst outcome and at least have that in mind. I suppose she could have me thrown in jail for not giving her the money I don’t have. I’m already skating above bankruptcy and just trying to keep a roof over my head and the heads of my children. But I suppose she might do it.

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And a wonderful song about it all from Blur, Country House.

country house from blur

click for video


I Must Be Insane: It’s the End of the World, and I Feel Fine

OFF-youandme

There’s not much that is going to plan at this moment. YET, I’m happily plugging along on my path and flipping the bird to the ex-wife, bill collectors, family members who think they know exactly what I need to do. Fuck’em.

And as I checked in with my therapist this morning, he said, “Either you’ve gone completely insane, or everyone else has.” I’m gonna stick with our assumption that unhealthy systems don’t like for people to get healthy, or stand up against them.

I wish her well. The better she does the better my kids do when they are with her.

Let me be clear, I am behind on my child support payments. THIS I KNOW. But I am not avoiding them, or trying to hide behind excuses. It’s pretty simple. A client’s business took a hit recently and changed their payment terms with me. I’m not working any less, or taking time off, but I’m not getting paid with the same frequency. They will get caught up too. And when they do I will give my ex-y and my kids all the money they deserve. This is not a choice I am making to stiff them, or begin my slip towards becoming a dead beat dad.

Of course, that does not help my ex-y and her own cash flow problems. I tried to have a discussion with her, since she keeps sending messages of some urgency. Here’s how the conversation went.

ME: I’m happy to meet or talk at anytime this week, if you’d like to talk about things.
HER: First question: When can you pay me?
ME: Um. I’m not sure.
HER: Next question: How much?
ME: Okay, I see this is how the conversation would go if we were to get together. Maybe that’s not necessary. Let me ask a question. “Is there some extenuating circumstance, or something I’m missing that is causing our kids great suffering? Or is it just cash flow?”
HER: I am incurring debt because of things your are not paying for.

Ah, so… It’s really just a choice, then to pound me for the money, even when I’ve been as clear as possible about my financial situation. Am I going on vacations or spending money on anything other than food and shelter? NO. And I won’t rehash how her financial situation is just fine… Not my business or my concern.

You see, knowing that you owe taxes is not the same as having the money to pay them. Avoiding penalties is great if you have the money. When you dial back to survival mode you have to thicken your skin a bit, and take care of what you CAN take care of and ignore the rest of the URGENT MESSAGES that come from everyone looking for their money.

I tried to explain this to my ex-y. Her urgency didn’t translate for me. In fact it just made me a bit more frustrated as I tried to give her information (she was asking for information) but no firm dates and amounts. That’s what she wants. How much and when. That’s fine. But it’s not possible for me to answer that question. And there’s a wrinkle, that I’m looking into as well. [Based on actual income vs. estimated income, I’ve overpaid her significantly since we got divorced.]

Even under the duress of the financial and familial stress I am still centered in my own happiness. That is the only happiness I can manage.

As we move along, perhaps the urgency or villainy will be moved from me to someone something else for her. Today I’m her target, but I’m getting ready to punch back. Or not. Just like my divorce recovery class says, “Treat them like a convenience store clerk. Just take care of business and get out.”

When she came by on Saturday to pick up the kids she looked great. She’s still my type. I could see how I would still find her attractive and want to date her. I would hope, today, that my self-awareness would allow me see some of the fatal flaws before falling in love with her. I noticed her and her attractiveness like I might a pretty waitress, and then we conducted the business of transferring the kids stuff.

I wish her well. The better she does the better my kids do when they are with her. And I hope her boyfriend turns out to be more reliable and a better honey-do than I was.

I will get her all of her money. All of the money that belongs to my kids. At this moment, that money is for extracurricular things. And I don’t have a single extracurricular dollar. That’s why the downstairs bathroom is in need of repairs. And why the creditors, including her, will have to wait until things move back into the plus column. They’ve been heading in the right direction all summer, but a few hitches along the way, and I’m still plugging along in survival mode.

The good news is: even under the duress of the financial and familial stress I am still centered in my own happiness. That is the only happiness I can manage.

Sincerely

The Off Parent

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The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.


How I Went from Good Guy Dad to Dead Beat Dad

OFF-deadbeat

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.

+++

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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Love and War; It’s all Here – Seeking Love and Peace

Love and War, Love and PeaceA contrast and comparison of the two most powerful letters I’ve written this year.

1. Love letter to the silent “woman with potential.” (partial) Responding to an email she sent me about why she hasn’t been able to see me over the last two weeks.

