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

Posts tagged “marriage and money


This Is Going To Hurt – Divorce With Children

OFF-marriagedance

Take a deep breath and count to ten. Relax. Divorce may feel like the end of the world, but it’s not. It’s bad, it requires a lot of strength and self-reflection, but you can make it. This is going to hurt, but you’re going to be stronger and more resilient as you emerge as a strong single parent.

There is nothing in your life that prepares you for becoming a parent. The amazing mystery of life brought into your home and brining your “family” together for the first time. The transition into a parent, for me, was one of the most welcome changes in my life. I wanted kids. I had a strong and beautiful partner who also wanted kids. We did the kid thing. And now I’m a proud parent of two bright children, one boy and one girl. Just perfect.

Everything was about money. Every decision was based on a line in an excel spreadsheet. And any discussions outside of the “get a job” box for me were met with major resistance.

And we grew as parents as they grew as kids. And so the story goes. Things got a bit more difficult as adults. The economic meltdown of 2009 really took its toll on my job and my then-wife’s job as well. Suddenly, the shine had worn off, the mystery while still available and magnificent was undercut by survival necessities. It was no longer enough for me to be a good man and a good father and a good husband.

And as things began to get tough, the shine wore off in my relationship as well. As newly minted parents we knew we had our work cut out for us, but the reality of money and insurance and late mortgage payments began to crush the camaraderie. Something else began to raise it’s ugly head. Money. And who’s going to earn enough of it to keep us in this nice house and this excellent school district. How are we going to survive?

The answer wasn’t as easy as it was during the mystery years. When both of you are focused on the magic of your kids you will do *anything* to provide for them. You will sacrifice time and sleep and health in order to make your family home a happy one. Except that is not a sustainable model for very long. And when you’ve been heading down that road for a few years you may wake up and find yourself fat, stressed out, and tired 95% of the time. Now what are you going to do? What are the options?

The painful realization came for me a few weeks after my big, fat, corporate job had given me the first golden parachute I’d ever earned. I was exhausted. I was about 25 lbs. overweight. And I was tired of the grind of the corporate cube farm. I had been willing to do it, to get us set up, to provide the best insurance we’d ever had, to make the happy home/stay at home mom/dream come true. Except I couldn’t maintain it. I was on the heart attack track. My blood pressure was beginning to register borderline hypertension. I was ready for something to change, but I didn’t know what.

What I thought was that the  six month severance with benefits would provide me a window of time to reexamine and restructure the next career path for me. I needed a change.

Something else happened at the same time. As I got a glimpse of life outside the corporate walls again, I remembered that I had owned my own consulting practice for 8 years before having kids. And while the economic climate was against any start-up ideas, I began it imagine what it would look like to be working for myself again. I kept up the hyper-focused job search for yet another corporate job, but my imagination began plotting alternative career and lifestyle choices.

What came out, in the weeks that progressed, was the vast difference in our perspectives on the future of our family.

One of the questions that got asked during this moment of reconsideration was about my then-wife’s work/career plans. We had been a bit vague about what the strategy was once the kids were in elementary school. We had organized so much of our lives around the kids we hadn’t planned to far into our future as a family. And under the pressure of the our economic faltering we both went into a bit of “survival panic.” Everything was about money. Every decision was based on a line in an excel spreadsheet. And any discussions outside of the “get a job” box for me were met with major resistance.

The problem was, I knew I wanted something different from what I had been struggling through job-wise for the last 5 – 7 years. And I also knew that while I was looking for a corporate replacement job I was also seeing that as a temporary option, not a life path. I needed more time with the kids and less time working to keep our heads above water. WE needed a plan. But the discussions were amazingly dysfunctional and heated every time we got into money.

In my typical fashion as a conflict-adverse male, I backed off the hard topic of what was she going to do for money. But the hard question had been breached and neither of us was happy with the initial negotiations. We entered couple’s therapy for the third and final time.

