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

Posts tagged “in the best interest of the kids

Taking Dad for Granted After Divorce

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takeforgranted

I am a paycheck to my ex-wife. Along with being a dad and provider of love, support, and transportation to my kids, I am an income stream. And a few years ago when my ex-wife decided a few late payments were reason to turn me over the AG’s office, well, things have gotten worse from there. A lot worse.

Today I am in the process of having the AG’s office review my income and recalculate my child support payment. It looks like it will be about a 50% reduction. I’m sure my ex is none too pleased about this either. But it was her choice to bring the state’s attorney’s into our lives and now it’s hard to get them back out.

Still, even as we are both dealing with the frustrations of the system, I made a comment via email today about how it would be nice to negotiate this between the two of us, without the state in our business. Her response was as telling as it was swift.

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This is her blanket response. And there’s no sense in arguing it. We both feel justified in our positions. But her position is that by having the AG in our lives, I will comply with the divorce decree. Only there’s never been an indication that I wasn’t complying within the full letter of the law. Oh, I got behind and asked for her to be patient, but there was never any wiggling about me being good on my promise, on my debt.

Even as I knew I was going to be late, I tried to offer her some collateral, so she wouldn’t feel so exposed. She refused and forced me to sell my house because there was no option for refi or restructuring once she had put the AG’s vice grip on my credit. So she’s gotten her pound of flesh. And the state has taken a 10% administration fee as well as crippling me from being able to make any financial choices. Before my fiance I was living in my mom’s house. That’s just fine with my ex-wife.

The only thing that has ever spoken to my ex-wife is money. And if the AG’s office gives her some sense of security about money, specifically money from me, how am I to counter that?

But what she doesn’t understand is her jack boot is no longer effective. In fact her enforcers are going to start asking me for a lot less money in a month. And still she feels their presence in our accounts is best for her and the children. I could argue about how long I’ve paid child support and health insurance now that my employment has been steady. I could try to persuade her that she can trust me. But I couldn’t convince her then, what makes me think I can convince her of anything now?

The only thing that has ever spoken to my ex-wife is money. And if the AG’s office gives her some sense of security about money, specifically money from me, how am I to counter that? My collateral is no good. My trust and integrity have been part of her problem all along, I guess.

So in the state of things when a woman decides to divorce a man she is immediately entitled to a paycheck. The amount of that paycheck will be based on the number of children you have and some factor of your salary. If your salary is zero at the time of negotiations they will set it at your last known income. And for me, that was a problem, because I had been making great money at a corporate job prior to the divorce. And while, at the time, I was confident of being able to replace my job at a similar level, it still has not happened. Yeah, I can blame the economy, my skill set, or some other external force, but I don’t really blame anything. I survived.

Some how my ex-wife sees my unemployment as a debt to her. While I wasn’t benefiting from not having an income, I was actually digging a big debt hole at the same time. In a humane relationship, where two caring adults are working together, the former partners work out terms. She was not interested in hearing my ideas. She demanded her money for a few months. Threatened the AG’s enforcement. And then took the necessary action to secure her money. Except, again, that’s not really how things should’ve gone.

As the kids turn 18 we’re going to have to negotiate ourselves without them anyway, why not get back to our co-parenting, cooperative, and honorable relationship. Nope.

Fact: a dad’s child support obligation cannot be erased under any circumstances. There was a 0% chance I wasn’t going to pay her. The timing of those payments were the only issue. And sending me to the creditors did not help my motivation. In fact the “dead beat dad” status lost me at least one job.

So what did my ex-wife gain by sicking the state’s attorney’s on me? Perhaps some sort of vindication of her anger. Some power play to bring me to my proverbial knees and humiliate me. (Yes moving back to my mom’s was a last resort.) And still, two years and lots of damage later, she’s still convinced that the Attorney General’s office serves some purpose in our lives.

