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.
She’s going to get the house and a nice child support check from you until each of your kids turns 18.
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
< back to The Hard Stuff
- A Thin Line Between Love and Hate: Marriage to Divorce
- Where the Sidewalk Ends
- A Period of Ease
- The 5 Laws of Anger in Co-Parenting
- What You Gave Up On Is Still Shining In Me
- An Unfair Advantage and a Loaded Weapon
image: kid crying, creative commons usage
Just when things get good, smooth, and business-like between us…
My kids use my computer and ipad to watch Netflix when they are here. I got the cease and desist text from the ex last night. That’s easy, I just revoked her Amazon Prime relationship with me, that I’d been paying for since 2011.
We had money issues in my marriage. We have money issues as co-parents. There’s no doubt about it, in our relationship money has played a key role. And not a great role, but perhaps the issue that caused the divorce in the first place. Getting clear about money, and what the cash flow plan is over time might just save your marriage. We did our best, but we didn’t anticipate some of the changes that took place.
Either way, we’re divorced now, with two wonderful kids (14 and 12) and some ongoing conflicts about money. And still, we’re not dealing with it very well. But at least this time, the agreements will be spoken and negotiated in the open. There’s only one big problem.
At some point along the way I fell behind on my child support payments. I tried to be clear and honest about the situation. I asked for a bit of leeway in how I would repay her. And for whatever reason (I don’t think it’s healthy or helpful to say what another person is thinking) she felt it was in the best interest of the kids to file our decree with the Attorney General’s office. Thus throwing our money issues into the public record and putting me on file as a deadbeat dad in the state of Texas.
Could she have known what consequences her actions would have? I don’t know. Did she think she was protecting the kid’s livelihood? That’s what she said back then, when she filed on me the day after she learned that I was discussing bankruptcy in an attempt to keep my house. (Bankruptcy does not clear any child support debt, so that couldn’t have been her motivation.) She had rattled the threat at me for most of the summer as the company I was working for struggled to replace the lost business that caused the issue in the first place. Despite my pleas for compassion and understanding she tossed me to the lawyers for the state of Texas.
Okay, so that’s several years ago, and I’m still having a hard time not seeing her action as vindictive and bitter. And when I think about asking her if she knew what trouble her actions would cause me, I wake up to realize, once again, it’s not about her. The money might have been a core issue between us, but now the state of Texas is working with us to protect my kid’s lifestyle, to support my wife’s income, and to enforce the financial agreement that I signed six years ago, to provide housing, food, clothing, and insurance for my kids.
I agree 100% that the full amount of the debt is mine. And I attempted to negotiate secured notes with her to get my payments caught up. But once the AG’s office was involved, she would simply say, “I’m sorry. It’s out of my hands. They told me not to talk to you about money.”
It was as if she was throwing up her hands and telling me to talk to the state’s attorneys.
Still, six years later, while we are negotiating and navigating co-parenting much better, the scars of the “deadbeat dad” debt still crushes my financial opportunities. Several times I’m certain I was turned down on a new job opportunity right after they checked my credit. Last week I was denied a car loan because of the 27,000 debt to my ex-wife. (That’s not the exact number, but it’s close enough to give you an idea.)
Here’s the deal. I have paid her accordingly based on what I have made in the past six years. In the divorce I agreed to a much higher amount of income than I have ever achieved post-divorce. Have I been sitting around being lazy or trying to avoid paying her, or hiding money? No. I have been working hard to rebuild my consulting practice as well as looking for full-time work. But the kind of money I used to make at Dell, for example, is available only when everything fits just right. And the big old scarlet DD on my forehead is devastating in the market place.
Did she know this would happen? Is she sorry that her knee jerk action has caused us both so much angst? Again, I don’t know. Am I doing something wrong by not suing her and the state to reduce my child support based on actual earned income? I don’t want to sue her. I don’t want to fight for 50/50 custody. I want to continue with as little conflict in our co-parenting as I tried to maintain in our marriage.
Sometimes hurtful actions have long-standing reverberations that come back to hurt ourselves. I hope that there is a way for us to legally agree to remove the state of Texas from our financial lives. Otherwise the collaborative co-parenting will continue to have this unnecessary financial sting to it. At least for the next 6 years, when my daughter turns 18. I hope she and the state of Texas can see the light long before then.
I am not a dead beat dad. I have given her a portion of every dollar I have made. And as I strive to make more, I am trying not to reflect on the on-going actions against me by the AGs office. It’s hard, but we’re managing.
The Off Parent
back to The Hard Stuff
How is it possible? I’m a successful professional in my 49th year of life and I have a negative balance in my checking account and $14 in my retirement account? And even more amazing, how is it that I am not freaking out?
Since the full child support payments kicked in I have been scrambling not to bounce checks. I’m astounded by the amount of money I am now paying to my ex-y. I know it’s “for the kids” and all, but I am barely keeping gas in my car and food in my belly at this moment. Much less food in my kids bellies and the occasional splurge, eating out or going out to see a movie.
