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

Posts tagged “custody

Why Fathers Give Up After Divorce

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

Nathan S from a Father-centric FB Group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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You May Think I’m the Enemy, But You’re Misguided

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-5-08-56-pmMy ex still thinks I’m her problem. When she vents at me I begin to feel like she’s got some unfinished business. Just like I did when we were married. People have to do their own work. You can’t do it for them. You can’t prod them into doing it. The business of healing is hard and avoided by most people. But in relationships that tactic is a disaster.

So she didn’t talk to me then. She doesn’t really talk to me now, unless it’s a text about something she wants. She couches the request as something “the kids” want, but 99% of the time it’s just a variance request from her. “Will you take the kids to the dentist next week?”

Maybe she’s just unhappy. And if she can’t point to me as the reason for her unhappiness, well, that takes a lot of pressure off her and her own self management.

Coparenting is fine, it’s the goal, it’s the only way to be divorced parents. But when one partner is still playing with loaded dice the room for civility and compromise is impaired. She’s so mad at me… It’s been six years, so I’m not sure why, but it’s a fact. When I ask her a simple question I often get a vitriolic message with so much anger that I often don’t make it past the first few sentences. I’m learning not to ask. Kind of like when we were married. Don’t talk, don’t ask, don’t tell. Not the way to a healthy marriage, and today, not the way to a healthy coparenting relationship.

If I’m not the enemy, and she understood that, what would she have left to work on? Herself, perhaps? Or she’d have to own the damage she did in the way she’s gone about the divorce. She’d have to admit she was wrong to turn me over to the collection agency of the state’s attorney general’s office. She’d have to look at what she’s still doing to fuel the rage and resentment at me. She won’t do it.

And perhaps I’m a good foil for the difficulties in her life. Perhaps it’s easier if you’ve got someone to blame. It’s no longer about money, she married a wealthy man. It’s no longer about my work habits or sexual desires. She doesn’t have to worry about those. It’s not even about the money I owe her from the 9 months that I was unemployed and looking for work. What reason could she have for still being mad at me?

Maybe she’s just unhappy. And if she can’t point to me as the reason for her unhappiness, well, that takes a lot of pressure off her and her own self management. It’s not like she doesn’t have a therapist. She had the same one the entire time we were married. Unfortunately all therapists are not created equal. This “yes therapist” just reassure her, tells her she’s doing great. There are no big issues. There’s no mention of her anger. And thus she gets a clean bill of health and does none of the work that still needs to be done. This is the way it was in my marriage. Plenty of work for both of us. I was doing it. She was talking about doing it.

I own my part of the divorce. I own not speaking up when I began to sublimate my desire. I know I did things wrong. But I’m no longer mad at her.

We all have our issues. I get that. And while this may sound like I’m taking her inventory, I’m really trying to call it as I see it. If my ex-wife is still mad at me six years after the divorce was finalized, don’t you think she needs to get some help with her anger issue?

I own my part of the divorce. I own not speaking up when I began to sublimate my desire. I know I did things wrong. But I’m no longer mad at her. I’m trying to get over the anger she shoots at me on a routine basis. I’m trying to make things easier for my kids, and low and behold, for my ex-wife as well. That’s not always appreciated or acknowledged, but hey, I’m not after any kudos from her. I’m done with her. And to the extent that I can be DONE with her, I’d rather not talk to her at all. We still have to. And we will have to for the rest of our lives, but with someone who’s harboring so much venom, I’d really like to move along with less and less contact with her.

This is not the way it has to be, but her unresolved anger keeps the walls up between us. What’s my part in it all? Do my confrontations on her unreasonableness have any effect? No. Do my friendly offers for help, or extra carpool support, or running errands with them, make any difference in the timbre of her voice? Nope. She’s not done with me, she’s furious with me, still.

That’s something I wish she’d get over. It’s not necessary and it hurts all of us in subtle ways.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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I May Never Reach Serenity with my Ex-Wife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And love on.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Dear Ex-Wife, You’re Missing the Point

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

Even though:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Edge of Tomorrow with my Ex-wife

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Do you know the premise of the movie, Edge of Tomorrow? In the movie the female protagonist has to shoot and kill the male every single day in order to reset the universe they are trying to do battle in. My life with my ex-wife has a similar story line.

When I lose my job, I have survival needs (as in shelter and food) that trump your comforts.