The point I was trying to make to her was how we could do this a lot easier without the AG’s office involved. And as the kids turn 18 we’re going to have to negotiate ourselves without them anyway, why not get back to our co-parenting, cooperative, and honorable relationship. Nope. Let’s keep the boot to my neck as long as possible to make sure I don’t squirm out of paying her something.

Just days before she made the decision to turn me in as a dead beat dad I asked her, “Do you think I am hiding money from you? Or do you think I am not looking for work as hard as I can? What’s the point of getting the AG’s office involved?”

She replied that she did not think I was hiding money or that I was not looking for work. What she said as her justification, probably the same one she’s using in her mind now, was that it wasn’t fair for the kids to have to suffer because I was not paying my child support on time.

I laugh right now, thinking about this. My well-to-do middle class ex-wife and my two healthy and happy kids live in one of the best neighborhoods in one of the best cities in the country and go to the best public school available. There is nothing my kids have missed out on for lack of money. And by enjoining our lives with the administration of the child support division of the attorney general’s office she’s merely giving me the middle finger. There’s nothing to gain, except maybe her still-angry pound of flesh.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Giving the Blunt Mom Her Due

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Written in reaction, not response, to some damn fine writin, over there at Blunt Moms. Yep. I love’m.

And I wouldn’t have my woman/partner any other way. If you are sweeping stuff under the rug and not letting the kettle boil over once in a while, you’re probably not doing anyone a favor. Perhaps in my last marriage, my emotionally unavailable wife was not expressing her angst and anger until it started coming out uncontrollably in random “fuck yous” and other sideways outbursts.

In the past, I have admitted to my daughter that I can be an asshole. That I am less than perfect, as a mom, and that I have a lot to apologize and feel guilty for.

Today is not that day.

Today is not that day. Today is not a day for apologies, but for expressing the fucked-up-ness that is my ex-wife today. She’s not just exclaiming random fuck yous in the form of her continued assessment that the AG’s office being attached like a pit bull to my ass, is a good thing. She even says things like this:

Unless your experience of the AG is different from what everyone I’ve talked with there tells me (and maybe it is – the AG has f’d up parts for sure), the reason you’ve had to suffer the ugly end of their enforcement isn’t because we’re in the AG system, but rather is because you at first did not respond to their several non-enforcement-level attempts to get you in the system…

Really? “everyone I’ve talked with there…” She’s using the staff of the AG’s office as a validation for her continued request for “enforcement.” SRSLY? This was her opening expression of GOALS yesterday.

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How quaint. Keeping the hobble on your ex-husband horse is a good idea. Because…

Dad’s who are behind on their child support are the enemy of the state and debtors no matter the circumstances. We are defaulting on our obligation.

She says in her mind that the AG’s office is the only reason she’s gotten paid in the last 18 months. And I try to remind her of the sequence of events that were set in motion by her AG action… But this isn’t a conversation we ever have. She’s got the law, the decree, and the self-righteousness to see the debt as an entitlement. And I suppose she’s right. Sure. And I’m good for it. When I have the money.

And it’s funny, these conversations always seem to come out when I’m doing well. She sees my new job and thinks, “Okay, now’s the time to get caught up, apply a bit more pressure, send some crappy “positive sounding” emails.

WAIT!

Perhaps my perspective is off. She is the Saint Mom. She’s the one fighting the good fight for our kids. As she sees it, the AG’s office is insurance that I’m not going to what… skip town?

It is true that there are dead beat dads and high-conflict divorces, but ours is neither. And in all her talking about “doing what’s right for the kids” makes me a bit sick. She has no concept that forcing the father of her children out of his house was a bad idea. She gives not one fuck that the AG’s lien on my credit prevents me from getting a used car loan of any kind. Or that several of my high-paying gig quests were ended at the “background – credit check” stage of the negotiations.

In her “saintly mind” the AG’s office is her new champion. And I’m merely the lazy, irresponsible, and dead beat horse that is not performing up to speed. I suppose if glue were a possibility that could pay back my debt to her, that would be okay. Well, except for the fact that the longer I live, the more money she can expect from me.

