I Am a Dad’s Rights Advocate: DADI (Dads Against Divorce Inequality)

I Am a Dad’s Rights Advocate: DADI (Dads Against Divorce Inequality)

When you got married and decided to have kids, I’m imagining the relationship was fairly balanced in your duties, authority, and loving respect for one another. I know that when my then-wife and I decided to have children the decision was not made lightly. We did not accidentally have kids. We set our intention, we reaffirmed our vows for each other as parents-to-be, and we opened our lives up to the total transformation that we knew would be a part of becoming responsible and conscious parents. We did not start off with a 70/30 split of duties, or a 70/30 split of authority about what direction our lives would take. We decided to become parents in an absolutely balanced relationship. We asked for children as 50/50 parents to be.

When my then-wife went to seek legal counsel before talking to me about our problematic marriage, she was breaking the vow of openness and transparency that our relationship was founded on. The fact that we were in marital counseling at the time and she didn’t see it necessary to bring in her issues, also spoke volumes about where she was a partner and where she was headed as a single mom. If she had discovered from her legal evaluation, that she would not get a nice monthly stipend, if she had discovered that we would have to sell the marital home and split the money, if she had discovered that she would lose 50% of her time with our kids, I can almost guarantee she would’ve chosen a different path. But in the state of Texas, the divorcing mom usually got everything she wanted. In Texas, the divorcing couple was railroaded into an unbalanced agreement, an unbalanced parenting plan, and an unbalanced financial model that leaves dads holding the financial responsibility while losing the parenting balance and equity.

Today, June 10th, I’m announcing my intention to launch a non-profit organization to fight for divorce equality. It is my belief that today parents should split the parenting duties after divorce in the same ways they split the duties during the marriage. And, more importantly, if fathers seek a 50/50 parenting agreement, that the court and the judges of any state, recognizes the modern research that shows each parent has an equal value in raising the children. (Site research)

Here are some myths that need to be debunked.

  • Mothers are more important during the infant years
  • A mother’s love is the most essential part of growing up healthy
  • Dads are focused more on earning a living and less on raising the kids
  • Moms are the emotional center of a loving family
  • Dads don’t know how to take care of young children
  • Moms just know things that dads could never know
  • There are things that only moms can do
  • Moms should come first in the legal deliberations of divorce

I know a lot of people who would argue passionately that one or more of these myths is actually science-supported fact. I’m here to set the record straight. I’m here to advocate for 50/50 divorce, 50/50 parenting, and 50/50 custody. It is too late for me, but it’s not too late for the dad who’s just about to get served his walking papers.

If my then-wife had seen a 50/50 future she would’ve paused before pulling the trigger on our divorce. She would’ve brought the concerns of the marriage and her emotional crisis to the marriage counseling. After all, that’s why couples go to therapy, right? We were working on our marriage and our communication skills in an attempt to save the marriage and spare our children the horror and loss of divorce. But when my then-wife saw the legal path open to her, she chose DIVORCE FOR THE WIN. She chose to split up our family and strike out on her own, knowing she would take 70% of the kid’s time, and probably the marital home, and probably (no assuredly) a nice child support payment that would support her and the children in a “lifestyle consistent with their upbringing.” She saw the writing on the wall, and her lawyer advised striking first, to win the advantage.

I was not prepared for divorce. I was not prepared to learn that our marriage counseling was a sham, a smoke screen, perhaps even a delay tactic until my then-wife had achieved her offensive advantage. My then-wife is a planner. She likes excel spreadsheets. She looks ahead and makes budgets and predictive models about the future. I believe, she did the same when contemplating divorce. And she was supported and championed by the state in her decision to seek her enriched, but single-mom life. She was supported in the name of the children’s mental health. She was supported because moms are the most important parent, especially in the early years, and our kids were 5 and 7. She was supported because that’s the way it’s done in Texas.

Today, I believe there are infinite right answers when approaching divorce. I also believe that our divorce, the breakup of my marriage and my children’s family home, was a choice that should’ve been discussed and agreed upon by both of us. In the same way, we agreed to be married, in the same way, we agreed to have children, we should’ve come to the same negotiating table to discuss divorce. But my then-wife knew she didn’t have to play fair. She knew she didn’t have to consciously negotiate our divorce. She also knew I’d agree to a collaborative divorce.

And while collaborative divorces are not evil, my version, where we didn’t adhere to the strict rules of the process, was a complete cluster fk. We did collaborate. We did agree not to sue each other for custody or assets or any other reason. And we did set out with the best of intentions to divorce in a conscious and loving way. And I believe she started out with her heart in the right place. Of course, her heart was broken. Of course, she wanted what was best for the children. And, of course, she did not want to cripple or hurt me. And of course, she should be entitled to 70/30 time with the kids and a nice child support payment that would allow her to keep the nice home in the nice neighborhood with the nice schools. Of course, she wanted a divorce, she pretty much got the life she currently had, but with me removed.