Every day I have to wake up and shoot myself to forget that my ex-wife still has an AG’s lien on me and my life. She didn’t need to go to the extreme. It’s like filing a restraining order against someone who’s never exhibited violence. Sure, you might think of doing it, you might even be advised to do it by your attorney, but there’s no reason to actually file it, because you know the ex is not a violent person. Somewhere along six-year road (so far) of divorce my ex-wife was concerned that I wasn’t going to pay her the child support she had come to depend on.

Um, yeah, that’s fine, but when I lose my job, I have survival needs (as in shelter and food) that trump your comforts.

During the summer of our discontent she would email me things like, “I can’t believe you are putting your material needs before those of your children.” Um, no, I’m actually not. And towards the end of the summer, regardless of my pleadings (“Don’t you remember who I am?) my ex-wife pleaded her case to the Attorney General’s office of the great state of Texas. And since then my life has been much more difficult. She didn’t need to do it. It hasn’t gotten her “her” money any sooner. If anything, it has slowed the process down. And I hear the AG’s office get’s a 10% fee for their services. What? We’re paying them out of the child support to collect the child support. I pointed this out to the ex just last week. She was unfazed.

Back in the summer of pain she did threaten me with the AG’s office. I had been telling her the exact status of my work and new business prospects. But she grew more frustrated and impatient with me. At one point, after it was clear she was heading towards putting my ass in a sling, I threatened her. I was stupid. My threat was this. “If you file with the AG’s office, I’m going to go back to the child support payments I’ve made, based on an income I’ve never been able to achieve again, and I’m going to go to an attorney to get the amount owed to be based on my actual pay and not on the decree.

Foolish, because it’s wrong. You can’t do it. Can you imagine how many non-custodial parents would file lawsuits to jam up the court system. So what I owe her, I owe her. But I wasn’t really worried about what I owe her, I was just trying to keep her from putting us into the grinding machine that would not treat either of us, more so the dad, with any respect. And really, she was sending my ass to the collections agency.

If she was willing to throw me into this system, taking action to change my dead beat dad status might be an admission of guilt. Like she had done something wrong.

Now think about that for a minute. Can you imagine sending your ex-partner, the parent of your children, to a collections agency? You do that to enemies, maybe, but not someone you care/cared about. Never. AND… That’s what she did.

Two years later, a number of shitty results of that action have taken place. When I got behind on my house payments, again as a result of the loss of my primary business client, her AG action prevented me from being able to renegotiate my mortgage with Wells Fargo and ultimately caused me to sell the house under duress. And three times, so far, the AG’s office has randomly seized my checking account. Charging me $75 for the privilege of bouncing any checks that came in after the freeze.

Today, two years into the AG’s process I am still asking my wife to write the letter that would remove their boot from my ass. I’ve been paying steady now, due to steady employment, for a year. When does she think it will be time? Will I earn my trustworthiness? Probably not. If she was willing to throw me into this system, taking action to change my dead beat dad status might be an admission of guilt. Like she had done something wrong.

Every day I have to wake up and shoot the part of me that’s still feeling violated by her stupid act of power and rage.

I’m certain, from conversations we’ve had, that she still feels she did nothing wrong. “Lots of people have ‘accounts’ with the AG’s office without any problems.” How cute, she calls it an account. It’s a debt collections agency that uses strong-arm tactics to secure her debt. And, mind you, there is no escaping child support payments, if I had wanted to. Even bankruptcy doesn’t affect them. But I have never talked of not paying her every dime. I’ve always paid her from every single dollar I made.

And today she’s got a magic wand that could easily take the lien and bad name off my credit report. And every day she does not take action is a day that I still have to forgive and forget. I can’t walk around with an angry chip on my shoulder, thinking about how she done me wrong. I can’t live my life like that. But somewhere, she still thinks I done her wrong and I owe her a lot of money, money that I should’ve paid her even when I had no ability to pay for my own house and electricity.

Her pound of flesh has cost me a lot. And every day I have to wake up and shoot the part of me that’s still feeling violated by her stupid act of power and rage. Setting the collections agency on someone you love… Well, it takes a very angry and dark person to do such a thing. And she’s doing it every day still.

I want to get mad at my ex-wife. I am reminded almost daily of the consequences of her actions. I want to rage and tell her how I feel. But the time for that type of action is over. Now, I will submit my papers to reduce the amount of child support I owe her on a monthly basis. Based on what I’m making, it might make a significant dint in her tax-free take home child support check. It took me six years to be this mean. And everyday I shoot the part of myself that remembers she did this on purpose and continues to do it every single day.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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With the Gun to My Head, The Ex Pretends to Play Fair

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When my ex-wife turned our “case” over to the Attorney General’s office she was essentially damning my credit and my hopes at refinancing and keeping my house. She knew what she was doing. I was asking her to pause, consider, and hear me when I said I would pay her the money. She did it any way.

