Tag Archives: attorney general’s office

Coparenting When the Other Person Wants to Fight

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It’s hard to understand where the anger comes from, so I don’t try. Let’s just say she’s still mad at me, six years after the divorce. Hmm. Am I still doing things that hurt her? I don’t think so. Is she remarried to a lovely and loving man? Yes, as far as I know. So how does it work that my requests for clarification come back as rants at my lack of parenting cooperation? How is it that a simple question becomes a war?

This is no way to coparent. The reason we cooperated in the divorce is to lessen the animosity between us. What then has gotten so corrosive in the six years since the divorce was finalized?

  • Things have not turned out as she’d hoped
  • Leaving me did not immediately make her a happier person
  • There are still financial concerns, and some of them are between us
  • The full-time job commitment is exhausting
  • Kids require a lot of food, transportation, and money

In this morass of what is called parenting, somehow, my ex-wife believes I am no cooperating as much as she would like. Sure, she asked for the custodial parent role, she asked to have the 70/30 split rather than 50/50 as I was requesting. So, there is some reason behind the imbalance. But is it okay for her to now be mad about it?

I guess people will be mad. And it’s certainly not my place to take her inventory. But it does impact me, her anger, all the time. I don’t ask for much variance from the schedule, because I don’t want to upset her, or really get involved in a conversation with her about anything. I avoid her as I’m dropping off the kids bags after a dad-weekend. Again, less is more concerning our interactions.

I guess the good news is she’s getting her new husband to intervene and negotiate on  her behalf. And I have to say he’s less angry. Of course, he’s parroting a lot of the same things she says. He’s asking odd questions that she’s asking him to ask. He doesn’t come across as angry as much as confused. He would probably handle things differently. And as we began discussing how to get the AG out of our relationship, at first he was receptive. But then the message came back, her message, the AG is staying, it’s for the best.

Somehow she believes I’m going to try to skip out on my responsibility to my kids. In six years I have gotten behind in child support.  But I was never unavailable to her or my kids, I was never uncooperative when she was asking for a variance from the schedule, I was never withholding money when I had it. But she felt she should use the state’s attorney’s to enforce the divorce decree.

I guess that’s her right. And, in her mind, common practice when the divorce or child support is contested. But I didn’t contest anything. I even let her have the 70/30 deal she wanted, even as it made me very sad to do so. I’ve relented on all my demands. And as she is now the custodial, primary parent, I am asked to behave a bit like a second-class citizen. Even calling the AG’s office, they give you the old “custodial parent press one, non-custodial parent press two.” Why should they split you before they have even spoken to you? Is it because they are mostly working FOR the custodial parent and AGAINST the non-custodial parent? Or so they can provide better service, or shorter wait times for the custodial parent?

Anyway, today I resolved to live my life, and to support my kid’s lives, in spite of my ex-wife’s anger and uncooperative actions. I’ve placed my demands and frustrations in the same box I placed them in when we were going through the divorce and I was being asked to accept things that I knew were not fair. But, divorce is not fair. Coparenting is not fair. And while cooperation is much easier with two parents that are civil to one another, it can also be done when only one of the parents is committed to the positive side of the street. That’s all it takes.

One positive parent can make 100% of the difference. I’m not perfect, and occasionally I want to lash out when she does something that seems unreasonable. I don’t. I never do. I have learned to put my anger and frustration into a different box, one I can use later to fuel my workout or writing session. She’s still able to get under my skin, but it’s up to me to put that energy to use for positive things. That’s where I live, ever-moving towards the positive in all that I do.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Inviting the Dinosaur Into Your Divorce

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You’re heard the metaphor of “the elephant in the room,” right? This a little tale about the dinosaur in the divorce. While I work to keep every post on this blog tilted in the positive direction, there have been moments in my relationship to the mother of my children that have been less than stellar.

“The bad part about her inviting the AG’s office into our financial affairs is that it really doesn’t coerce me into paying more or faster.

