[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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff
- Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight
- Divorce Recovery: Loving Yourself Better, So You Can Eventually Love Again
- We Said, “Til Death Do Us Part” and You’re Not Dead Yet
- Getting Angry, Reaching Forgiveness, and Moving On After Divorce
reference suggested by a reader: Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood – and Why It Matters
image: dancing couple, wikipedia, creative commons usage