I am lucky, too, I have a high earning potential, and even in this dropped economy I’ve made a reasonable, though severely reduced, income. And my ex-y has remained fully employed since about three months before the divorce was final. (Go figure that?)
And, I’ve got some new clients and good financial forecasts for next month. But it always takes a while for new business to ramp up to full-hours. I’m close, and I have invoices out to be paid, but at the moment, I can’t buy a Starbucks. Oh, and I forgot to mention, my three credit cards, useless burdens at this point. Another source of frustration. But I’ll get to them as well.
Of course, “the kids” come first. Of course they do. And I will say it to myself again and again, “I want my kids to have a healthy life.” And I have to believe I will rise above the cash drain with a significant uptick in my income. That’s about all I have, the faith that I will dig out from under this.
Once I got over the shock of not being able to pay all of my bills I started researching strategies to survive. Here’s what I learned.
The bankruptcy/debt counselors really only have one solution: consolidate your debt and agree to a payment plan. Um, this does not work when your income is ZERO.
The counselor did say one very valuable thing. “At some point you will run out of things to sell off and you will have to make a decision about what bills to pay.”
My decisions revolved around a few things.
- I wanted to keep my house. (mortgage payments were critical path)
- I had to eat and drive to work. (groceries and gas were non-negotiables)
- I needed electricity, water, and high-speed internet access to do my work and live comfortably.
- I committed to the child support payments and I was going to pay them. (I did negotiate a deferral on also paying the kid’s health insurance until my work re-stabilized.)
Other than that, every other expense, bill, financial obligation, was on hold. Paused. Put in a file and forgotten about. I could not pay my credit cards for the first time in my life. Okay, I’m over it. Ignore the calls. I had to tell my ex-y that I could not pay the health care but that I would make good on the debt as soon as I had positive cash flow. I had to negotiate the timing on my payments to my ex-y so I could make two payments during the month.
And then I have continued to work like hell to get my work situation back to full-productivity. Yes the economy is hard. I’ve had a lot of interviews but no offers. And my consulting business has kept me alive for almost a year since my last FT job.
But the bottom line is, I’m surviving. I’ve cut back to the bare basics. And today I’ve still got nothing. I can’t take my kids to the movies tonight. And the groceries in the fridge are what we’ve got until they go back to their mom’s on Monday. And IT IS OKAY. It’s not fun, but it’s workable. The clients will pay, the credit cards will eventually get back on a payment plan, and the ex-y will get her full legally awarded child support.
In the meantime, my job is not to thrash, not to share the stress of this trying moment with my kids, and to carry on. It sucks sometimes. And I’m not 100% sure being the non-custodial parent was a good move for me financially. BUT, today it’s what I’ve got.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho!
The Off Parent
Update: A new reader tweeted at me today about this post. It made her hot under the collar. “Paying child support is not heroic.” She said. She missed the gist of this post. Yes we are both struggling with money issues. But I was at ZERO. Not by some bad behavior or fatal flaw. Not because I was not looking for work.
< back to The Hard Stuff
- Losing Everything In Divorce; Learning to Carry On
- On the Turning Away: Fighting with Your Ex About Money
- Tell Me Again, Why You Think This Is a Good Idea? (child support part 1)
- Can Things Get Worse? Yes, Easy! (child support part 2)
- A Fool and His Money Soon Go Separate Ways
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)
Money played a much bigger role in my marriage than I’d like to admit. And now, divorced, the relationship between my ex-y and money is about the same. With one big difference. I can ignore my ex-y when she’s going on about money. We’ve got a contract now. And if it’s written, then I don’t need to keep negotiating when, how, if, and the ever-present, “It would be nice if…”
Nope, as easy as pushing mute on my phone when it’s ringing.
She’s really no easier now than she was. There’s still this urgent need to know exactly when and how much. As if a day or a hundred dollars is going to make a huge difference to anybody but her.
Yes, I’m a bit more laid back about money. And, confession, I’m slightly behind on the health care part of the payments. But things are just about to change. My consulting business just booked two new clients that are going to take me to about 120% of capacity.
The good news is, I can do the extra 20% now, because I don’t have my kids for most of the weekday nights. So, dear ex-y I’m going to catch up. I’ve told you I would as soon as I had a good book of business. And that’s true.
The part that’s fun about it… (Poignant, rather than fun.) The fun part is that money is about to get much easier for me. And that’s good, I’m middle-aged. And while I’ve just killed my entire retirement account, to keep up with the child support payments, I’m going to rebuild stronger and bigger than ever before. So I will wave at your working-your-ass-off self, the one who decided to split up the 11-year partnership we’d formed. And I have the awareness at this point that I was trying to grow a more sane business model for both of US. Now you are out of that equation. I hope you find what you are looking for.
I’m looking forward to being a solid provider again. And the ex-y will get what’s coming to her, to the letter of the law. But the partnership could’ve produced some great opportunities and cushion. Oh well. On to what’s next.
The Off Parent