When my ex-wife got mad two summers ago she threatened me when I got late on my child support payments. I had just lost a job and was in the process of replacing my income, but it was hard times. I’m sure it was hard times on her side of the equation too, and so I try and give her the benefit of the doubt every time. Even when things were bleak between us, I tried to forgive and move on, just as she was trying to convince herself that I would make good on my promise of payments.

After a few months of job hunting I had not produced a new stream of income for us to base our shared parenting financial obligations, so in a fit of rage or an act of self-preservation, she filed our divorce decree with the attorney general’s office in our great state of Texas. In effect, she was throwing up her hands and saying she was tired of hearing my unfulfilled promises of payment, she’d rather have the state’s attorneys take over the matter of the cash flow. She used the terms “enforcement” and “in the best interests of the kids” a lot. Actually she still uses those concepts today, with different language. She’s still pretty sure the AG’s office is the only reason she’s gotten paid recently.

I had to remind her, “Um, the reason you’ve been getting paid since November is because I had a job. No cash flow, no money for either of us.” She didn’t like that answer a few summers back and she doesn’t like the logic today. Still, we have our divorce decree and we have the AG’s office tracking my every move.

The bad part about her inviting the AG’s office into our financial affairs is that it really doesn’t coerce me into paying more or faster. Sorry, I’ve never defaulted or delayed a payment when I had the money. I even exhausted my retirement account to make payments when my income was not matching my expenses.

“Your ex-wife on the other hand, might have other ideas,” he said. “But the dinosaur is equally hard to push from her side as well.”

It really doesn’t matter now, as it stands we have the AG’s office in bed with us, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, until both our kids are 18 years old.

Today I met with my family attorney and he said, “The AG’s office is like a dinosaur. Once you invite the big beast into your affairs it’s really hard to get rid of them.” I liked the analogy. Yes, that’s what it feels like sometimes, like a great big stegosaurus is sitting on my chest with a dumb smile and a “feed the children” necklace on.

Truth is, my kids have never gone wanting for anything. My ex-wife has never missed a house payment. And my commitment to pay and continued efforts to do so has never wavered. Well, except for that time a few summers ago. When she began to rattle her AG’s saber at me, I pushed back with the only idea I could come up with. I told her (this was a dumb idea) that if she “did in fact file with the AG’s office” I would ask for a recalculation of all that I have paid, and all that I should’ve, paid based on *actual* income rather than *theoretical* (which I had yet to achieve since the divorce). I had agreed to pay child support based on a job that I no longer had, but in the duress of the process I agreed, even before I had the replacement job. Another bad idea.

A few rules in dealing with your co-parent:

  1. Never threaten your ex about anything.
  2. Remain optimistic, but don’t count on a job, or a miracle, or mercy from your ex when they are angry or under stress.
  3. If it’s in the decree you will continue owing the amount until you sue your ex to change the amount of child support . Regardless of your employment status, or the economic climate, your child support bills continue to arrive and your debt, if you can’t pay, will continue to grow.
  4. Once in your lives, the AG’s office will never leave.

Today, my attorney went on with the metaphor. “And getting the dinosaur to change or do something on your behalf is very hard. You can push, yell, ask, write letters, and it’s very likely that if they move at all, the dinosaur will move because of some random reason and not as a result of your request.”

He continued, “The AG’s office is really run by computer programs. When the computer kicks your name and account out because you are behind on your payments, the staff just sends out the letter. What we want to avoid is getting the dinosaur mad. If you keep paying what you can, and keep paying something, when the computer spits out your name, the dinosaur will consider you a friend and not just bite your head off.”

“Your ex-wife on the other hand, might have other ideas. But the dinosaur is equally hard to push from her side as well. You are both just kind of stuck with it, like herpes. Once you have the dinosaur in your divorce, you can never completely get rid of him.”

I’m gearing up to start a new job so that I can get some money, but more importantly, so that my kids will get some money. And yes, the dinosaur will be fed and happy in the next month.

