When my business hit the skids about three years ago I had to fight to keep my house. My ex-wife grew impatient with my excuses. “I’ve got bills to pay, too,” she said. “Kids come before our needs,” she said. I pleaded with her to be patient. “My setback is temporary, I will get caught up as soon as we replace the anchor client.” I lost the fight and I lost my house. She didn’t care. She wanted her money. The kids money. She was mad and mad about it.
Then when I tried to schedule a team meeting about the kids, she would defer with this type of statement. “When can I expect the money?” And she would refuse to give me the time of day unless I could answer that question. The problem was, I couldn’t answer. So rather than lie and fail, I said, “I’m not sure.”
What is it that made her so mad? How did the money become MY problem and not a shared problem? Didn’t she get the house? Didn’t she get custody? Didn’t she get the money she wanted? Didn’t I have to pay for the kid’s insurance as well? What did she have to be impatient about? Impatient enough to throw the AG’s office at me?
It seems to me, women go into divorce knowing they have the advantage. That’s why my then-wife went and “checked on her options” with an attorney, before she ever told me. Even though we were in couple’s therapy, she kept that critical little detail from me. Why? So when she did get her ducks in a row, she could spring it on me, creating a tactical advantage.
The summer I left my house I was disoriented, homeless, and missing my kids with an empty feeling. And missing my kids about 70% of the time. She literally got everything. She got the package deal. Why is it we think this is still “in the best interest of the kids?” It’s not. It’s in the best interest of their mom, but against the good will and good fortune of the father.
Dad’s asked to leave the house, leave a hefty part of his paycheck, and most of his parenting schedule. There’s no science behind this equation. It’s just “old school” divorce.
Today, you can fight this bad deal. And even if you vow to do a collaborative divorce, you need to know that around the money issues, things will get tough. It’s as if she was threatened by the money. Like she was fighting for her survival. I can understand this while the initial negotiations were going on, but three years into the deal, her deal, she should’ve been able to lighten up and realize she got the sweet end of the deal.
Today she still has the sweet end of the deal. She’s still got the house, that has tripled in value. She still gets a hefty paycheck from me, tax-free. She gets the child tax credit. And she’s still asking me for more money for stuff. Nope. Done. She’s had her fun. There are at least 5 more years until my second child is 18. And that’s a lot of money.
I feel like the expenses should be shared not just thrust on the dad. And when he loses his house, the financial burden becomes even more difficult. How could my wife then file our divorce with the AG’s office? It was as if she were turning me in for collections.
- I never said I was trying not to pay her.
- I begged her to pause and consider her actions and the damage it would cause me AND the kids
- I showed her my income statements.
- I told her I was trying to save my house from foreclosure.
She still filed against me with the AG’s office, effectively listing me as a dead beat dad. I had never been doing anything but trying to accommodate her demands. Today she would tell you that I was saying I wasn’t going to pay her. Today she would tell you that she was protecting the interests of the kids. Really? What about the interest of the breadwinner of the family?
So my ex-wife filed her grievance with the AG’s office. So she could ENFORCE her judgement against me. Wait, what? It should’ve been our collaborative agreement that outlined the best case scenario for our finances moving forward. Then with honest communications, it should’ve been adjusted as our situations changed. It was not. I still owe my ex-wife $1,200 a month for two kids. AND I’m paying another $1,200 a month for COBRA health insurance. AND she get’s the child tax credit? Something is not right with this situation.
But it takes money to consult with an attorney. It takes money to save money. And somewhere in my sad dad bones I’m being mean. But that’s not really fair, is it?
When you divorce you both want whats best for the kids. But don’t be blinded by that rhetoric. Your ex-wife wants whats best for her. And no matter how collaborative you are, no matter how much of a good dad and good guy you want to be, there may come a time when she’s going to press charges on you and coerce you in to giving her the money. Even when you tell her she’s going to get her money.
I still tell my ex-wife I will catch up with the money. Even when we should’ve been splitting the costs all along. She’s considering letting me buy the kids their cars and forgiving the judgement that she has against me. That debt sits on my credit as a lien to the State of Texas, Child Support Division. You know what this says about me?