Again, I know I’m going about this all wrong. It’s not HER money. It’s money for the “the care and maintenance of the children.” Yes, that’s true. And if I felt the kids were missing out on some things because of it… Wait. Again, I’m having epiphany after epiphany here. My kids ARE missing out on many things. But the most egregious of those things is the loss of time they get to spend with their dad.

We were a 50/50 household. We entered into a cooperative divorce negotiation. And somewhere along the way I was given more like a 70/30 divorce. That’s what the real numbers work out to in the Standard Possession Order and the Non-Custodial parent. And give the old AG’s office a call, you’ll be amazed how they segment the calls off by that distinction.

The gun you keep firing at me is causing a lot of collateral damage. And you’re “saintly” aggression is also preventing you from letting go of your anger and righteousness.

“If you’re the custodial parent press one.” I’m guessing this is more like a service and support call. “How can we help you?”

“If you’re the non-custodial parent press two.” This is more like a collections agency. Dads who are behind on their child support are the enemy of the state and debtors no matter the circumstances. We are defaulting on our obligation. Even if we are attempting to be transparent about everything.

Dear Ex Wife, a portion of my income, every single cent I earn, is owed to my kids. This is true. With our two kids it works out to about 25%. That’s fine. But when I have no income, those promissory notes continue to pile up. And when you strike me down with your actions, guess what happens? More loss of income. More promissory notes. More “dead beat dad” letters from your pals at the AG’s office. So, keep your narcissistic view of the world wrapped in

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Yeah, the old trope is looking a bit worn from here, my dear ex-wife.

I can tell you what I think that is, but you’re not listening. And maybe that’s the root of the problem after all. We stopped listening to each other at some point. I stopped hearing your complaints and “fuck yous” and you stopped hearing my “here’s an idea” solutions. And maybe, the cards were set against us in the long run. “Just two very different people,” you might say.

But I think it’s a bit more fundamental than that. You got what you wanted. A house. A couple kids. And when I failed to perform up to your expected (maybe psychologically required) expectations financially, and you realized, as the kids were becoming more independent that you’d have to go get a real job too. It was a nice run, when we could swing it, but we always agreed that WE would support the family.

I suppose now we are getting that chance. But your continued reliance on the AG’s office is an affront that hurts all of us. The gun you keep firing at me is causing a lot of collateral damage. And you’re “saintly” aggression is also preventing you from letting go of your anger and righteousness.

If we are two parents trying to do “what’s best for the kids” then we’d cooperate again. You’d have to let go of the state’s attorneys, but in return you might get back the healthy horse/dad who can share the wealth when the good times come.

I’m expecting you’re going to stay with the Goddamn Saint role. And I get it. You’ve done a kick ass job being a mom in this last six years. But you’ve completely sucked as a human being and compassionate co-parent.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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reference: Mommy is a Goddamn Saint – Blunt Moms

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Turning the Other Cheek to Your Angry Ex – Because There’s No Other Option

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This relationship isn’t going away anytime soon. So I’d best learn to live with the woman, even if she does the most maddening things sometimes. Like arranging a weekend swap and then scheduling three events over that weekend, when she knows our daughter was going to want to go with her. “Why did we swap weekends, again?” Oh, well, hands in the air, I do a little dance and forget about it. Water under the co-parenting with a narcissist bridge.

Everything she asks for is usually serving some purpose other than the kids. She’s very good at asking for what she wants. And she’s even better at throwing a tantrum when she really wants something. And in our case, even when I was being open and transparent about my financial situation, she was demanding that I pay her or tell her exactly when she would get the next check from me. It was several summers ago, but her actions, turning our affairs over to the state’s Attorney General’s office, have had lasting and damaging consequences for both of us.

The minute you involve lawyers or the attorney general’s office, you are taking actions that by damaging your former partner will damage your kids.