The good news in my case is I got a new job that starts in two weeks. I’ve been paying her 25% of my income since my last corporate job, but it’s never quite equalled the *theoretical* job that I was supposed to land in the first few months after the decree was signed. And I will dutifully contact the AG’s office and they will dutifully withhold the child support payments from my take home pay.

A few things I didn’t know about this process.

  1. Your ex does not pay taxes on any of the child support income. It’s like free money to them. You, however, pay the taxes and lose the money at the same time. (Makes it really seem like a double whammy. I work, I pay taxes, then I give her $XXX.)
  2. The AG’s office will set an additional payment, on top of your support payment, when you are behind. I called to tell them, “I’m just getting back on my feet, can we reduce the extra payments just a little?” I was told in no uncertain terms, by one of the dinosaur’s minions, that I could file a petition to change the support order. So I’d have to sue her? Okay, pass.
  3. The dinosaur randomly sends out letters to beneficiaries and asks, “Would you like us to review your account?” Like a bill collector, on their side, the simple check mark in a box on a return post card sets all kinds of painful examinations in motion.

I’m lucky. I have been employed or working under contract for most of the time since the divorce. And today I’m gearing up to start a new job so that I can get some money, but more importantly so that my kids will get some money. And yes, the dinosaur will be fed and happy in the next month.

One of my main goals is to keep the dinosaur from kicking out a random request to put me in jail. But according to my attorney we’d hear the roar via at least one letter of intent before the patrolmen showed up at my door.

Always, No Matter What, Put Your Children’s Lives Ahead of the Emotional Issues You May Still Have with Your Co-Parent.

And, always love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Carrying the Load: Money Issues from Marriage to Child Support

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Keep the love of your children in your heart and mind and forgive even the egregious actions of your ex-partner.

The most important conversation you can have in your relationship has to do with money. Who will work while you have kids and they need more time and support? If one of you will be the primary breadwinner, when will the transition back to balance take place. In my marriage that discussion was pretty clear for the first 7 – 8 years of our marriage. When I was laid off from my big corporate job, however the kids were finishing up 3rd and 5th grade, I began to ask questions about what’s next.

When my ex-wife did file with the AG’s office she said it was “to protect the kids.”

My then-wife was not happy. She remained unsupportive and even counter-supportive during the next year of our marriage. Finally when the next corporate job, for me turned into a nightmare, rather than a saving grace, I too was done. Done with giving up my health and 120% of my time to a big job. The white picket fence was fine, the kids were happy, and my then-wife was enjoying the same part-time schedule she had become accustomed to. Fine. But I was overweight, stressed out, and exhausted.

I began to ask about this balance in our work life as well as our intimate life. And rather than finding a receptive partner, I ran into my soon-to-be-ex-wife’s brick wall. Emotionally and intimately she had been unavailable for the better part of 18 months. And on the job front she was making efforts to re-tool, re-discover, re-define herself. Um, while our marriage was collapsing under the weight of the money stress, she was not working but having some sort of mid-life crisis. Perhaps I was too.

Either way, the money woes weighed most heavily on our relationship. And 1 month after the next big corp job went away, she let me know she had consulted an attorney to discuss her options. She was working her strategy and spreadsheets to divorce me. Wow. I was slapped in the face. But I was not surprised at her unhappiness, just her choice OUT of the marriage that would obviously destroy our kids happy-ish home.

From then on the friction about money go worse not better. As I was struggling with depression and my own financial trouble a few years after the divorce, I let her know I was about to be late with the child support payments. “I’ll get caught back up, as soon as I can.”

She was not agreeable. She gave me a month and a slew of ultimatum emails.

“I’m thinking of turning the whole thing over to the AG’s office,” she said, repeatedly.