When your kids arrive all of your priorities shift and they become your focus. Nothing is too hard, nothing is too tiring, no goal is to hard to strive for, when you are talking about your kids. And as a dad in this newly minted family, I did all the right things. I did everything I could to provide a nice house, a nice neighborhood, a nice housekeeper and nanny, and for this role, as dad, breadwinner, and head-of-household, I was on the hook for the bulk of the money. In the early years this was an easier agreement. But as our kids became a bit more autonomous and the time opened up a bit more as they began going to school, I started imagining some other options for myself as well as my then-wife.

What I didn’t expect was for her to begin fighting with me during the second week of my paid layoff. And I further didn’t expect that she would also lose her part-time job and create a double burn on my six-month paycheck. But that’s what happened. At this time another feature showed up in the relationship between me and my then-wife. She started getting angry a lot. She told me a few times that she didn’t love me any more. She began to yell “fuck you” from time to time. I was confused. Something was changing for her too, I suppose.

In therapy we worked on the crisis issues. Money, jobs, trust. And I suppose the expectation was that we would get our individual issues worked out in our individual therapy sessions. But the therapy was not to fix our marriage, our therapist was not a marriage counsellor. We were working with a therapist who was trained in helping people communicate clearly with each other. And one other aspect that was front and center in his work was the parsing of what was reality and what was fantasy or fear, but not real. We got very real.

What came out, in the weeks that progressed, was the vast difference in our perspectives on the future of our family.

Me: Yes, things are rough, but we’re big enough to get through it. We love each other enough to work through anything. I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track to reorganizing our family about more rational objectives.

Her: Things are not getting better, in fact, they are getting worse. Nothing is going to change or get better.

As she continued to express anger, frustration, and unrelenting demands for me to become “responsible,” she was going in the opposite direction.

And we worked on how each of us were operating on internal projections of reality rather than the actual NOW we were in. And we struggled along. And she was always mad and I was always off-balance as I tried to do the right thing, say the right thing, and keep the peace.

But fundamentally, I was saying something different. “I will find the big corporate job again, that’s critical path at the moment, but I’m not agreeing to that as our long-term plan. We both need to figure out how we’re going to divide up the financial obligations of the choices we’re making for our family.”

That’s the request that broke my marriage.

Over the next year, I worked as a consultant while looking for the big corporate job and continued to bring in just enough money to keep us afloat. Painfully afloat, but shelter and food were not being threatened.

Over the next year, however, she did not earn any money to contribute to the family. She went through a couple “what am I going to do next in my life and career moments” which I peacefully allowed. And when the taxes were being organized for the year behind us, she had actually lost $5,000 on the year. Wait, what?

I think that was more telling than any conversation or argument we had. She was pressing me hard with survival and crisis demands and yet she was unable to contribute anything. Something was wrong with the picture. Something was not honest.

As she continued to express anger, frustration, and unrelenting demands for me to become “responsible,” she was going in the opposite direction. And somewhere along that path, she went to see an attorney to understand her options. What she would get if she divorced rather than partnered with me. And that’s essentially what happened. She decided to bet against me. Somewhere in her stressed-out and angry mind she determined that the best course of action for her and our family (because as a parent you know this decision affects everyone) was to ask for a divorce.

And as we stated our final summaries to our counselor on our final meeting, we said essentially the same thing. It was clear. One of us wanted to fight for the marriage. The other wanted to fight her way out the marriage.

I’m not much of a fighter, but I’m getting better.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Is Marriage a Cliché? How Mine Fell Apart Along Party Lines.

OFF-madwife

My marriage was fine as long as I was prepared to sacrifice my health and time with the kids to work. If I brought home the big paycheck all was somewhat jolly. Maybe not always for me, but the mom and kids seemed to enjoy it. And then I got laid off and asked for a moment to contemplate the future. I mean, the nice fat corporate job, that had stressed me out to the max and gotten me a lot fatter in the process, had also given me a silver parachute. 6 months, full pay and benefits. Seemed like a great plan.

