This is not a particularly interesting story. It’s more common than we can imagine. And it’s carried out with swift precision and support of the courts and counselors across the country. Women get the kids, men get the bills, and that’s the beginning of the trouble for the single parents. In my state, Texas, 80% of decrees give custody to the mother with the dad getting non-custodial rights and often a hefty child support payment.
I admit, I was depressed and hurting when I was “negotiating” my parenting plan and thus my divorce from the mother of my children. Right in the middle of the negotiations the counselor rightly slowed the process, as I was more and more aware that I did not want a divorce. But a divorce is what my then-wife wanted. And I learned, pretty clearly, that you cannot continue a marriage when only one partner is IN.
Okay, so the story goes along then in common fashion. Dad leaves the house moves in with family until he can get reoriented and settled in his new role. Except there’s one huge new problem. Not only does he have to look for a new home but he’s got a new debt that decreases his opportunities for re-housing. I could forget about moving back into the neighborhood my kids were growing up in. And I agreed to let my ex keep the house “for the kids.” And while that was the right decision, it did not take into account “where Dad would go.” I was sort of on my own.
Okay, so I struggled with the sadness, the loss of my marriage and closest ally. And the loss of my full-time access to my kids. And the list goes on and on: the loss of my house (which we had proudly purchased on money I had gotten before my marriage); the loss of the pets (I didn’t have a place to keep them); the loss of the neighborhood and community (tennis club, pool, neighborhood friends for my kids). And essentially for about 9 months I was homeless. I was living with my sister, but had zero privacy and very few of my material possessions. They were in the garage of my old house.
The only way out of the situation for me, was to find the next BIG JOB. There was no room for self-employment or consulting if I was going to ever be able to get back into a house. And something about apartment living didn’t resonate with me or my idea of who I had become nearing my 48th year as a man.
Finally, the call came, the big job started and I went looking for a place to live. I was lucky. I had not let enough time lapse between my last big job and my new big job to damage my credit or earning power. I was able to qualify and buy a much more modest house in a nearby neighborhood. And I was happy for a bit.
Six months into the new job, the company restructured and eliminated the entire service offering I had been marketing. And with one week’s severance and no notice I was out. And guess what? I still had my mortgage and my child support payments to cover. And then I was sad for a bit, with this new challenge of faith and ability and willingness to pack in my aspirations and just take whatever job came along.
But the remarkable happened. I didn’t find the next big job. I worked my ass off, sending in resumes, networking, social media-ing (this is what I do for a living) and looking for work. And while I got some contracts and some consulting gigs I have still not been able to replace the BIG JOB income that would allow me to pay my child support AND have a place to live.
And this is the situation with a lot of single dads who were given the same deal I got. And a lot of this I covered in my last post (Love, War, Divorce) but the thing that became apparent, when I was reading the comments on my UNFAIR post, was… This is not right.
The assumption that the non-custodial dad will bear the lion’s share of the expenses after the divorce, is simply not equitable. It’s the law. But it’s not fair. And in our case, my ex-wife got a full-time job (her first since we had gotten married) in order to divorce me, and has been able to keep mostly employed this entire time. What a blessing. And with the child support she has been able to keep the nice house in the nice neighborhood. And that’s what I want for my kids too.
The hard part is, I’m burdened by an additional $1,500 per month, even before I get to think about where I can afford to live. With 50/50 parenting it might have been more difficult for her, and thus we are stuck with a dilemma. I want what’s best for my kids over and above even my own needs or living quarters. But I do need to live somewhere. I do need to make enough money to provide food, shelter, and entertainment for my kids when they are with me. Right? It’s hard either way. Two homes is obviously more expensive than one. Where can we find the balance? Sure, I can make more and more money. And today that’s my only option.
But the real issue is, my ex-wife and I are still in this financial boat together. So when she got frustrated with my fluctuating income, and my two months of late payments of “her child support” she filed the whole issue with the Attorney General’s Office, basically threatening me with a lawsuit and (horror of horrors) completely damning my credit rating.
So wait, now I’m a deadbeat dad? In what way was I trying to skip out on my child support? Is it fair for me to have shelter as well? Is there any consideration about where Dad will live with the kids when he has them?
The DEAL I got, the deal that was sold to me by our impartial divorce counselor was the non-custodial parent, who sees his kids less and pays for a good deal of their expenses.
Okay, so I hear the women in the audience groan with each retelling of this story. And the comments on earlier posts bear this out. Women don’t want to hear how hard it is for a man to get by after divorce when his living expenses just doubled. They tell me how hard it is to be a single parent with the majority of the family duties, and very little money to do it all. But wait, that’s the DEAL they got, right? The got the TIME with the kids. So don’t complain to me about how hard that is. I was asking to do it 50/50 just like we discussed our parenting when we were imagining our first child.
