She was living with another man when we started having lunches. She started dating me before telling me or him of the other person. Along the way, that summer, she shut down our relationship so she could go “finish up” with him. She called me about six weeks later.
That opening volley should have been a red flag. But I was smitten. She was/is very pretty. I was very lonely. We hooked up soon after she moved out and she moved in with me in a matter of weeks. She made a very sensible move. She let go of the man who was unlikely to ever give her a child, something she had desperately begun to think about, and she found a man of means who was also ready for kids. Bingo.
There were a couple of wrinkles in her fantasy, however. 1. I did not make enough money to support a stay-at-home mom in the neighborhood we were committed to raising our children. 2. I suffered from occasional bouts of depression. She did too, but that’s another story all together.
So there we were, heading towards kids with some drastic changes to make. I was playing in a band, working for myself, and living in a condo that was paid for but not big enough to raise a family. What she needed was for me to get a real job, quit the band, and buy a house that could support our desired 2 kids in the neighborhood with the good schools. I caught the vision to. And so that’s what we did. I quit the band, got a full-time job, and we moved from my condo to a house in the “good schools” neighborhood. Of course we were 5 – 6 years ahead of needing those good schools, but hey, we were kids, we were in love, we were becoming parents.
So time goes along for a bit, we have two kids, a boy and then a girl, and we start having the frictions that married-with-children couples do. And a lot of that trouble had to do with money. I didn’t really think of it at the time, because we had decided to have her stay home with the kids as much as possible, while I continued the “big job” pursuit. While things went okay, the job market after 9-11 was awful. Our boat was taking on water. We spent most of the cash from the sale of the condo, and we were down to bare bones on our mortgage and house repairs.
It was about this time, and for some of those reasons, that I started a major slide into overwhelm, otherwise known as major depression. Not only was I responsible for an entire little family now, and a house payment, I also had lost my self-employment opportunity when the real estate market shut down after 9-11. Everybody had it hard, I get that, but somehow we didn’t join together as a team. Somehow we grew apart and the plan was for me to work, and work harder at finding work, and for her to … Well, we weren’t really sure what she was going to do. She didn’t know what she “wanted” to do, so I was committed to letting her fish around and figure it out. Meanwhile, our finances are swirling down the drain. But I never was one for being a stickler around money.
About the time things got really hard, she began to take lunches with a co-worker from a new group she was consulting with. Of course, I had no idea she was doing lunch with anyone. I stumbled upon a series of emails between them one afternoon while I was de-spamming our communal computer. BOOM. I was punched in the dick. She was revealing her deepest secrets, her concerns for my depression, her loneliness, and even her own inner struggles about being married to someone with depression.
I remember she came home with the kids and tried to talk to me about the evening plans. I was almost incoherent. It might have been easy to chalk that up to my struggles with depression, but this was different. Somewhere along the way she had taken out our personal love story and begun sharing it with another man. She was introducing him to the free coffee at our neighborhood library. She was doing lunches with a younger man just when her actual man needed her the most.
She came clean at this point. Not at doing anything wrong, but in acknowledging how this behavior might hurt me. She agreed to never do it again, and to end the “relationship” with this other man. But the damage had been done. She’d broken our sacred trust. And I am not sure if I ever felt 100% secure in my relationship after that. When sex went on hiatus, I remember wondering if she were seeing another man on the side, this time with physical comforts as well as mental comforts. I don’t think that was ever the case, but I’m not 100% sure.
Once the infidelity happens, even if it’s only emotional, the trust suffers. The odd thing, however, is how she made our “trust” an issue that I was mostly responsible for damaging. The “trust” issues seemed to all be about me. Not us? Our therapy sessions were less than productive as we searched for answers to MY depression and MY trust issues. She was the “okay” one.
Today, it’s easier to see how the entire relationship had been based on half-truths and omissions. I don’t have any regrets, at this point, because I look at our kids and I know we did the best we could. The best we could, however was less than 100% from her. At the moment when your partner is suffering and in need of your comfort, that is not the time to begin a “friendship” with a new person from work. A woman, maybe, but a handsome man?
I have learned a lot about trust and honesty in my life. My first and second marriages have taught me many things. I know that I will not tolerate infidelity, emotional or physical, and that TRUST is an issue that is shared. We had a trust issue in our marriage. While she was actually out doing something untrustworthy, I was the one being attacked. Perhaps the attack was the only defense she could come up with, for the way she was feeling inside.