I am a deadbeat dad, even if I’ve paid every single month I’ve had an income. Every single month. She doesn’t get it. And she’s paid nothing to me.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
- Bang! The Lies My Wife Projected On to Me
- You Are Ahead by a Century
- The Painful Business of Divorce
- Your Contempt for Me is Hurting All of Us
- The Humans Of Divorce, Dear AG’s Office Special Cases Officer Mr. McK!
- And Just As We Reach A Calm Moment
- What I Still Fail to Understand About My Ex-wife
- When Kids, Money, and Divorce Collide
- Trusting Your Unreliable Ex
image: interview bee, creative commons usage
Let’s talk a bit about the dumper and dumpee. If you were NOT the one who thought of the divorce first, you are the dumpee. And there’s an amazing thing that happens to dumpees. We are divorced and alone long before we get used to the idea of what’s happening. In my case, I objected with a vengeance, but quickly learning, in counseling and eventually divorce financial consulting, that it takes two people to want to stay married.
So let’s assume that my ex-y had been contemplating the divorce for six months. Taking steps to secure certain parts of her plan. She wanted to make sure she had her ducks in a row, long before I knew I was being lined up for an exit.
And, yes, it’s usually the man who leaves the house. That just makes it easier on the kids. (And if you believe that bullshit line… Well, we don’t have to go into that now.) So now, I’m learning for the first time that my wife had already been to see a lawyer about options, and she was asking me to leave the house. Just walk out in the middle of April. Two months before the kids were to be finishing up 3rd and 5th grades. Um… NO WAY.
I was surprised in our marriage counseling by something that she revealed. Something didn’t sound right. “Have you been to see an attorney?” I asked.
And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip. What? Why?
I knew we were having problems. That’s why we’d been in therapy on and off for years. But DIVORCE? I was crushed. Angry. Stunned. And most likely in a state of shock.
In the session I flatly refused to leave the house. “If you’re so unhappy, and so ready for a break, if that’s what you’re calling it, why don’t you take a trip?” Both my ex-y and the therapist looked at me with eyes of concern. Perhaps it was pity. I was thrashing against the idea of the divorce, and she was asking me to leave tonight?
As it’s often the woman who gets the house if you have kids, it’s also very common for the woman to reach the breaking point while the good-natured husband just thinks it’s a “rough patch.” And until I learned that afternoon, that she’d already been weighing her options and strategy for leaving me (or getting me to leave, to be more accurate) it was only a rough patch.
“I may not like you right now, “ I had written in an email a few weeks earlier, “But I love you very much. We will get through this period. It’s just a rough spot.”
One rough spot too many I suppose.
When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over. And this is before us poor saps even know we’re heading that way.
And the mechanics of divorce can happen very quickly. From the moment she told me, to when I was actually leaving the house for the last time was about two months, but this is only because I fought with her about the idea of splitting before the kid’s school year was done.
It was a hellish two months. But today, I can say, I held the line for THEM. I kept their soon to be uprooted lives sane for two more months so they could have the Summer to fall apart with me. Their mom was already working on “what’s next.” The head start down the divorce path becomes a very strong tactical advantage. I was still willing to bargain and negotiate, because I was certain we would work something out. She was already working out how to pay rent on the house after I moved out.
She was a century ahead of me in all the negotiations. I was still reeling from the loss and onset of depression from my sister’s downstairs bedroom, and she was working on the taxes and the financial split arrangements. (She takes the house. I take the house. We sell the house. I didn’t want to lose my house or my family.)
While I was her ex she was still my beloved, but troubled wife. The mother of our two kids. Oh, the kids. They were the ones who were gonna suffer. It’s all about them. This divorce stuff is for grown ups. In divorce you do everything to shield the kids from the fight and fallout. Which includes letting them stay in their primary home with the primary caregiver. (Again, I call bullshit, but I was so confused and sad at this point that I was not negotiating at all, I was recoiling. I was in duck and cover mode both emotionally and financially.
When her lawyer requested a heafty child support payment AND 100% of the health insurance premiums I was compliant. I didn’t even retain a lawyer except to look over the final decree. (Maybe that was a mistake.)
But we’d decided to do a collaborative divorce.