And I remember the lunch date I had with my then-wife during the first weeks of my sabbatical when she came unglued at my idea. She calmly pointed out that is simply wasn’t that much money. My severance wasn’t going to last us very long. She obviously didn’t like the direction my thinking was going. And to be fair, with two kids, a nice house, nice cars… She had a point.

I wasn’t taking things seriously enough and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her career. We floundered as a couple.

But the point that she failed to fess up to at the time, she really didn’t want to re-enter the workforce full-time. Ever. I don’t know this to be true. And the poetic justice of the divorce has mitigated those ideas, but she really got mad at me over lunch for not taking her concerns as seriously as she took them. Somehow, I was being immature, reckless, and self-centered in wanted to recalculate the work/life balance. And yes, my discussion would need to involve her plans for returning to work full-time as well.

It seemed, back then, that we were actually pretty close to achieving a more balanced and fair split of the financial obligations of the lifestyle we had chosen. Our kids were in 3rd and 5th grade, so they were less dependent on our extreme focus 24/7. It felt, to me, like things were in a position to lighten up for us. And this was a good time, while we (I say we, but she’d been maxing out at about 20 hours a week at that point) weren’t quite so strapped for cash, to look at what we wanted to create for our family over the next 5 – 10 years while they finished up school.

But I don’t think that’s the discussion she wanted to have. She wanted to know what my plans were for providing for the family. I was saying “we” she was saying “you.” Hmm. I guess we were at an impasse of some sort. I didn’t know it then, but we were crossing over a threshold. We took the issue into our couples counselor. We worked on things. We struggled. We tried to listen to each other. We tried to see eye to eye. Meanwhile, the severance, while paying the bills was being burned twice as fast, because she had lost her job at the first of the year too.

Yes, things were intense. But they were manageable. And in my optimistic way I was certain we were in a position to plan and strategize about “our” work plan rather than just “my” work plan. We tried.

“We both expressed our ideas about the future and while I wanted to discuss changes, she wanted action and me to stabilize our future, immediately.”

I kept looking for work and interviewing at other big corporate jobs. And I put my all into the process. Of course, the layoff that culled 50% of my team was caused by the major economic collapse of 2009. No body was eager to hire high-level marketing staff. At least none of the jobs I was hearing about and applying for. Still we had my severance, and they were going to pay me 50% of my 2009 bonus as well. That bought us another month.

But I wasn’t saying the things she wanted to hear. And she wasn’t hearing me either. I wasn’t taking things seriously enough and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her career. We floundered as a couple. We began to experience breakdowns in communication and trust.

She recounted the pivotal lunch in therapy as me completely disregarding her concerns about money. Somehow I could not hear her.

I recounted the same exact lunch as “we both expressed our ideas about the future and while I wanted to discuss changes, she wanted action and me to stabilize our future, immediately.” It wasn’t that easy. And the threadbare trust in our relationship began to break down. Even as I was feeling hopeful and collaborative, she was feeling scared and angry. We limped along, but the sparks between us were more angry than inspirational.

And that’s when our sex life fell off a cliff as well. So as a man, I was in a real double bind. I not only had my self-esteem all mixed up after being laid off and having a ton of unproductive interviews. I was also getting shut out of the bedroom and the emotional closeness that comes from being intimate. So both of my anchors were gone. I was floundering, but I was doing it mostly alone, with an angry partner who kept saying I wasn’t listening to her. She began to express how mad she was at me. And during this time she even blurted out how she didn’t really love me any more.

Had we collaborated instead of separated, today we’d be looking at much better economic times.

I suppose I had two choices. 1. Completely withdraw my demand of a recalibration of our future and just hit the “whatever works” job search and get the job and shut the hell up to see if that made things better; or 2. stand strong in my conviction that I was not willing to simply go back to the factory in support of my white picket fence and semi-supportive wife. I was not willing to go back into the cube farm without a fight.

And so we fought. Meanwhile the money ran out and things went up another step on the urgency and alarm scale.

