Divorce Support: For the Children *and* the Parents

OFF-fighter

We need to dispense with the pleasantries right up front. (You are welcome to let me know how you feel about this in the comments. They’re always open.)

  • Divorce is an awful hardship for everyone in the fracturing family.
  • With two professional parents, the man is likely to make more money.
  • Two homes costs more than twice as much, for the person paying child support.
  • Child support is not an entitlement, even if the law and the benefactor might see it this way.
  • The financial bindings of the family exist long past 18-years-of-age.
  • Both parent deserve food, clothing, and shelter.
  • When adversity strikes, both parents are affected.
  • 50/50 parenting after divorce is not the norm.
  • If your former partner struggles for a few years after divorce, with emotional issues, financial issues, etc. this is an opportunity for continued compassion, not legal action.
  • Some fathers will be assholes and try to get out of paying child support or (in the case of 50/50 custody) their fair share of the expenses.
  • 50/50 custody and a 50/50 financial split actually keeps the father closer to the family.
  • If you married and parented 50/50, regardless of how you feel about the divorce, regardless of which side you were on (stay married or leave), you should work together towards a 50/50 divorce.

You can’t ask for primary custody and then start complaining about having too many parenting responsibilities. Well, you can, but the argument says more for 50/50 custody than it does for your obvious hardship. Of course, you complained during our marriage that I didn’t do enough. Didn’t pay the bills right, didn’t mow the lawn enough, didn’t put the dishes in the dishwasher every night before heading to bed.

So we’re divorced. And in the eyes of the law you are the custodial parent. It’s what you wanted. I’m sure you had your reasons, I’m sure you could’ve told the judge, with a straight face, how you do all the parenting. But you know it’s not true. Not even close.

She didn’t care about me or my house. She wanted the money. She was entitled to it. Obviously. It was right there in writing.

Let’s say you get married and both of you work. In the negotiations for how kids will be possible you both decide that the mom will work significantly less, so that the kids have their mom with them at all times. As they enter school, perhaps you will start back to work, so we can share that load again. And we may decide that you will still meet the bus at 3:00 every weekday, but it’s a privilege not a chore. It’s a benefit not a burden.

So when the grand consul de divorce asks, “So how do you share the parenting duties now?” You can answer, I’m the primary care giver. And I know you honestly believed it. Well, okay, maybe a tad of it was vindictive and defensive. I mean, you had to say that to even begin the discussions at anything other than 50/50 custody. How old school.

Falling back on the line, “It’s what she will get if you go to court,” I was handed the options. Non-custodial parent, SPO (standard possession order), and a hefty child support payment.

But wait… Didn’t we agree to the parenting arrangements? And now it’s being used against me? Didn’t we agree to a cooperative divorce? How is this cooperative, when you come out of the gate asking for well-over half?

If I had really gone the cooperative route, I would’ve hired an attorney right at the beginning as well. She did. Instead I put my faith in the counselor, and in the good will of the mother of my children. I was wrong, or misguided, on both counts.

Here’s the situation. When the court awards custodial and noncustodial roles, a nice child support formula kicks in. That’s how the state likes it. Somebody is going to pay. And in your decree, if you are as lucky as I am, you will have a document that even allows the court to garnish your wages first, before your take-home pay. The message is this. You cannot be trusted to pay in a timely manner. And even if you are having financial difficulties, the child support payments come first.

At least my kids have rooms to sleep in when it’s my time. But did she think of the consequences of taking legal action against me?

I don’t argue that my kids deserve the full benefit of both of our salaries. But when I lost one of my primary clients, and was about to slip into a late-payment status, my ex-wife pushed everything into the Attorney General’s office. Putting my livelihood at risk and preventing me from taking any measures to save my house. She didn’t care about me or my house. She wanted the money. She was entitled to it. Obviously. It was right there in writing. I signed the decree. What was I arguing about.

I wasn’t arguing. I was pleading. “Please don’t do this. I am not trying to hide any money. I am looking to replace the client. I am looking for a job, to leave the consulting practice I had built over the  last four years. Just hold off. There is no need to bring the state’s lawyers into this.”