Yeah, the nice guy needs a lawyer. Take my advice, no matter how civil you think you’re going to be, no matter how cooperative and collaborative she is at the beginning, when the shit hits the fan, the one with the lawyer wins.
No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.” Bullshit. If it’s about “primary care giver” or “primary nurturing adult” I was both. She was the mom, yes, but she was emotionally unavailable to the kids – sort of still is. I was the emotional heart of the clan. She was the accounting and hard ass board member.
Perhaps it does not have to go this way. Perhaps there are goodwill collaborative divorces. And I’m sure there are. Ours was supposed to work out that way, but things don’t always go as planned.
My first big loss was in being refused 50/50 custody and 50/50 parenting time. This will continue to be an issue that I feel frustrated about the rest of my life. I should’ve had my kids 50% of the time. That’s how we parented. Why was I suddenly a lesser parent (non-custodial) and the only one required to pay the other person. What if I lost my job? Well, we were gonna find out about that one soon enough.
Here’s my belief. If you parented cooperatively and intend to divorce cooperatively, great. Get a lawyer. And if you want 50/50 custody and parenting, ask for it. No, better than that, FIGHT FOR IT. It turns out the courts are more likely these days to give 50/50 requests
In my case I waived the right to an attorney. And when our high-paid counselor said the 50/50 parenting plan I presented was just “not what she would get if you went to court” I lost everything. I lost the house. I lost the money. And most importantly I lost the time with my kids. The time when they were in their tenderist years.
Well fuck that. Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.” It wasn’t. It isn’t. And I should’ve fought for it.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
My marriage was fine as long as I was prepared to sacrifice my health and time with the kids to work. If I brought home the big paycheck all was somewhat jolly. Maybe not always for me, but the mom and kids seemed to enjoy it. And then I got laid off and asked for a moment to contemplate the future. I mean, the nice fat corporate job, that had stressed me out to the max and gotten me a lot fatter in the process, had also given me a silver parachute. 6 months, full pay and benefits. Seemed like a great plan.
And I remember the lunch date I had with my then-wife during the first weeks of my sabbatical when she came unglued at my idea. She calmly pointed out that is simply wasn’t that much money. My severance wasn’t going to last us very long. She obviously didn’t like the direction my thinking was going. And to be fair, with two kids, a nice house, nice cars… She had a point.
But the point that she failed to fess up to at the time, she really didn’t want to re-enter the workforce full-time. Ever. I don’t know this to be true. And the poetic justice of the divorce has mitigated those ideas, but she really got mad at me over lunch for not taking her concerns as seriously as she took them. Somehow, I was being immature, reckless, and self-centered in wanted to recalculate the work/life balance. And yes, my discussion would need to involve her plans for returning to work full-time as well.
It seemed, back then, that we were actually pretty close to achieving a more balanced and fair split of the financial obligations of the lifestyle we had chosen. Our kids were in 3rd and 5th grade, so they were less dependent on our extreme focus 24/7. It felt, to me, like things were in a position to lighten up for us. And this was a good time, while we (I say we, but she’d been maxing out at about 20 hours a week at that point) weren’t quite so strapped for cash, to look at what we wanted to create for our family over the next 5 – 10 years while they finished up school.
But I don’t think that’s the discussion she wanted to have. She wanted to know what my plans were for providing for the family. I was saying “we” she was saying “you.” Hmm. I guess we were at an impasse of some sort. I didn’t know it then, but we were crossing over a threshold. We took the issue into our couples counselor. We worked on things. We struggled. We tried to listen to each other. We tried to see eye to eye. Meanwhile, the severance, while paying the bills was being burned twice as fast, because she had lost her job at the first of the year too.
Yes, things were intense. But they were manageable. And in my optimistic way I was certain we were in a position to plan and strategize about “our” work plan rather than just “my” work plan. We tried.
I kept looking for work and interviewing at other big corporate jobs. And I put my all into the process. Of course, the layoff that culled 50% of my team was caused by the major economic collapse of 2009. No body was eager to hire high-level marketing staff. At least none of the jobs I was hearing about and applying for. Still we had my severance, and they were going to pay me 50% of my 2009 bonus as well. That bought us another month.