She knew the moment I spoke of it, that afternoon when I found the email, that she had betrayed me. She never fully apologized for it. She said she wouldn’t do it again. That was as good as it ever got between us. I think that fracture is what led me towards divorce once it was offered. While I fought against the divorce, when I saw what I was up against, I gave in and complied. I guess I did the same thing at the beginning of our relationship when I first heard about the other man she was living with.
Things would be very different in my life had I walked away. I did not.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff
- Kids, I Did Not Choose to Leave You Alone In the Divorce
- Why Fathers Give Up After Divorce
- You May Think I’m the Enemy, But You’re Misguided
- I May Never Reach Serenity with my Ex-Wife
- When You’re Trying to CoParent with a Narcissist
image: bathroomismine, creative commons usage
This is really a continuation of my rant that began here: Money is a Bitch After Divorce
As rants go, I think mine a pretty tame. It’s not because I don’t have access to my anger and vitriol. It’s more because I’ve been tempering my temper for so long, I’ve sort of internalized a lot of the anger. Maybe that’s what’s making me fat again. Or maybe it’s the stress of working a job and getting less than 50% of my take home pay. (Wait, I thought there was a clause in my decree that… Oh wait, with two kids they can take up to 60% of your take home pay.)
When you have kids together you enter a pact. For better or for worse you are going to do whatever it takes to make their lives easier. In our case we agreed to split the chores of parenting 50/50 (as much as that is possible). And we agreed that I would continue to work full-time while she took the time she needed to parent, nurture, and do the mom-thing. It was how we saw the world together as parents. Or should I say, as married parents.
Divorce changes everything. And what I thought were immutable agreements were immediately called into question. In our case the idea of a 50/50 divorce was tossed out the window like a novel idea. Perhaps back in 2010 it was. And in the process, I agreed to a non-custodial, SPO (standard possession order), child support package. The problem was, my job had just ended, and while I was in some late stage negotiations with a company, after the decree was filed, the job fell through. So we calculated my child support amount on the potential job that fell through. It actually took me an additional four months to find full employment. And for each of those months I was still on the hook for the full amount.
And over the last five years, I’ve had various employment statuses. It’s sort of the nature of this unstable employment market. But the amount of child support I agreed to, back when I was blinded by the sadness of the proceedings and wanting to find the path of least resistance to get out, stayed the same. Today I still end up paying my ex-wife on behalf of my kids, about 2,300 a month. (1,200 in child support, 1,100 in health insurance) To be fair that insurance money doesn’t go to her, but the number represents my contractual obligation and my current employer does not provide insurance. Here’s how that works out in real dollars earned.
So let’s see, I need a $36,000 pay check just to pay my child support and insurance? (I pay the taxes on the money before I pay her. And I don’t get a deduction.) That’s a lot of work. And if I want to provide for any kind of shelter or amenities for myself and my kids when they are with me… Well, obviously I’ve got to work a lot harder.
And this sucks. I understand the idea behind it. And I also understand that I have to lawyer up to make a change to this amount. So, at this point, I’ve chosen to let the decree and this financial obligation to remain. “It’s for my kids,” I say to myself when I receive my portion of my salary.
When am I going to be over my divorce? Um, in about 5+ more years, when my second child turns 18.
For this imbalance in money obligations I also get an imbalance in time with my kids. And if I try and see this as a benefit I can understand how dads began to get the reputation for being uncaring and stoic. I’ve had to stoic-up a bunch to make it though the extended weeks without my kids. And some weeks are better than others. Some weeks I can even imagine that I’m paying my ex-wife for services rendered as a child care provider. That’s funny for a minute. And then the next emaciated paycheck arrives.
Time with my kids is the main loss of the divorce. As they both enter the teens I see their attention moving towards friends and dates and sleep overs. The real time lost was when they were 7 and 9. Those were the years when they could’ve (I could’ve) used more closeness, more masculine nurturing, more dad. But that’s not how it worked out. And today, I’m resolved that I’m doing the best I can with the time I do have. Again, that’s the decree, that’s the way the State of Texas tends to divide the baby, so to speak. Moms are the nurturers and dads are the bread winners. I hope this continues to be challenged as a hurtful stereotype that does an in justice to the dads and the kids.
I think the real measure of being “over it” for me is how much anger I still have towards my ex-wife.
Today: not much.
Tomorrow: who knows, but she still pulls dramatic somersaults that can trigger me, so I’m not done.