Here filing our case with the AG’s office was akin to her shouting “Fuck You.” Of course, that’s my opinion. And, of course, she is entitled to her money. That’s the law.

But what is the law of human dignity? What does compassion for your co-parent mean? What does co-parenting even mean, when one of the parents has a loaded gun pointed at your head? At this very moment, my attorney tells me, the AG’s office could have my ass thrown in jail for failure to pay child support. A criminal? How cooperative is that?

As we moved closer to AG day, I was asking my ex-wife to understand my situation. “Don’t you think a father also deserves a place to live, and the electricity and cell phone service to continue gainful employment?” She answered, “I don’t know what you want me to answer to that.”

Um… What I wanted her to do was not file suit against me with the State of Texas and turn me into a deadbeat dad. What I wanted was to keep the house I had fought so hard to buy and afford, just barely scraping by, even in the good times. What I wanted was a tiny bit of compassion. “Just pause for a second and think about what you’re doing. Do you think it’s going to help the situation by filing suit against me? Do you think that will make me work harder, or look for a job harder?”

No answer.

I’m not sure what her motivation was at sending me pictures of HER with the kids. Maybe it’s motivation to get a job and get back into the swing of paying for her vacations with the kids.

And she filed. And now I’m a deadbeat dad. I’m lucky. My mom (yep, 51 and living with mom) had some spare rooms in her house. At least my kids have rooms to sleep in when it’s my time. But did she think of the consequences of taking legal action against me? Did she imagine how that might damage my credit? Might take my house out from under me? That it might even show up in my background checks as I’m looking so desperately for those full-time jobs that would afford me both a place to live and her child support checks?

I don’t know what she was thinking. I don’t really know what she thinks today. She’s still hoppin mad about something. The money. My 50/50 effort in getting the kids to doctor’s appointments, after school activities, etc. She’s just mad. But she’s been mad at me for years. At least one full year before she divorced me. So she’s gonna be mad. That’s a fact of life. I hope she gets better. But I can’t count on that.

I’ve had fantastic interviews all summer long. Five of them turned into final-round negotiations. And I still haven’t gotten the offer. Hmm. I’m not sure what’s in that background check. I’m hoping that her AG action did not put a “do not hire” mark in my file. But I guess I won’t know.

Anyway, it’s a long road back to having a BIG CORP job and a happy home. Even getting back into a house, now is going to be a long way off. She took… Wait, it was my fault. I should’ve done better. It’s a long way back. And I’m not sure she would’ve fired off the final “Press Charges” missile had she known her actions would damage my ability to pay her the money she was demanding.

It’s all okay. We’re going to make it. All of us. Her too. She sent pictures tonight of her and the kids at the beach. (That was our family vacation.) I’m not sure what her motivation was at sending me pictures of HER with the kids. Maybe it’s motivation to get a job and get back into the swing of paying for her vacations with the kids. (Sorry, that was bitter and sarcastic.) I’m sure she was just sending me happy pictures along with her happy thoughts of me getting that next big job. I think that’s what she wanted all along. Maybe that was even the unconscious reason she divorced me. (see: please stay gone < poem)

Onward and upward. I’ve been asked to a full-day interview next week with a company I’m very excited about. This is my fourth full-day interview this summer. How do I get a look at that “background” file? (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

this post recast in a poem: please stay gone

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Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody

OFF-dance-d

[This post is a continuation of a discussion started here: Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight]

My dad was fighting my mom in their divorce. And he was fighting to win. I’m not sure it was all about me, but that’s what the courts were involved in. My dad was going for blood. He wanted my mom to have very little of his ample estate, and he wanted me, the only minor in the family at the time. And in those days, in that circumstance, I am grateful that my dad did not WIN. I am grateful that laws and judges were in place, to protect my mom and me from my dad’s wrath. He was angry, bitter, and vindictive.

When he married his new wife, my only step-mom, before his divorce was even final, I’m sure the consequences could’ve been dire, had my mom had the money or resources to fight back. But she simply wanted out. And she wanted a way to provide shelter and food for her sole remaining minor child.

I am grateful to my ex-wife for having the job, so far, while I have struggled to find full-time work while continuing to do my best as a consultant while I’m looking.