There was no need for her to throw me under the bus. And in doing so she collapsed my fragile housing situation. She knew that’s what would happen. She was closing any options I had for keeping my house and demanding that she get her checks. Blah blah blah, it is an old story, I’m sure. Dead beat dad refusing to pay for various reasons. Except my reason was not anything I could change. My company lost an anchor client and half my salary went away. There was nothing I could do to convince her that my honor and good will was going to get the payments back on track. Something about the enforcement and authority of the state’s attorneys gave her comfort. Or maybe the whole process satisfied a twinge of anger.

In her mind, as she expressed it occasionally to me, she was looking out for the best interests of the kids. As if some form of “enforcement” was what was keeping me paying the child support I had agreed on. Somewhere during the months after the divorce, she began to see me as the bad guy. She knew she could call out the “dead beat dad” cry and the law would put the hurt on me. She was right. There was one small problem she didn’t think of. Attacking me, causing me to lose my house, was just like attacking the kids.

In our negotiations we always said we would keep the kids out of the money and “grown up” negotiations. And in this case, I knew that I had nothing to gain from telling my kids that their mom was the reason I was losing the house. At some point in the future, they will know the truth. But in the moment, during the school years, there is nothing good that can come from talking negatively about your co-parent.

There is never a good reason for attacking your co-parent’s livelihood. but that’s not how she saw it then, nor how she sees it today, two years later. Somewhere, in her angry mind, she sees the AG’s office as a partner in getting the money she is owed. But I have no cash to give her. I am working again, and the first paycheck kick on the full child support as well as a payment towards the debt I have amassed. This is not how our relationship should’ve gone. As we were partners in parenting we should be partners in divorce. My earlier appeals to her common decency did not wake her from the vindictive slumber she appears to be in, even today.

I know if I struck back with the same thoughtlessness I could fight to gain 50/50 custody. It’s not great timing for her. She needs money for house repairs and back to school clothes and supplies, but hey… It’s in my best interest that I have the money to provide… Oh fk, I can’t even pretend to believe this crap. I can’t imagine what was going through her mind, what rage was present when she decided the state’s Attorney General’s office was a good way to support her kids. By attacking me and my ability to pay for anything, or even get a job, she was hurting her kids. Maybe she didn’t have a line of sight on how difficult losing my job and my home was going to be. But she should’ve thought of the kids before she thought of herself and satisfying her rage.

When you attack your ex-partner you are making things tough for everyone.

There is never a good reason to file against your co-parent. Once the AG’s office is in your affairs you will never be able to get them back out. If you have a disagreement get professional help, but not legal help. The minute you involve lawyers or the attorney general’s office, you are taking actions that will harm your kids. There is no way to prevent collateral damage when attacking your ex-partner. In our case, the kids were inconvenienced by the loss of my house, and having to move to grandma’s house for 9 months. The angry blow was not too bit a loss for them. For me, as the man, it was an enormous blow to my masculine self-esteem. I’m a 52-year-old man and I live with my mom. How is that a healthy example for the kids? Of course they had no idea why we had to leave the house near the lake.

Even today, she’s got the idea that having the AG’s office on her side, will keep the cash flowing. And perhaps that’s really all she’s concerned about. She has no idea what her actions have done to me or my current ability to move forward with my life. She never had to make late payments on her mortgage. She never had to contemplate filing for bankruptcy just to keep her home.  She had the house and the money from the divorce to support her. And of course, while I was able to pay it, the child support payments.

In the end, we were lucky. Things could’ve gone much worse. As the money tap is starting up again this month, I suppose the AG’s office will be placated for a while. However, my financial rebuilding can’t begin until I come up with 20K cash, or file a lawsuit to have the AG’s lean and black mark on my credit report removed. That dead beat dad title is emblazoned across my name any time a potential employer runs my credit. It’s a horrible label. And yes, my ex-wife gave it to me.

The real downside, however, is the inflexibility it puts on our ability to cooperate with each other. What could’ve been a collaborative partnership about our kids is much less trusting. With the spectre of the AG’s office over my head I am unwilling to offer any additional support, financially or emotionally, when it appears that all of my best intentions are met with indifference.