Today, she says things like, “Well, you only started paying again because of the AG’s office.”

Because of the decree we negotiated in good faith, somehow our arrangement meant that, she was entitled to the money, even if I lost my job.

I’d like to say, “Um, no, ex-sweetie, I started paying you again because I got a new job.” A percentage of every dollar I’ve earned since the divorce goes directly her. Before it was by cooperation, consideration, and co-parenting that I paid. Today, I pay (in her mind) because the state’s attorney’s will shut down my bank account the minute I stop.

And they have shut it down. Two weeks after I called to set up the direct draw off my new job they froze my account. I was talking to the enforcement officer and he said, “You owe your wife over $15,000.”

And that’s what she says today as well. That I owe her this money. That because of the decree we negotiated in good faith, somehow our arrangement meant that, she was entitled to the money, even if I lost my job. Even if I lost my house. Even if I had to move back in with my mom to have a place to stay. She wanted her money on the 1st and the 15th. And she now had the state of Texas behind her.

Calling the AG’s office is a real lesson in futility. First you get screened: “If you are the custodial parent, press one. If you are the non-custodial parent, press two. If you are an attorney press three.” And make no mistake, the custodial parents are the clients, the non-custodial parents are the dead beat dads. You wouldn’t be calling the AG’s office if there wasn’t a problem. And the whole system is set up to move money from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. The idea is, on parent has the kids for more time so the other parent can work more and earn more money. If you think of it like a baby sitting service, it might help. If you think of it as the loss of time with your kids and money to provide food and shelter for them when they are with you, it’s a whole different reality.

Today my ex-wife (via the AG’s office) has a lien against me for the child support owed. This takes my credit report into the failing numbers. The used car loan I was offered several months ago, was 19.50%. Those are credit card rates. This same credit union publishes 1.65% for new and used car loans. Do you think she understands that? Perhaps she does. Perhaps she thinks this is why I’ve paid her from every paycheck I’ve ever gotten. Perhaps, the AG’s office is serving its purpose. I don’t think so, but maybe that’s what she says to herself at night, as she is tucking our kids into bed inside the house we bought with my pre-marriage money.

Okay, at some point you’ve got to move on. You cannot focus on the bad that has been done, you have to look towards the positive and good things you can do. Except she keeps the boot on my neck. The lien could be released by a single letter from her. She’s comfortable, more comfortable, with the AG’s leverage in her court. And it’s not like my 15 months of consistent payment, from consistent work, has an effect on her. She thinks, or pretends to think, the AG’s office is good for all of us.

She’s holding a loaded gun to my head, each day she keeps the AG’s office in our affairs. As they see it, and as she sees it, I OWE her this money.

The AG’s office takes a percentage of all of the child support as a charge for their collections service. So that’s money that is going to them rather than to her and the kids. And when they pull the checking account freeze every so often, the cost me $200 in bounced check fees and another $75 for the processing of the hold order. Wait, what? They freeze my account and I get charged $75? How is this helping?

I could see if we had an adversarial divorce, how the AG’s office my be necessary. However, I never threatened her with non-payment. I simply told her I was going to get behind when I lost my job. She held off on filing against me for the whole summer. But I’m sure she needed/wanted the money. And her anger, has not always been a great part of our relationship, got the best of her and she threw me under the bus.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.35.35 PMThe problem is, she threw the kids under the bus too. We all lost things when I lost my house. So while I try to move on, live and let live, and trust in her good will and love of our children, she’s still refusing to release the AG’s enforcement from our lives. And it turns out it’s a simple phone call. It could all be over. I’d still pay her each month. She’d get 10% more money, because the AG’s office would not be extracting a fee. And I might be able to buy a used car without quadrupling my car payment.

She’s holding a loaded gun to my head, each day she keeps the AG’s office in our affairs. As they see it, and as she sees it, I OWE her this money. Money that should’ve been in proportion to the income we actually made and not some hopeful/aspirational income that has never materialized. I guess it’s time to get some money to fight for some of my money. My daughter is 13. That’s 5 more years. And that’s a lot of money. Time to get started.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: jean seberg, creative commons usage


A Quick-Start Guide for the Divorcing Dad: The Off Times

OFF-quickstart

When you go down the path of divorce, however you got there, a few realities are going to rush up and greet you rather quickly if you are a man. There are two important issues that it is critical for you to understand. Time and Money are the only negotiating points you have. Let’s jump straight into the story, shall we…

When my time with them dropped so significantly, I began to crater on the days and weeks that I had zero access to their smiling faces.