When I walked out of the house, as a collaborative dad heading towards divorce, I lost everything. My ex-wife lost nothing but the time with me. For my kids, because we took the high-road, the divorce seemed like dad left on a business trip and never came back. I was still in the picture and remotely available to them every other weekend, but the lion’s share of their lives did not change significantly at all. And perhaps that was the intent of the current family law precedents. Keep the kid’s lives as unchanged as possible. And to do this, giving the mom the parenting duties and the dad the bread-winning duties seemed obvious and practical. And the parenting information we had 50 years ago might have supported some emotional superiority of the moms in the parenting role. Today, as then, there are good dads and there are deadbeat dads.

And by deadbeat dad I don’t mean behind on their child support. By deadbeat dad I mean the fathers who could care less about their kids. By deadbeat dad I mean the absent men who run from responsibility, who run from obligations to their ex-wife or their kids. I mean the men who hide money, who leave the state, who remove themselves from their kids lives for financial or emotional reasons.

By the terms of my divorce decree I am a deadbeat dad. My employment and income have not always allowed me to pay the required $1,350 per month in child support as decreed in my legal divorce. In the eyes of the Attorney General’s Office in the state of Texas today I am officially a deadbeat dad. I owe my ex-wife some back child support and thus the state takes aggressive collections actions against me from time to time. It’s not enough that I’ve paid my ex-wife 50% of everything I’ve earned since the divorce. It’s not enough that I intend and am willing to pay her 100% of the decree. It’s not enough, because I can’t pay her the monthly amount when I don’t have a job. I am not enough, I am a deadbeat dad.

In our case, my ex-wife filed her grievance with the state of Texas when I became 30-days late for the first time. I told her I was going to get behind temporarily because my primary employer lost a big client. I told her I was good for it, but that I would be unable to write her a check for June, July, and August of 2012. And my ex-wife filed with the Attorney General’s office a week before I had a financial review with Wells Fargo to adjust the mortgage on my house. She filed knowing it was going to prevent me from refinancing my house. She knew it was going to kill my ability to own a house. She knew it was going to damage me in the short term and the long term. She knew she was acting against the best interest of her children by damaging the financial standing of her co-parent. She knew she was striking a wicked blow against me when she filed with the AG’s office. She knew and she did it anyway.

Today, my ex-wife still has all the power and control. She likes it that way. Yet, today she is unwilling to co-parent with me on even the most basic level. She likes it that way. She no longer consults me as a parent about any issues concerning out teenaged kids. She simply makes the decisions and if I find out about them, well, it’s too late to make changes, the kid already like the new arrangement. And major issues, like drug abuse, teen romantic relationship boundaries, and mental health treatments, have all been one-sided, mother-knows-best decisions. And she knows she can get away with it. And she carries some satisfaction that the AG’s office has a lien on my credit for the amount owed her. She likes the jackboot of the state’s attorneys because, somehow, she believes in her heart of hearts that this is what’s best for our children.

I’m okay with my ex-wife being angry with me. Heck, I don’t know that she was ever truly happy with me. And I’m okay being her scapegoat for why her newly married life (in our same marital home in the same nice neighborhood with the same nice schools) isn’t happier. I’m okay, today, with my ex-wife’s debilitating rage. Today, it’s no longer my problem. Yes, it’s my kid’s problem. And I’d do almost anything to protect my kids from her anger issues… But that’s also not my problem and none of my business.

A month ago I made my ex-wife an offer about the child support. I wanted to pay for everything I owed her and everything I would owe her (owe the kids, of course) between now and 2020 when my daughter turns 18. I asked if she would consider putting some portion of this high 5-figure windfall into a college fund for our children. She was unapologetic with her answer of NO.

Today, because of the decree I signed and the adverse actions of my ex-wife I am a deadbeat dad. That status, however, is more about the unfair family law traditions that give moms the “custodial parent” role, the child support obligation, the marital home, and typically the lion’s share of time with the kids. All of those traditions of divorce need to change.

I will work to establish a non-profit advocacy group to support 50/50 divorce as the starting point for negotiations. Sure, even with a 50/50 starting point my then-wife and I would probably have ended up breaking up. But today, had we divorced evenly and fairly, the same way we parented, we would be working together to support our kids. She would be forced to collaborate with me because we’d both be obliged to pay our own share of the future costs.

I owe my ex-wife back child support. I’d like a good portion of that money to go towards a college fund for my two children. I can’t tell my ex-wife what to do with any of the child support money. And, to be fair, my ex-wife is an excellent mother. What I can do, is fight a bit for what I think is right. I can let the AG’s office thrash at me a bit longer. I can begin paying my monthly obligations like clockwork to keep their enforcement tools from dropping all my bank accounts to zero. Today, I can begin fighting back for future fathers. And, today, I can work towards a tiny balance of power surrounding the child support debt I owe.

Just for today, I can do a better job at being a parent to my children.

And tomorrow DADI can move to make the voice of equality heard in family courts across the country. If you’re an advocate or have experience establishing a non-profit and are interested in getting involved, please contact me directly using the contact form.

Here’s where the site will live as we get underway: DADI.LA

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, on the Facebook page, or via email. Together we can do divorce better. It’s about the kids.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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