In asking to swap next weekend with me and then scheduling events on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, she is saying that my “daddy time” doesn’t matter to her. She’d like our kids to sleep at my house on those nights so she can be with her boyfriend, but as far as my weekend, that concept doesn’t really matter much to her.

Coparenting should be about flexibility, compassionate support, and good will towards each other. When you attack your ex-partner you are making things tough for everyone.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What You Gave Up On Is Still Shining In Me

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They say that living well is the best revenge. And while it’s taken me 5-6 years to get here, I am happy to report that my shining qualities are back up and shiny. And I’ve found someone who can appreciate me, as perhaps you did near the beginning of our relationship, before kids, before money, before the house, and 9/11, and unemployment, and all that hard stuff.

I can’t help thinking you are targeting my happiness in hopes that somehow you can get some of it. That somehow, my joy and your needs will sync up and make you (finally) happy.

The thought of you giving up on me, however, still has a sting to it. From time to time I wonder, wow, what would it have been like if we’d stayed together, rejoined in our marriage, and continued to combine forces to build our family and the empire of love we set out to create. But you didn’t.

At some point you decided, made a decision, to seek a different path. I hate you for that decision, and while I still love you for being the mother of my children, I will probably never fully forgive you for that transgression. And when I wonder, in those sad moments of reflecting on what could’ve been, I still feel a bit of anger. Some days, a lot of anger. Some days none. But I’m getting better at forgetting what you did. I’m getting better at loving you as the mother of my kids, and as a woman who made some judgement calls that went against us staying together.

But the part that makes me mad is how you gave up on me. Not only our dream together, but me personally. As I began blogging for fun at the beginning of 2010 you felt threatened and angry that I would be spending ANY TIME doing something other than looking for a job to replace my big corp income. And that Twitter thing that I kept writing about and spending time on, well, that was just some form of mental masturbation and distraction from what I “should be doing.” Again, in your eyes I was not doing what you wanted me to do.

Today, I’m in the process of pivoting my entire career around the blogging and writing that I started and continued even as you protested and threatened me with leaving. There was no call for that kind of manipulation and there is still no call for it today. And today I say, “Well, you missed on that one.”

If you could separate your joy from mine I think we’d both be a lot happier.

It’s not enough that I’m doing well, it’s in these exact moments that your angry teeth come back out and you start grabbing and exclaiming for more. You start screaming of the injustice in the debt you have incurred because I lost my job during the last 5 years. It’s like Pavlov. When I do well, you send in the daggers and demand more of something. You push into my happiness with your demands. And again, I can’t help thinking you are targeting my happiness in hopes that somehow you can get some of it. That somehow, my joy and your needs will sync up and make you (finally) happy. But I’ve got a reality check for you:

  • My actions are not the cause of your anger and distress.
  • My joy is also not the cure for your ennui.
  • We are parents of two great kids, but that’s it. For them, anything. For you, only what serves them.

You seem to get these things mixed up from time to time. Asking me to consider your situation. Asking me to take into account your hardships and what you’ve endured. And then, with consistency, asking me for something, in the “name of the children” that is really a request for YOU.

If you could separate your joy from mine I think we’d both be a lot happier. See, I was trying to do this when we were married. And in those days, I DID have some responsibility to support your happiness. Today, my responsibility stops with the care and parenting of our kids. I’ve worked hard to divorce myself from your needs and your wants. But I’ve done it. I’m free.

Until I think about the leisure time we could be enjoying if we hadn’t needed two homes, two mortgages, and all that silliness with the AG’s office. But that’s where we are. I do, in fact, wish you well. But more in terms of how you support my kids rather than are you happy or not. I think that’s as it should be.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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see also: the nyc poem sequence: nyc m

image: the author and the object of his affection, cc 2015, creative commons usage
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Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody

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[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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reference suggested by a reader: Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood – and Why It Matters

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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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