The legal system is set up to support single moms and to force dads to make their child support payments, regardless of changing situations or dad’s ability to pay. That’s not their problem. And the typical support package includes the Standard Possession Order and some percentage of your income, depending on the number of children you have. Let’s get real clear on both of these new realities in your life, as a dad.

SPO (Standard Possession Order) is the parenting schedule you will most likely be offered. The reasons behind this 70/30 parenting split were established by the state over years of divorce and custody battles and negotiations. The rationale behind it sounds like it made sense 30 years ago.

The mother as the primary care giver will be given the majority of the time with the kids. This allows the continuity of their primary relationship in this trying time. This leadership role will be called the custodial parent. The Attorney General’s office, should they ever be needed, will treat the custodial parent like a client. The non-custodial parent, on the other had, is a bit of a second class citizen. This morning when I was confirming some of the details about my current arrangement, I noticed this contact list on the AG’s website.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 8.07.29 AM

The custodial parent get’s their own line. As do employers and people not so certain of their paternity obligations. All others please call the general number and get put on hold and endless transfers through voice activated systems. “If you are the custodial parent, press one. If you are the non-custodial parent [the only reason you are calling us is because of a problem, and you’re probably a dead beat dad] press two.

Time and Money. Those are the two negotiations you will have to settle in order to get divorced. I was the uber-cooperative divorcé. I agreed to everything. I was told it would be in the best interest of the children for the mom to get the house, the child support, and the lion’s share of the time with the kids. I had a naive idea at the outset that we would divorce 50/50 just like we had parented. I was wrong. And the state’s attorneys have given us a lot of precedents that show this role for the dad is the best one.

Non-Custodial Parent. Standard Possession Order. Child Support. Those three little phrases are about to become very important in your life. And your understanding, navigation, and negotiation in setting them up, might save you a lot of the heartache and drama that I’ve been through.

TIME

The 70-30 split sounds a bit abstract until you are in middle of your “off” week and you are trying to imagine surviving the next 4 days until you see your kids. Here’s how the typical schedule breaks out. Dad gets the kids every other weekend. During dad’s ON week he gets two additional nights. Thursday and Friday. If your kids are already in school, that’s really after school time, and getting them up for school on Friday morning and Monday morning, if that’s your schedule. (All schedules can vary and still be basically the SPO.) On the OFF week, you may or may not get a single night sleep over. Again if your kids are in school, that’s really one cycle of feeding, homework, and back to school the next morning. Those single night stays were hard. The loss when taking them to school on the off Fridays was brutal.

I struggled to stay brave while I was with them, and suffer greatly when they were gone.

Time with my kids was the most important aspect of my life after they were born. Everything I did, I did in consideration of my then-wife and my kids. I centered my hopes and dreams around being a great dad, and being there for them every night, every volleyball game, every time they needed advice. And when they were younger, say after 3rd and 5th grades, they really did need a lot of interaction and caring. When my time with them dropped so significantly, I began to crater on the days and weeks that I had zero access to their smiling faces. I might have done better to fight and receive a more equitable divorce. Maybe Joint-Custody and a real 50/50 schedule would’ve provided more connections between us. Maybe I’d have been able to get my son into tennis or bike riding. Maybe I wouldn’t have crashed so hard into depression.

When I was thinking about the math last night, I was surprised to understand that she had the kids more than twice as much as I did. The 70/30 split is very abstract until you are losing so many nights and weekends with your kids. I still think a 50/50 schedule would’ve been better for my kids. And today, I have some ideas that might make that possible. But today my kids are teenagers. Today they have their own independent lives. Today, my interactions with them, even when they are here, is fleeing, abstract, and often superficial. I dig being with them, and I try and make myself open for their questions. But at this stage the lead in the relationship is up to them. Asking your kid, “What happened in school today,” will never get more than a “not much.” When your kids want to chat they will seek you out. By being available, still only 8 days out of a 30 day month, those opportunities have smaller windows.