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Sweet [woman’s name], (i like the sound of that)

I completely understand.
If the moment is casual and easy and without expectations, maybe it would be easier to just include me in an activity you’re already going to do. No prep or primp, just “hey J I’m going for a walk at 2, wanna go?” (Imagining some of the resistance is merely the additional effort required to include someone else, someone who’s “checkin you out.” But that’s an easy one to interrupt, right? Just time together, that’s my goal. Intentionality is useful in many situations, but here, I’m easy and free of expectations.
And me:
1. I can be more invitive (invite-y), but I feel this adds pressure rather than enticement. And thus patience and peace of mind is my repose.
2. Thrilled with the idea of [woman’s name].
3. Happy.
4. Intentional when it makes sense.
At the moment it appears it doesn’t fit. That’s okay. I can imagine you are frazzled and adding ONE MORE FKIN THING, even if that thing is magically delicious, is too much.
Here I AM. As long as it’s okay for me to ping you every now and then to check-in, I can mind my own mind. And when there is an opening on your end for more… Well…
Final thought: I loved, love, will love, getting your messages in the future and I will respond in kind.

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2. Declaration of Independence from the Ex-y’s continuing drama about money.

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Money.

What I can tell you.
1. You are going to get every penny you are owed. Any language from you about “collecting” or “enforcement” now makes me laugh rather than get mad. It’s absurd. Maybe it’s your dad speaking, but there is no DEFAULT on my child support.
2. If there is a perception, from the kids that money is flowing, it’s a misperception, maybe due to my joy in life at the moment.
3. After my mortgage and base necessities, you and the kids are my first priority.
4. Work is good. And it does look like I will get several new pieces of business that should speed up my catchup.
5. A month that I am able to afford a house keeper is a good month. But that $100 has no bearing on your payments.
6. I am not spending ANY money on myself, after food, shelter and internet.
What I cannot tell you.
1. Timing or schedule of my payments through the summer. I simply don’t have the information myself.
2. Exact amounts you can expect through the summer.
If you have doubts about me ever getting caught up those are based on fear and not reality. I will do my best to inform you of when money is coming in, and what portion of every income event you can count on. But until the check is in my hand from my other clients, I will not guess at dates and schedules.
There will come a day when the money and schedule are easy and predictable. I am working towards that with 100% of my efforts.
That’s the best I can do.

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Maybe I could do more, better, try harder, but I don’t think so.

The real story is that my life is good. In spite of being in arrears with Wells Fargo and the ex-y. I am working plenty. I am landing new business. I am keeping my head out of the gutter of depression around the pressure of money and lack of money.

Here’s the rub.

When we were married I worked as a freelance consultant for years. I was successful and then 9-11 took the prosperity right out of my self-employment. What ultimately forced me to seek FTE (full-time employee) status was 1. the need for my family to have robust healthcare coverage; 2. the ex-y’s unwillingness to get a full-time full-pay job herself. Of course in the early part of our kids lives, that was by design, but towards the end of our marriage, it almost felt like defiance. Case in point, the last full year of our marriage she actually had a negative income after taxes and expenses were taken out. How’s that for escalating the stress levels. Of course, the party line, was it was me with the “employment” problem.

Now, however, in divorce, the ex-y must have full-time employment. And with that comes the opportunity to put the kid’s healthcare on her policy. Still bill it to me, but the access to healthcare, that “these days” still requires a FTE status to acquire. As a result, the opportunity to become a self-employed consultant is possible for me again. She really doesn’t have any say about that.

I would’ve liked to have provided enough financially for her not to work at all while the kids were in elementary school. We did the best we could and she averaged 15 – 30 hours a week for a good portion of that time. But as the kids got older, the expectation was that she would start contributing to the overall household growth again.

And the most amazing thing. When she decided she wanted to divorce me, she created a job with a firm that was owned by some personal friends. When she was required to work, she was very good at it. And when her desire required her to go to FTE status, it was a quick and decisive event.

Today, when I’m working my flexible schedule, I wonder how it would be easier if we (my child support) were not paying on two houses. How we might have both enjoyed a more flexible lifestyle had we stayed together.

That was not the choice we made. And today she is the FTE. And while I am paying the healthcare costs, and the equivalent of two mortgages, (and I will get caught up) she is still in some sort of crisis about money. Seems like this was a pattern in our marriage too. She was in crisis about something most of the time.

I am not.

And yet the contrast could not be more obvious.

She: has 30K or more in her retirement accounts, little or no credit card debt, and equity in the marital home in the neighborhood of 50k – 70k.