Two things about this threat: 1. don’t ever threaten your ex, it does no good and only makes conversations between you that much more unmanageable; 2. don’t ever turn your ex into the Attorney General’s office. You are demonstrating that money is more important than your kids, and certainly more important than your ongoing relationship with your co-parent.

When my ex-wife did file with the AG’s office she said it was “to protect the kids.”

The effects of that awful and hurtful decision are still wreaking havoc on my life. At that moment I was trying to keep my house and my car in a restructuring bankruptcy. The AG’s ding on my credit killed all of my options. I had to sell the house and move in with my mom. (That was pretty harsh, emotionally. She didn’t care. She wanted her damn money.)

Today I was applying for a loan to replace my car that has been totaled by the insurance company. I was flat-out denied. The financial obligation to the AG’s office was the primary mark against me. No car at all? How am I supposed to go pick up my kids from school or the ex-wife’s house? Maybe she’ll loan me her car. NOT!

The damage you inflict on another person is really damage that you do to yourself. In the case of the co-parent, please reconsider any adverse actions on your part.

Before you file against your ex-parent, please consider your actions. In a moment of frustration and anger she lashed out in the most vindictive way she could. I was pleading for her to reconsider. I was showing her my income statements and asking for a bit more time to put the plan together. Why in the world would she do something to damage the income stream of her co-parent? Anger! Wrong choice.

Money struggles will continue for a long time after your kids have graduated from high school. You will be entangled in money decisions for the rest of your lives together. Why would you intentionally do something that would might keep the other partner from landing a new job, renting a house, buying a used car?

I’m not looking for an apology from her. I know it won’t ever come. She was justified in her mind. But I don’t understand how she thought it was a good idea. As I continually forgive her initially for the divorce and now for the inflexible schedule of the AG’s office I have to laugh a bit. She set us on a course by turning me into a “deadbeat dad” that also complicates her life. As I try to find the next big corp job, one of the vetting steps is often running a credit report. How’s that for justice?

“Honey, I’d love to get the next big job that would ease up the money for all of us, but I keep getting turned down at the ‘credit check’ part of the process.”

Yeah, keep your co-parent in a cooperative teammate role. When you make them the enemy, your actions might create just that. Of course the damage you inflict on another person is really damage that you do to yourself. In the case of the co-parent of your children, please reconsider any adverse actions on your part. Keep the love of your children in your heart and mind and forgive even the egregious actions of your ex-partner.

Today I have to forgive my ex-wife on a regular basis. Her actions with the AG’s office over a year-and-a-half ago will continue to kill my credit score until I can completely pay off the back child support. Unless I want to sue her, but that’s contrary to my entire premise of the positive co-parent. I’m learning to be better, more forgiving, and more loving, even of her.

Stay positive. Love your kids. Respect your ex.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Super Judo Warrior Dad in Divorce

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It’s not easy to talk about money. Even when you are married to the other person, often there are disagreements and frustrations about money and how you handle it. When you are in the early stages of divorce negotiations, it gets even more difficult. Even with the help of counselors, accountants and attorneys, often the money issue is a difficult negotiation. Both of you want what you’ve always wanted, a fair decision that supports the children.

But what’s fair?

In the training and philosophy of judo we learn something called the loving respect for your attacker. In this concept you love the attacker by lovingly stopping their attack, while preventing them from hurting you or themselves. It’s this love and respect for the other person, even when they are attacking you, that served me well during the early months of my divorce.

Both my then-wife and I were wanting to make this as easy as possible. Within reason.

In our case, once the decision was made to divorce, we both moved towards cooperative divorce. How could be separate with the least amount of damage to each other, and how could we keep the divorce about the kids and not about anger or frustration or despair.

In our case, we engaged a well-paid divorce counsellor, a Ph.D, who was very gentle in easing us into the ideas of divorce, “in the best interest of the kids,” and the joint development of a parenting plan. Both my then-wife and I were wanting to make this as easy as possible. Within reason.

Early on in the discussions I declared that I wanted 50/50 parenting. I had read a bunch of divorce books and even presented a couple 50/50 schedules that I thought would work for us and our kids.