So my ex-wife gets more than twice the time with the kids. Wow. It’s a lot. But until you’re IN DIVORCE and have kids, you can’t really understand what the loss means. It took the breath out of me for over two years as I struggled to stay brave while I was with them, and suffer greatly when they were gone. The OFF parent has a lonely road ahead.

MONEY

This is where the rubber meets the road in divorce. In general the dad will have the child support obligation. The idea is that he is often the primary bread-winner, or at least as a man, employable at a higher wage. And as the story goes, the kids and their mom should be able to continue with the lifestyle that they have grown used to. (No mention of what’s about to happen to dad’s lifestyle.) And while that language sounds okay, the execution of these documents are often brutal and pugilistic.

Here’s an abbreviated version of what my “deal” looks like.

29% of my take home pay will be paid to the ex-wife for the children’s care and feeding. That money is tax-free to her, since the taxes were taken out of my wages prior to the withholding. Wow, that’s a pretty good deal. Seems like it should be a deduction for me and the taxes should be taken out equally. But that’s not how it goes.

When you are considering divorce, as a man, consider the two most important issues as a parent: Time and Money.

And if you have or hope to have a high-paying job, that’s the mark you will use in the negotiations for the decree. In my case the rough number was set at 1,200. Okay. But wait, that’s not all. In most cases the dad is also responsible to pay for health insurance. Again, this might be more fair if it was split 50/50 but that’s not usually the way it’s done. Again, I think this was set up when dad had the big job, and this would prevent him from tanking that job and losing the good insurance as a way of punishing his now ex-wife. Either way, this additional obligation is tacked on to the sum of $650 – $1,100 depending on your plan, and depending on your employment status.

So, just to sum things up for you. At this very moment, since I am employed by a contractor who does not offer health insurance benefits. My monthly total in child support obligation is $2,300. Wow. That’s a chunk of change. It puts a significant squeeze on my opportunities for employment, since I have to make that before I can begin to think about rent, food, car insurance, phones, for myself. If you start every month with a $2,300 bill, that’s a real demotivational blow. It has felt insurmountable from time to time.

And when I lost my job, as a result of the tanking economy, the child support obligations or payments didn’t change. I could’ve hired an attorney and asked for a reduced child support payment, but I didn’t have the time or the money to do that. I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep my house. The house that I’d managed to buy, in spite of the large child support payment, when I landed a great new job, post divorce. Only the great job didn’t last. The startup changed their business model and eliminated my director-level position.

The killing blow, the unforgivable transgression that I’ve had to forgive, came when my ex-wife decided the proper course of action would be to turn my late support payments over to the AG’s office for “enforcement.” This one act of anger, has cost me and my family thousands of dollars and has actually gotten less money into my kids pockets. And the debt, as seen by the state, is a huge lien on my credit. This one act caused me to lose the house. And for one year, I actually had to live with my mom again. Fortunately, she and the kids and I had a humorous attitude about the whole thing.

“It’s better than living under a bridge,” my mom would joke. And she had a garage that we converted into a place for my bed. The kids each had rooms. So in my mom’s house, at least I was able to accommodate my weekends. By filing with the AG’s office, while I was trying to restructure my debt so I could keep the house, was the last act of anger and aggression that she could take. She took it. I lost everything.

From those ashes however, and even under the $2,300 monthly payment, and now a big fat lien on my credit, that prevented me from qualifying for a used car loan when my car was destroyed in a hail storm, despite all of that, I’m still surviving. I wouldn’t say thriving yet, but I’m getting by.

When you are considering divorce, as a man, consider the two most important issues as a parent.

  1. TIME: If you parented 50/50 and would like to continue to maintain your relationship with your children at the highest level, you should go to the court and ask for 50/50.
  2. MONEY: When you negotiate child support you can do two things very differently than I did. Ask for joint-custody. You can then be assured you will have equal rights if things ever get to the AG’s office. And make sure the amount you agree to in the decree, the amount that will determine your child support payments, is either conservative, or real. In my case the amount was set on historical data and on the hope of a promising job interview, that didn’t pan out.

Finally, if you’re going to agree to a cooperative divorce, make sure you add in a clause about NEVER INVOLVING THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE. EVER. My ex and I were in an argument about the timing of my child support payments and how I was planning on catching up, when I lost my job. She waited a few months. At this time she began to get very belligerent. She refused to meet with me in person about parenting or school issues. Her response to my email requests were simple “when can I expect my money.” That shut down all opportunities for co-parenting that summer.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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This early negotiation breakdown is chronicled short summary.

The big AG breakdown in chronological order and how my life fell through the cracks.