Me: spent all of my retirement savings to live and gain access to home ownership again, have no credit cards and bad credit, am behind of my mortgage.

Yet still. I am very happy and optimistic that I am pulling out of this. And I am trying to reassure her, just as I did when we were married, that there will be enough. “We’re gonna be fine.”

And she is stressed to the max, thrashing against me for money, and convinced I am the answer and cause of her distress.

I can maintain my neutrality. I can try and respond with kindness rather than anger. I will continue to focus on the happiness and wellbeing of my kids. The happiness and well-being of my ex-y was not something I could manage then, and I certainly cannot manage it now. The good news is, now I don’t have to.

UPDATE: How do you think my message went over? To deaf ears. More saber rattling, more demands for a plan or a schedule. Okay, so I’m putting the ex-y in the bill pile with Wells Fargo. And I’m taking the emotion out of my response.

“Talk to the hand. You’ll get it as soon as I get it. I’ll let you know in real time as I know more.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Loaded and Broke, Again: The Drama of Divorce and Money

Dad and Money and Ex-WivesI’ve got my largest two week consulting check coming in, ever. Problem is, it should’ve arrived on Saturday. AND my car stopped running properly on Saturday. AND my ex-y asked for “timing” advice last night. And my client said, “We will get it in the mail this week, sorry we were on Spring Break.”

There is no doubt that cash flow problems hit us all. And I will also admit that I am not very good at mapping bills and expenses to income, especially when things get tight. And sometimes they get so tight…

So the drama between the ex-y and I continues. Except the drama on her side is really for show, for frustration, for antagonism. No, I take that back. She’s not even interested in upsetting me. She would get no benefit from that. But she is not required to take my situation into consideration, nor does she. I’d use the word narcistic, if it weren’t a bad word. Self-centered would probably fit more appropriately.

The part I don’t get, when her wants and desires become the priority in her life, over, let’s say, our kids lives. Let me give a few examples.

Within a month of our divorce being finalized, she was sleeping with a plumber who’d worked on her house. Not that there’s anything wrong with plumbers, but this one had rebound, revenge, self-centered written all over it. A friend told me about it. I was furious. Oops, my bad. I was supposed to be detaching. And of course she had tightened down her chastity belt so tight, I guess her sexual needs could not be contained. All I can say about the plumber was, thank goodness we’d put a 6-month chill clause in our divorce decree, before either of us could introduce a significant other to the kids. I asked her, “What example is he going to set for our kids?” Again, nothing against plumbers, but as the next pseudo-father of my kids, I was aiming a little higher. I understand it’s not my decision, but I have some hopes that he will be a creatively intellectual individual that my kids will admire and aspire to be more like. Again, I never met the man with the dragon tattoo. He may very well have been the Michael Angelo of plumbing.

Another misqueue in my opinion (a problem with that right there, I really don’t have a right to an opinion) was all the times I’d check-in with my kids on a weekend and they’d have a babysitter. Again, I don’t even pretend to imagine the different experience of the world and making a living, between men and women, but it certainly wasn’t sexual companionship she was looking for. She was in the immediate hunt for my replacement as a provider. She was panicked about being alone. (Part of the reason I didn’t want the house, too many ghosts around if the kids weren’t there.) But deeper, I’m guessing, was her fear of not being able to make it alone.

Again, I am speaking about something I know nothing about. I know about money woes. I know about companionship. But I also know that MY healing comes from time alone, feeling the feelings, and working things out. First with myself. Then with another person. She was aggressively trying to fill my spot before she really had to do the work of understanding why it was empty.

So I paid a few weeks late on last months child support, and she made a big deal about how much she needs the money, how dependent she is on my support checks. But it’s bullshit. It’s the clear and present danger in HER mind, but she’s only thinking about herself.

Let’s see: 1. she’s got a house that is worth at least 100k more than her mortgage; 2. she’s got over 25k in retirement accounts; 3. she’s got me paying almost all of her mortgage every month. Where is the money crisis in that?

I think of Bill Hader’s drama queen character. The kids and I watched a couple SNL skits last night before bed. And in this one, Hader played a fireman who was still not over a relationship that had ended over nine years ago. He simply screamed. And screamed. And screamed.

It was a fitting metaphor for my ex-y’s behavior.

1. She knew I was struggling to get last month’s payment to her; 2. She’s working on her own budget for the week/month/year; 3. Like a bill collector, she’s asking when is she getting the next payment and “how can we set this up so it doesn’t affect me and the kids each month?”