I think for me, getting over the injustice of the divorce system and the divorce decree I signed was the biggest part. Well, okay, getting over her turning our affairs in to the AG’s office for collections was pretty bad too. (She knew I was unemployed and trying to save my house, but oh well…) Yep, I even have to get over that past “fk you” to move on with my life.
Do I get to leave it all behind like I did with my first crazy wife? No. With my kids involved my ex-wife is part of my life for the duration. Yes, I’ve heard of people truly walking away after their kids leave for college, but I’m pretty sure in this economy we’ll be dealing with each other and negotiating about money for a lot longer.
I smile at the thought that our negotiations about money might move to a more equitable and fair percentage. And I wish there were some way for me to share with my ex-wife the feeling of futility and hopelessness that comes from landing a new job and learning that even with this new title, new salary, and new health benefits, I can’t afford an apartment or get a loan for a used car. Oh, but that has a lot to do with the AG’s office.
Am I still mad at my ex-wife?
Most of the time no. On payday, just a tiny bit. On some dramatic outburst about something, a bit more. On the AG’s office, well yes, that one I may not ever be able to forgive her for.
But I don’t let those feelings color my life much. They are still there, under the surface, if I’m honest with myself. But the degree to which the “divorce” stuff bothers me is very slight indeed. And for me that’s the main thing. Can I maintain a civil relationship with the mother of my children? And can I see the bright eyes and hearts of my kids as the indication of a job well done?
To those questions I must answer a resounding YES.
The Off Parent
< back to Single Parenting
- Money is a Bitch After Divorce
- Dating a Divorced Parent: How Can We All Stay Connected?
- A Quick-Start Guide for the Divorcing Dad: The Off Times
- The Divorce Part You’ll Never Understand: Living Within the Compromise
- Giving the Blunt Mom Her Due
image: abe novy, three hundred bitches, creative commons usage
I just got through paying COBRA health insurance for my kids. Man, is that shit expensive or what! And where is the law that says the dad is gonna have to pay for that no matter what? Where’s the balance in the financial split of divorce? After I pay my child support and the health insurance, it wipes out all of my disposable income. All of it. (Need to make more money, I guess.)
I get we both have expenses. I get that the women of the world get paid less, in general, than the men in the world doing similar jobs. But how does that work at this level? Sure, kids are expensive. And with her getting the majority of their time, she does have higher expenses in things like food and keeping the house cool in the summer, but this … Well, this is hard.
And of course, the money I pay in child support AND COBRA are after taxes have been taken out, so it’s even more expensive than it appears when you’re signing the divorce decree. I’d just like to see the change of expression on her face if she saw every single paycheck cut in half, before she had money for the mortgage on a house we paid for together. It’s incapacitating in some respects, if you’ve set them up in a nice neighborhood and you agree with the idea that they should be able to stay in that nice neighborhood.
I’m complaining, I know. I’m whining, perhaps. But it’s frustrating. The cost of providing housing, food, and extracurriculars while we were living under the same roof was hard. The cost to the dad who moves out and has to find another housing situation, and double his income before he can even imagine getting a place of his own… That’s unfair.
But again, we knew that divorce wasn’t fair.
My son was complaining last summer about the hassle of switching houses every week. “It wasn’t my idea for you two to get divorced.”
He had a point. And as we’ve made changes to the schedule to switch less frequently, I am seeing them a bit less, even. And paying the same. But you can’t equate paying for parenting. Or time with them as the reward for paying. Nope. I get it. Bills and expenses are a fact of life for both sides of the divorce.
I simply needed to tell you this morning, staring at the numbers, that kids are expensive, for the dad, divorce is doubly so.
The Off Parent
Note: I’d like to think I was bigger than these rants, but sometimes it feels good to let out some hot air. And now… Back into the fray.
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
- Your Contempt for Me is Hurting All of Us
- The Humans Of Divorce, Dear AG’s Office Special Cases Officer Mr. McK!
- And Just As We Reach A Calm Moment
- What I Still Fail to Understand About My Ex-wife
- When Kids, Money, and Divorce Collide
image: ruth roman in bitter victories, creative common 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
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The Off Parent
back to The Hard Stuff
- What An Angry or Distant Divorced Parent Looks Like
- The Fk You That Keeps On Giving
- The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage
- When Did Our Halos Lose Their Sparkle? A Marriage Comes Apart
- I Was a Happily Married Man, and Now I’m Not: Tiny Hints of Doom
image: angry face, transformer 18, creative commons usage