And here’s where my judo training, had I started it, would have come in handy.

When my then-wife expressed her desire to do the SPO plan, and be the primary custodian, we were at an impasse. Now, in my opinion, this was the heart of the matter that the counselor should’ve worked with us on. Instead she said something to both of us that I will never forget.

What we were paying for was an impartial counselor, to help us through this most difficult time, and to help us facilitate what WE wanted. After all, we were both paying her 50/50.

“If you go to court, she’s going to get primary custody.”

All the previous talk about cooperation, and all the discussions about what was “in the best interest of the children” evaporated in this one statement.

Had I known what I know now. Or had I had a good judo move for that moment, I could’ve deflected the disappointment and frustration back at an answer or a negotiation. What happened, instead, was I sadly agreed to proceed from that starting point and I dropped my dream of having the same 50/50 parenting we’d shared as a married couple, except now as a divorced couple.

There might have been several reasons for our counselor’s quick response to our disagreement, but none of them hold water when you remember that we were paying her PRECISELY SO WE WOULD GO TO COURT. What we were paying for was an impartial counselor, to help us through this most difficult time, and to help us facilitate what WE wanted. After all, we were both paying her 50/50.

I did not contain my sadness or disappointment at the time. And over the course of the next few weeks of meetings, I gently raise the idea again, but it was never considered again. We moved quickly to the mechanics of the SPO (standard possession order) and our custodial and non-custodial roles and rights. Overall, in the eye of the law, we did what 80% of Texas divorces do. We gave the woman the primary custody and put the child support burden on me, to support the kids in the house they grew up in, and in a lifestyle they had come to expect. I wanted that for them. I even wanted that for my ex-wife. I was sad, but I didn’t fight. That was the point. We weren’t fighting.

However, things did not go according to plan. We completed our parenting plan and custody schedule for the coming year. We agreed on the financial split of assets. And we divorced at the end of the first summer.

This time she mentioned just “turning the whole thing over the Attorney General’s Office and let them deal with it.”

And as a self-employed digital marketing consultant, I was forced to live with my sister while I looked for more gainful employment. And life went on as best as it could, given the circumstances. And we did okay. The kids kept their house, their mom started working a more full-time schedule and we negotiated the transfers and flexibility pretty well. Clearly we were both trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Then in January of that first year of divorce I got a killer job at a local startup. I moved quickly to establish my credit standing and within a few months of my new gig I purchased a small home. It wasn’t exactly the perfect house for my family, since the kids would share a bedroom, but I was confident that with my new income I could afford to close in the carport at some point, and turn my re-starter home into a family home.

For anyone with a family, reestablishing a home is a critical part of the rebuilding process. So I was proud and hopeful when I moved us all into the little home near the lake. And that first summer we swam and played and compromised on the roommate situation for the kids, with my daughter setting up shop in my bedroom most of the time she was staying with dad.

The business I had joined, however had different plans and by July they had eliminated the entire consumer portion of their business model and thus my position. With two-weeks notice I was unemployed again. Except now I had a mortgage and child support payments. Needless to say, I struggled mightily to keep things afloat. And with some timing flexibility from the ex, and some freelance jobs, I cobbled together the next few months as I reapplied for jobs and looked for consulting work.

Still, most of the negotiations between my ex-partner and I were pretty favorable. We were conscious of our dependance on one another for the care and flexible parenting of our precious children.

Soon, but not soon enough, I got some additional work, and resumed my mortgage payments and my child support payments. And we experienced a good Christmas and spring. And as we headed toward the long summer vacation things began to get difficult again. And that’s when things went south in a hurry.

I’m not proud of the next part of the story. Bear with me for a minute while I cover the details, you’ll have plenty of time to pass judgement in the last part of the story.