In those days, the courts started with the assumption that the kids belonged with the mom and that the dad would provide for their maintenance and health, in accordance with the lifestyle they had become accustomed to. In my dad’s case, that was a pretty fancy lifestyle. And I think he was most angry about the money. Sure, he fought for me, but it was mainly to get back at my mom. (Of course this is all mythology by now, what really happened is up to interpretation.)

And yet my father fought and lost. It was not such a huge loss for him financially. ($500 a month in payments until I was 18.) And it wasn’t really about losing me either. I think my father’s anger and war was waged because of his hurt pride, his sadness, and his own depression around his failed marriage and how he had ultimately turned to alcohol as his mistress.

Today, I am guessing many of the divorce battles are similar. If you are in a contested divorce, you need to gear up for war. And if you spend any time on the web discussing divorce, it’s not long before the very sad stories emerge about how warring parents try to damage and hurt each other. This is a fact. I do not contest that there are really messy divorces and often they are driven by really angry men, who are madder than hell about having to pay the money to their damn ex-wives, who seem to be living in the continuing lap of luxury. I get that.

That is not how my divorce to the mother of my children went.

Divorce sucks. It’s expensive. It’s painful to all parties. And I would do anything to make things easier on my kids, and thus, my ex-wife.

And still, as I was negotiating, in good faith, with my soon-to-be-ex and a highly paid divorce counselor, I was fed the non-custodial and paying father option as if it was a given. And the real sore spot was, it was being presented as “what’s best for the children.” And the earliest disagreements in our split-counselling sessions were about who was the fittest or most “responsible” parent.

Again, these are heated moments. Emotional and hard to navigate without feeling attacked. And the counselor did a good job of helping us talk. And then she advised me to take the deal.

What?

“In the best interest of the children” was used a lot.

And I bucked for awhile. I brought in examples from books I was reading. I made a sample 50/50 calendar for consideration. And somehow, it was like I was not part of the deal. And when I confronted the counselor she was quick to point out, “if you went to court… blah blah blah.”

Of course that was the reality. But that wasn’t the reality of our parenting roles, nor the reality of what was best for the children. It’s hard to describe this without coming across as vindictive or angry. I’m not. But I’m concerned that most men are put in the same position. And in our case, we were negotiating a cooperative divorce, uncontested, and with both of us willing to forgo lawyers and fights. AND in this case, I was still given the “deal” of the non-custodial dad who pays a hefty child-support payment, regardless of my employment status.

We need to rethink what’s in the best interest of the children. If it’s not staying together and working on the marriage, then it might not be an assumed financial stipend for the mom who just wants out.

And I agreed to the deal. What could I do? Fight our counselor and my wife? And then head for court and fight again? I’m guessing this is the situation facing many dads who are wanting to do the right thing. And we get screwed for being the nice dad. Did I have to start with war to get a fair deal?

Now, four years into the divorced parent role, the child support payments have become a battering ram. If you know anything about the economy, you know that many folks are having a hard time finding a job, much less a job at their previous splendor. And I’d have to say I am grateful to my ex-wife for having the job, so far, while I have struggled to find full-time work while continuing to do my best as a consultant while I’m looking.

And there was no need for her to file against me and go to the Attorney General’s office to enforce the payments. THERE WAS NO NEED TO INVOLVE THE COURTS. But she did. Even while she’s had the good job, and she’s had the house and equity in the house, and she’s got the children a lot more than I do. It’s been hard.

Again, I’m not bitter, and I’m not trying to sue her to change the “deal” we made.

As a nice dad, I am working to find work at my old income level, a level that would allow me to support her and at least have an apartment of my own. As it turns out, I was forced to sell my divorce recovery home, due to some of the shenanigans of my ex-wife and her pursuit of the money. Even though the money was never at risk or even being contested.

I do get that she has bills, just like I do. And I do understand that the money for food, clothing, shelter, and health insurance are requirements for any parent to provide to their kids. And I do get that she’s been the “more responsible” one in being able to stay employed at this wildly competitive time. I bless her daily for her efforts in this.

And yet, I cannot earn enough to have a house? Where is dad supposed to live?