Looking back as clearly as I can, I suppose at this time, after she had gotten laid off from her job as well she really was soul-searching in the same way I was. What were we going to be as a family? Who was going to provide the money and who was going to provide the nurturing? How would we split the obligations and parenting and chores? But the kicker for me, the thing I still struggle with as I try and reconcile this period in my marriage: for that entire year, from January to December 2010, my wife actually spent more money on her consulting “business” than she made.

When I try and imagine what was going through her mind the only thing I can come up with is

  1. She was determined for me to return to the high-paying job that would allow her the same flexibility she had enjoyed while the kids were younger.
  2. She was searching for her bliss. She didn’t want to continue the string of unsuccessful jobs that had not taken her further up the job satisfaction ladder.
  3. In all her fears and worry about money it was easier to focus on me and my work search than to pay attention to her own financial contribution.
  4. Since she was the “accounting” partner it, even as it was clear we were heading into crisis mode, she doubled down on me and my job search, rather than doing what she wanted me to do, and “take whatever” so that we could catch up on the bills.
  5. Maybe she was using the leverage of the economic collapse to force me back into the big corporate job so she wouldn’t have to figure out how she was going to contribute financially.

No matter which of my assumptions are true, the actions she took are now fact and not projection or mind-reading. In March of the following year, she decided she’d had enough and she made some decisions to leave the marriage and break up our family. No more “for better or worse,” she was going to greener pastures must exist somewhere else. I was devastated. Even as I was angry and frustrated at the current state of affairs, I was also beginning to express my anger at being emotionally isolated. And I try to let her off the hook most of the time, by owning my part of the anger and frustration in our marriage. But I was in the marriage to WIN and STAY. She decided to LEAVE.

I can’t take any of it back. And I can’t even gloat at how much she is having to work now, because it’s not how I wanted it to go. This moment, today, is not how it should’ve gone, in my mind. We should’ve come to a balanced plan where we BOTH hunted and landed good paying jobs, WE stabilized our financial situation, and WE made commitments to re-energize and re-invest energy in our marriage.

Had we collaborated instead of separated, today we’d be looking at much better economic times. All the money that has gone into two homes could have gone into the bank. She would be working a lot less today had we stayed together. But somewhere along the way, she lost the trust that I was a worthy collaborator.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What’s This About: Marriage?

creative commons usage: marriageWould you do it again? What’s the point? Is it symbolism or security you seek? I don’t know, but I’m willing to ask myself the questions about why I would ever want to get married again.

It came up in a recent discussion. “I don’t think I’ll ever do that again,” she said.

I noticed my reaction. “Hmm. I wonder what that’s about.” But I quickly turned the observation inward to try and parse out what I would want from marriage. Let’s see…

  1. I already have kids, so it is not about them or having a mom.
  2. I did love the ring. I loved what it symbolized. I cried the first time I took it off. I was a proud husband.
  3. Financially there are some advantages.
  4. Security. (Hmm. This is the hardest one.)

In the end, the marriage did not provide any security within my relationship. I mean, perhaps she would have decided to seek greener pastures sooner had it not been for the legal and financial wranglings that were required to divorce me. But from my side, perhaps I was a bit blind-sided by my unrealistic trust in the “marriage” part of our relationship.

So what kind of trust could be won from getting married again? Would it make our bond any more secure?

The woman I was chatting with responded to my financial comment by asking, “Is that really something you considered when getting married?”

“No,” I said, “But I would have to consider it a reason now. I mean we both have kids, so it wouldn’t be about them.”

And here we are, at the crux of the matter. Would MARRIAGE, the ring, the ceremony, the step-kid thing, give either of us more security? I don’t know. Is it part of my plan? Perhaps, but it is certainly not something I think of in the early months of a relationship. Although she did catch me saying, “If a relationship doesn’t have the potential of going long-term, then I’m not really interested.”

“What does that even mean, long-term,” she asked, with a sly smile.

“I don’t know.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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On the Turning Away: Fighting with Your Ex About Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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I Am Failing In One Critical Area Of Life

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

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

Spiritual Health
Mental Health
Physical Health
Financial Health

And I was like… Uh oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her email tonight put the relationship in starker terms.

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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