I’m a 50/50 dad, but I was sold the non-custodial parent role by a system that favors mom’s in this situation about 80% of the time. And I did not want to FIGHT my ex, I was trying to fulfill a cooperative divorce agreement. We were trying to be non-confrontational. And so I got the bill and she got the kids.
I don’t know what the right answer is, but 50/50 is where we should’ve started. I should not have had to fight with our well-paid counselor about how 50/50 parenting might make sense for us. And I don’t know what I’m going to do now.
The rest of the story: I lost my house. I tried to file for bankruptcy just to keep the house, and my ex-wife’s AG filing prevented that from working. And I offered to give her a secured loan agreement if she would allow me to move forward, and she threw up her hands and said, “The AG’s Office has said I cannot talk to you about money.”
Fuck. That just about put me in a bind I couldn’t get out of. But I have family here. And my family came and helped me fix up my house and sell it, for a gain. And I moved into a garage apartment on my Mom’s house. Fuck again.
As we liked to joke, “It’s better than being under the bridge.”
Yes, it is better than being under the bridge. Or throwing myself off the bridge in a fit of masculine depressive acting out.
It sure stripped away all my pretense of success. I have failed. I have fallen from the “owner’s” status to “living with my mom” and “deadbeat dad” all in the course of a few months. And this is not how it should’ve gone, nor did it need to go this way. While we are in this together, the money is another issue all together.
Fortunately, my ex-wife and I have agreed to keep the money matters out of our parenting matters. But I fear this issue is about to come to a head, before the kids return to school in the fall. And I’m not sure what my options are. I have had THREE BIG JOBS within spitting distance of an offer and all of them went to someone else. And that’s the way it goes. And I’m even looking to go back to my old BIG CORPORATE GIG where I gained 15 pounds from the grind and stress of the place.
At this point I will do anything necessary to restart my life. I am willing to pay her what she is owed, and not contest the amount, even though it is $20,000 over what she would’ve gotten had it been tied to my actual earnings over this time. But I’m in a catch 22. A: I have to find the next BIG JOB to support her payments and have a half-way descent place to live and B: I could fight for 50/50 custody and not have to pay her any additional child support payments, but then that hurts my kids as she would be pressed even harder to keep their childhood home.
Of course I lost that home a long time ago. And now I’ve lost my do-over home. And I don’t have a home. But again that’s not the point, that’s whining. My actions are what matter. I’ve got more job interviews this week, and a call back from the BIG CORP for next week. This is the summer of my discontent, and something will give. And then I will give my ex-wife the money to continue in the lifestyle my kids grew up in, even though I cannot afford to live it with them.
And I seem to be complaining, but I don’t feel defeated. I’ve had a major setback. And there were lots of factors at play. And not unlike my divorce, I didn’t get what I wanted out of the deal. But everyday I have a chance to make a new deal, set a new plan in motion, get back on the road to recovery. I’m happy I have this insight, because things have been pretty damn hard.
Thanks for listening. Keep coming back, it works if you work it. (12-step rejoinder after a hard sharing)
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff
- How Can I Argue for Joint Custody – DadsDivorce.com
- The Problem with Child Support Laws in Texas – Fathers for Equal Rights
- Child Custody – Facing the Statistics – Benkelaw
- my dos equis < poem
- Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody
- Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight
- Divorce Recovery: Loving Yourself Better, So You Can Eventually Love Again
- Giving Up On Me, and Why I Still Hate What You Did
- Creative Parenting and the Gifts of Enthusiastic Participation
image: veronica lake and joel mcrea — sullivan’s travels , robert huffstutter, creative commons usage
One. Three. Five.
Do those numbers sound familiar? In the SPO (standard possession order) those are the weekends the typical dad gets his kids. The first, the third, and the ever so lucky fifth. So this year we have Christmas in July. For some great turn of the calendar, this coming weekend is a magic “fifth.” And what that does, if you don’t know, is set up the double-weekend.
So I’m not saying she’s not being a good mother, but I do think our priorities are different. In some ways she WAS ahead of me in the entire divorce process. She would say it wasn’t premeditated, but she was closing down our communication channels for several years as she distanced herself from intimacy with me. It wasn’t hard. I was compliant. I took care of myself. But in doing so, I lost the heart of why I was in a relationship. It’s more clear now that I don’t have it, but I was desperate to stay connected. When that wasn’t offered, I was desperate to stay together until things got better. (Um, yeah. That’s a bad equation. NOTE: The other person is NOT going to change. They “might,” it’s possible, but it’s like waiting for the alcoholic to stop drinking. There’s always wishing and hoping and planning and doing better… And then there’s the slip or exit.)