Divorce sucks. It’s expensive. It’s painful to all parties. And I would do anything to make things easier on my kids, and thus, my ex-wife. And this is why, I am NOT fighting for 50/50 custody. This is why I hired a lawyer only to protect my credit and did not take any action to change my child support payments, even though my earnings have been much less than our projected agreement.

But what are my options? Earn more money. Give up a healthy job and balanced lifestyle and return to the big corporate job? Or file for joint custody and let her fend for herself in the housing and credit markets just as I have for 4 years?

It’s not fair, it never was supposed to be fair. But we were supposed to be negotiating in good faith for what was “in the best interest of the children.” And today, in many cases, this is simply: mom gets the kids, dad pays. It’s the same starting point that my dad fought against as an angry and vindictive ex.

We need to rethink what’s in the best interest of the children. If it’s not staying together and working on the marriage, then it might not be an assumed financial stipend for the mom who just wants out. The greener grass has a history of child support payments to help pave the escape path and provide the ladder over the fence.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

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Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight

OFF-mermaid

Let’s get something straight right off the bat. Divorce is not about being fair. It’s about following the law, and hopefully, doing what’s “in the best interest of the children.” But that’s not really the intent of the law either. The laws surrounding divorce and custody in Texas are in place to streamline the average divorce, and provide the mother with some support once the father is gone. Staying in a bad marriage just because of the money is a bad idea. But again, that doesn’t mean the law is fair.

Early on, when we I was finally convinced that divorce was the only option, I agreed to seeing a counselor who would help us build the perfect parenting plan for our kids. The idea was, that in cooperation, we could lessen the impact on the kids, be civil to each other in a difficult process, and go through the process of divorce as simply as possible. We were “kids first” in our approach to splitting up. All that was good.

Building the parenting plan, and the agreements we would abide by as parents was the most important part of the divorce for both of us. And the “impartial” therapist was there to help us work it out. So we paid a lot of money to her, rather than lawyers, to advise us in setting our kids up for success in the post-family world.

And then, somewhere along the way, during the process this statement came out of our counselor’s mouth.

“This is what the mom would get if this went to court. So we can start here.”

What about me? Well, that’s where the fairness ends. Because if I can’t make the full payment, at any time, my ex can file against me at the Attorney General’s office and wreak all kinds of havoc on my credit and career.

I had been heading towards 50/50 parenting or bust. I had made my case for how much care I had provided in the past, and how much care I was willing to provide as a single dad. Still the words from the therapist’s mouth were hard to swallow. She was saying, if we went to court, my ex-wife would get primary custody and the SPO, as they always did. Oh, and, “this is what’s in the best interest of the children.”

What?

I didn’t really know what all that meant, but I trusted the counselor and listened to her. It was not fair. But that’s what my ex would get if I fought her in the courts. I was confused, that’s why we were paying her all the money, because we were not going to go to court. We were using her to avoid court, and to come to an equitable arrangement as civil adults and caring parents, without fighting about it.

We were meeting weekly with her to determine what was best for our children in our case, not to abide by what the State of Texas generally did in the case of divorce. I was pissed, but I didn’t really have much support for my view. I had bought a few books about cooperative parenting, and suggested a 50/50 schedule that was recommended in one of them. This was the offer that was being shut down by our cooperative therapist with the approval and appreciation of my soon-to-be ex-wife.

Here’s what I am slowly learning.

  • 85% of divorces in Texas end up with the mom as the primary custodian. Dad’s are considered non-custodial parents as a default.
  • And most of those dads are then given the SPO, as what’s “in the best interest of the kids.” The SPO (Standard Possession Order) is the governing calendar for your time with your kids.
  • The SPO is not near 50/50, and the “month” in the summer is a joke to offset some of the inequity. But show me a dad who can take a month off in the summer to make up for time lost with his kids, and … Well, it’s just not realistic.
  • With the non-custodial role comes a big fine. In Texas someone is going to pay. And the non-custodial parent is saddled with a set fee, based on estimated income, that is defined by the state and enforced by the state. If you’re the non-custodial parent get ready to pay.

While 50/50 parenting is not uncommon, it is not the norm. And if that’s what you want (as I did) you should fight for it. In our case, I should not have had to FIGHT for it, that was why we were mediating and paying a counselor to help us determine what was best for our kids. What we got was a good parenting plan, with “if you go to court this is what she’s going to get.”