Good question, that last one. I’m thinking this is the answer: “Get the fk off my ass for $1600. You are NOT in crisis. You are connecting your emotional vulnerability to the payments from me. They are NOT the same thing. You have plenty of money. I am paying as best I can. Saying “thank you so much” and the bringing the enforcer ask right after is not caring, it’s manipulative. Unfortunately it’s also transparent.

I won’t answer her with this vitriol. It would do no good.

So as I do with the mortgage demands that start coming in the day after the payment is due, I ignore them. She is a detail and a bill collector. She does not have feelings, nor should she need to, about me and my money. It’s just business.

And fk that. I’m a person. I’m also worthy of respect. And before you hammer me about “when is the next check coming in?” please check your balance sheet and know that YOU ARE OKAY. You’re security and joy does not depend on my money. Never did. And I will support you as long as the law demands it and the kids are in school. I am 100% committed to that.

Let’s not forget that she started threatening turning the process over to the Texas Attorney General’s office and Child Support Division a few months ago. She’s just working to get me with the program. Not a very compassionate approach, but I’m not part of her drama unless she can make me part of it.

But this week, when the check comes in. I’m going to pay last months mortgage payment. And a few other bills that have significant weight. Yours no longer carries that priority. And your drama-infused demands no longer have the power to affect me. (To be honest, they still can rile me up. This post is an example.) I will pay you, as I have for 2.5 years. We’ve got approximately 8 to go. And if you continue to scream “oh my god” in your emails to me, I’ll just start putting you in the spam folder with Wells Fargo. They are going to get their money too. Everybody is going to get their money.

Now we need to relax and pay attention to the things that are more important than paying bills or finding a boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s time to wake the kids over here and get them ready for school. And that’s an activity worth my priority and attention. Your self-imagined money crisis, is not.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Happy New Year, Ex-Husband, I Need More Money

Money Issues Don't End After Divorce

Money Issues Don't End After DivorceThe first day of the new year hadn’t cooled before my ex-y was laying down the law, making spreadsheets and requests for more money. It was a lot like how she was in our marriage. But I was just a bit too fresh to my new year, celebrating that I wasn’t hungover or depressed, to respond in a loving way. (“It’s just about the kids.”)

I tried deflecting the conversation.

She responded with more heat.

I took a different approach.

Another hot response.

And here’s where I had the ability to end it. And I did. I laid down my boundaries. “I will make my payments as scheduled for January. If you want to send me the spreadsheet of extra expenses you are asking me to pay, you can pause the send until February and you’ll get a better response.”

Fact One: One of the reasons we’re no longer married is our hardship in navigating such emotional and murky waters.

Fact Two: I have an obligation that I agreed to in the divorce contract. Some days I feel like it’s too much money, or that it’s unfair. Other days, like today – even, I am optimistic about my prospects and I let it roll off the proverbial back. Like a duck.

Fact Three: I can set my boundaries in a different way than I was able to do while we were married. We ARE still in a relationship, that won’t end, but I don’t have to jump and scramble to her urgency to solve this issue today, tonight, the first day of the new year.

I’m not real clear about how much “stuff” I’m still carrying into this negotiation. So for now, a PAUSE is best. I can take a breath. Stretch my mind and heart with some yoga or chat with someone else. But I don’t have to give her an answer this minute. I don’t have to give her the answer she wants.

She said something quite insiteful in one of her responses. (paraphrased) “This is not about you and me. It’s about taking care of what our kids need.”

Yes, she’s right. The request is about a summer camp tuition for our daughter. The issue will be solved. We will pay for her to go to camp. But today, with my finances still a bit out of whack, I don’t have to answer.

Did money play a huge role in the stress of our marriage and eventual divorce? Absolutely. Was the economic recession after 911 the hardest economic times for most people? Yes, and we’re still digging back out. Do we have to deal with money issues with drama or crisis-like urgency? Nope. Not gonna do it.

I have the pause button. Not to abuse or neglect her efforts to do what is right by our kids. She is not doing this to be angry, nor to attack me. It’s a difficult negotiation and discussion that we will have plenty of times over the next 10 years or more. And the best response for me is to step back, not poke out a hurtful reply, and regroup. We can try again tomorrow.

I’m learning this.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Note: Writing this post in the heat of the moment, I needed to step back and look at my intention. Here’s what I came up with.

This blog is not written to my ex-y. While she knows about it, my guess is that she stays clear of reading it. So, I’m not writing TO her, or intentionally trying to communicate to her through the blog. It is only with this distinction that I feel I can write from the hot core, rather than skim over the surface so as not to hurt any feelings.