So within weeks of the finalization of our divorce she was leaving the kids with a sitter to have sex with a repair man in another city. Oh boy! Yes, the word REBOUND came screaming up at me when I heard about it. And in my divorce recovery class, it was the only solace I had. Yes, she was already having sex with someone else. BUT HEY, it was a definite “rebound.” Fuck that. In many ways she had moved on and was all ready to GET IT ON with someone else. I have to say, “I get it.” But I was a little more calculated in my decisions, or maybe I was just so far behind in understanding emotionally what was happening.
The loss of the kids, the unlimited time with your kids, is the hardest thing. Well, that’s AFTER you get over the fact that this person has decided to bet against you. And suddenly you are left alone (and in my case homeless) to fend for yourself. And on all those nights that she has the kids for consecutive nights, you will learn to lick your wounds and get back up on your feet. Yes, it’s a process of self-discovery, but it’s like having the ladder out-of-the-hole kicked out from under you.
I guess there’s no good age for kids in divorce. And while my kids are thriving, I can see the loss in my daughter’s face when we are finally back together after a long period away. And her hugs and “mother hen” affection are just a bit over the top. I love it. I glow in it. I am careful to be the awesome dad in the father daughter constellation. As they say, she is learning, will learn, how to be with men by the healthy ways she learns to relate with me. It’s a huge responsibility. And it makes me sad not to be there for her. (The ex-y can date and babysit herself to her heart’s delight, but my daughter has become one of my primary concerns.)
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with her “relationship,” these days, but it does seem to me, that she puts her needs ahead of the kids. Perhaps that was the switch that allowed her to actually file for divorce from me. At some point she had to detach from me first. Then she had to make a decision that being without me was better for HER than being with me.
The kids are the hard part. Drop off and pick up can change the tenor of my entire week. Going by our old house was almost unbearable for the first year and a half. It was too close, to easy to want to crawl back into my old bed, to easy to long for a “return” of some sort.
And the SPO does take a huge portion of the time away from the dad. The lawyers and counselors likes to point out that “it’s pretty close to 50/50.” The problem with that logic is how that balance is achieved. There is this provision for the summers, that the NCP (non-custodial parent) can have the kids for an entire 30 days.
Let’s see what the problem is with that idea.
1. Financially it would be a huge hardship. If you could take the month off, it would be a killer vacation opportunity. But, like most parents, I would guess we have to keep working our normal schedule, then it becomes a 100% child care expense for a week.
2. Emotionally the kids are going to suffer being away from the other parent for a month. Maybe as the kids get older this will be an easier decision. But right now, the kids would be hurting to be away from Mom for that amount of time.
3. Logistically, you’ve got to make provisions for their care, entertainment, and nurture, while continuing to provide financially for both them and their mother.
So, let’s just say, it’s going to be awhile before I am able to swing (or even want to swing) a 30-day visitation during the summer. THEN, the next best thing is the magic fifth weekend.
One more moment of reflection on the “balance of the schedule.” So JULY for me is going to be like EVERY OTHER MONTH is for her. OUCH!
I’m not interested, nor do I have the funds to change our legal agreement. BUT… at some point the “balance of time” vs. the “balance of the financial obligation” might have me looking at changing the custodial arrangement. I simply don’t have the funds to pursue it. And, for now, it’s working out to my advantage. A sad and somewhat lonely advantage, but nonetheless, I am getting a ton of work done in my “off parent” time.
So for now, I can thank my ex-y for taking care of the kids the majority of the time. (Note: during the school year she does shoulder an unfair burden of school parenting and homework, but hey, that’s the breaks.) And I can be the best dad that I can be during the time I have my kids. And I can celebrate the little gifts of the “fifth.”
And she can go right ahead and remarry, as she’s already mentioned in relationship to her current boyfriend, if that’s her path. I’ll do what I can to support her and the kids through whatever’s next. And I will keep the anger and bitterness here, in this process-writing, rather than in the my dealings with my ex-y. As they say, if she’s happy, my kids are happy, and that’s supposed to make me happy too. It sort of works that way.
In July, this year, I’ve got a lot to celebrate.
The Off Parent
- Evolving Single Dad: Failure to Hopefulness Again
- What I Need To Tell You: Take Heart. It Gets Better.
- Happy Mom Chat About How I Got Here: What I Figured Out
- Creative Parenting and the Gifts of Enthusiastic Participation
- 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)