But I wasn’t saying the things she wanted to hear. And she wasn’t hearing me either. I wasn’t taking things seriously enough and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her career. We floundered as a couple. We began to experience breakdowns in communication and trust.
She recounted the pivotal lunch in therapy as me completely disregarding her concerns about money. Somehow I could not hear her.
I recounted the same exact lunch as “we both expressed our ideas about the future and while I wanted to discuss changes, she wanted action and me to stabilize our future, immediately.” It wasn’t that easy. And the threadbare trust in our relationship began to break down. Even as I was feeling hopeful and collaborative, she was feeling scared and angry. We limped along, but the sparks between us were more angry than inspirational.
And that’s when our sex life fell off a cliff as well. So as a man, I was in a real double bind. I not only had my self-esteem all mixed up after being laid off and having a ton of unproductive interviews. I was also getting shut out of the bedroom and the emotional closeness that comes from being intimate. So both of my anchors were gone. I was floundering, but I was doing it mostly alone, with an angry partner who kept saying I wasn’t listening to her. She began to express how mad she was at me. And during this time she even blurted out how she didn’t really love me any more.
I suppose I had two choices. 1. Completely withdraw my demand of a recalibration of our future and just hit the “whatever works” job search and get the job and shut the hell up to see if that made things better; or 2. stand strong in my conviction that I was not willing to simply go back to the factory in support of my white picket fence and semi-supportive wife. I was not willing to go back into the cube farm without a fight.
And so we fought. Meanwhile the money ran out and things went up another step on the urgency and alarm scale.
Looking back as clearly as I can, I suppose at this time, after she had gotten laid off from her job as well she really was soul-searching in the same way I was. What were we going to be as a family? Who was going to provide the money and who was going to provide the nurturing? How would we split the obligations and parenting and chores? But the kicker for me, the thing I still struggle with as I try and reconcile this period in my marriage: for that entire year, from January to December 2010, my wife actually spent more money on her consulting “business” than she made.
When I try and imagine what was going through her mind the only thing I can come up with is
- She was determined for me to return to the high-paying job that would allow her the same flexibility she had enjoyed while the kids were younger.
- She was searching for her bliss. She didn’t want to continue the string of unsuccessful jobs that had not taken her further up the job satisfaction ladder.
- In all her fears and worry about money it was easier to focus on me and my work search than to pay attention to her own financial contribution.
- Since she was the “accounting” partner it, even as it was clear we were heading into crisis mode, she doubled down on me and my job search, rather than doing what she wanted me to do, and “take whatever” so that we could catch up on the bills.
- Maybe she was using the leverage of the economic collapse to force me back into the big corporate job so she wouldn’t have to figure out how she was going to contribute financially.
No matter which of my assumptions are true, the actions she took are now fact and not projection or mind-reading. In March of the following year, she decided she’d had enough and she made some decisions to leave the marriage and break up our family. No more “for better or worse,” she was going to greener pastures must exist somewhere else. I was devastated. Even as I was angry and frustrated at the current state of affairs, I was also beginning to express my anger at being emotionally isolated. And I try to let her off the hook most of the time, by owning my part of the anger and frustration in our marriage. But I was in the marriage to WIN and STAY. She decided to LEAVE.
I can’t take any of it back. And I can’t even gloat at how much she is having to work now, because it’s not how I wanted it to go. This moment, today, is not how it should’ve gone, in my mind. We should’ve come to a balanced plan where we BOTH hunted and landed good paying jobs, WE stabilized our financial situation, and WE made commitments to re-energize and re-invest energy in our marriage.
Had we collaborated instead of separated, today we’d be looking at much better economic times. All the money that has gone into two homes could have gone into the bank. She would be working a lot less today had we stayed together. But somewhere along the way, she lost the trust that I was a worthy collaborator.
The Off Parent
back to The Hard Stuff
- What An Angry or Distant Divorced Parent Looks Like
- The Fk You That Keeps On Giving
- The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage
- When Did Our Halos Lose Their Sparkle? A Marriage Comes Apart
- I Was a Happily Married Man, and Now I’m Not: Tiny Hints of Doom
image: angry face, transformer 18, creative commons usage