So using some abstract numbers for a second, let’s see what that non-custodial assumed fee (called child support) looks like.

Let’s say you have two kids. And for simplicity’s sake let’s say your mortgage on your house together is $2,000. When you divorce, you’re going to 1. give her the house for “the kids;” 2. pay her a monthly support fee for “the kids;” 3. pay for the kids health insurance; and then, if you can afford it, 4. figure out how to put a roof over your head too.

So let’s see. If together we were paying $2,000 for our house. And separate she’s going to pay $2,000 for the same house. But I’m then going to pay her $1,000 for child support, and $500 for health care for the kids, then in theory she’s paying $1,000 for the house, and if I can find a 3-bed-room apartment nearby for $2,000, then I’m paying $3,000 plus $500 just for living expenses. I mean, I do what what’s best for my kids, and I do want them to be able to keep the house, but…

What about me? Well, that’s where the fairness ends. Because if I can’t make the full payment, at any time, my ex can file against me at the Attorney General’s office and wreak all kinds of havoc on my credit and career. So to start, I’ve got to make $3,500 a month before I get to think about electricity, food, water, clothes for myself. Um, that’s not such a good deal.

So how could we have made this more fair? Well, to start we could have negotiated in good faith, rather than this “what she’s going to get” BS. That was a low blow, and I’m still a bit angry with the otherwise, stellar, counsellor.

As it turns out, I agreed to the non-custodial deal, and the SPO and the payments to my ex-wife. And as it turns out, the economy has beat my income stream into ever-changing levels. And when I began to get behind, even as I was explaining to my ex exactly what was happening, and that I was not trying to get out of paying 100% of what she was owed, even with all that good will, and “what’s in the best interest for the children” talk, my ex-wife filed on me for being two months behind on my child support.

The cascade of my financial collapse was pretty swift after that. While I had been able to buy a house (shelter for my kids) I was falling behind on my mortgage too. And since my great job evaporated, I had not been able to replace it. I was working as a consultant, but I wasn’t making enough to cover all my expenses (survival expenses, not travel, or new things, or extravagance) and make the $1,500 support and health care payments. I was confident I would get caught up, I was expressing that to my ex-wife, and for some reason she filed anyway. Not fair, I thought. But that’s not what it’s about.

The point is not that I owe her the money, or if she is entitled to the money. She is entitled to every dollar awarded to her through our agreement.

I had to sell the house to get caught back up on my debt to Wells Fargo. I had to hire a lawyer to protect me from my wife’s actions with the AG. And I’ve been struggling to find a new full-time gig, at a much higher salary, so I could pay for all of this AND a place for me to live, preferably with three bedrooms so we all have our own space.

But in the SPO world, there really isn’t much consideration for what I will do, how the dad will do if he struggles a bit. It’s good for the moms to be taken care of. And most of all it’s good for the kids to be provided for, without a lot of drama or fighting between the co-parents. But I was unceremoniously tossed out of my house, which I agreed to give her, and told to pay a whopping $1,500 fee to her, and THEN look for somewhere I could live. In an expensive city, with kids in an expensive school district, it was not a pretty story. And while I nearly made it, my few months of struggles were enough for my “friendly” ex-wife to basically use the State of Texas to sue me for her back child support.

I’m waiting today for the expected good news that I will be starting a new full-time gig shortly. One that should provide for my child support and even a place for me to live. If I can afford a three bedroom place to live, is yet to be seen. I’ve got my fingers crossed, and am still putting in applications elsewhere every day. And other than how it would affect my kids if I were homeless, I’m guessing my ex-wife could care less, unless it means the full child-support payments will resume immediately.

That’s the plan. I’m not sure it’s a fair plan, but that’s the plan.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

[Please note: This post is likely to draw a lot of heat from the single mom’s. The point is not that I owe her the money, or if she is entitled to the money. She is entitled to every dollar awarded to her through our agreement. And she will get every single dollar awarded to her, as I promised/promise her. The point is, had I known all my options, I might have fought for the 50/50 parenting plan I wanted.]

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