In the following summer (Summer #3) my employment was cut in half by the loss of a primary client. The small business I was working for assured me they would make up the loss with some new prospects they had on the books, but… Nothing materialized. By late July I was writing an email to my ex-wife explaining why I had not given her the child support check for July. I was behind. She was not pleased.

It is from this position, flat on my back, on the mat, that I have a number of options before me. As a super judo warrior dad I’m going to do what’s best for my kids.

I understand the frustration. And I felt the impact of my failure even as I scrambled to look for more work and more contracts. And in my applied judo training I assured her that I was not trying to skip out on any of the payments, nor was I trying to stall or hide money from her. She agreed that this was true, as she saw it. So we limped into August.

At this point, the small business was apologizing and the next round of work was not materializing and I was heading up to the first of August, where I would essentially be a full month behind, and with the current situation, I was not going to be able to pay August right away either.

I pleaded with my wife for flexibility. And again she rattle the war sabers at me. This time she mentioned just “turning the whole thing over the Attorney General’s Office and let them deal with it.”

And it’s at this point that I can see her point. I know that she was struggling without the July payment, and that looking at August too was going to put an additional strain on her budgets. And I am certain she was acting with the best of intentions, “in the best interests of the kids” when she continued to mention in the AG’s office. She had her reasons. She had her own fears and issues. And at some point, she decided to pull the trigger and turn me over to the State of Texas for handling.

I was horrified. Ashamed. And nothing I could do would prevent her from taking this action. I had been applying to jobs daily, calling old clients to see if they needed any additional work, I was scrambling at this point to make my mortgage payments as well. And I tried to reason with her. “Don’t you think I deserve to have a place to live as well?”

That’s all water under the bridge at this point. She filed. I ducked and covered and the dialogue had never resumed about what’s fair or what’s best for our kids. She is owed the money. That’s clear. And she is entitled to the money. And here’s where the next round of judo moves comes in.

All the way back to the earliest negotiations about our parenting plan, she got primary custody of our kids because she demanded it, and the counselor sided with her in the discussion and didn’t ever seriously consider my 50/50 proposal. OUCH.

And now, we’re much further down the road, and guess what? I lost the house. At least I was able to sell it rather than get foreclosed on. But I would’ve been able to restructure the debt had my ex-wife not filed with the AG’s office. And when I tried to negotiate an agreement with her, proposing a legal contract for the debt she was owed, she said, “It’s with the AG’s office now. And they specifically told me I could not talk to you about money.”

OUCH #2.

This summer, I am getting up off the mat again, to find compassion and caring for everyone involved.

Moving forward to the present moment, I am on the verge of landing a lucrative full-time corporate gig. And I have assured her that I will resume full child support payments with the first pay check. And of course, she is going to get all the past due amounts too. It’s the law. But it didn’t have to go this way.

And what I had set up, that I thought was comfortable and manageable with my modest house and self-employment, became unmanageable when things got off track. There was never a need to file, in my humble opinion. Just as there was never a need for the counselor in the earliest negotiations to assume that she would get primary custody of the children and I would pay a healthy amount of child support payments to her. There was no reason for us to jump to that conclusion, when we were paying the counselor to help us negotiate both of our goals and desires.

But the side of the law is often with the mother. And in Texas it’s 80% of the time that the mom get’s primary custody and child support orders from the father.

I actually had to hire my first attorney to keep the AG’s office from filing against my credit report. But the damage of the AG action and the inflexibility of my ex-partner led me to lose my modest house, my plan, my sweet little setup. And now I’m back to square one.

It is from this position, flat on my back, on the mat, that I have a number of options before me. As a super judo warrior dad I’m going to do what’s best for my kids. And I’m going to protect my attacker from damaging herself as much as possible. But I had a chat with my attorney again today. I didn’t even remember his name, so that’s good. And we talked over a number of potential solutions. And since I am the only one paying him, he is supposed to take my side and give me options that benefit me AND my kids, but may not be exactly how my ex-wife would like to see things work out.

This summer, I am getting up off the mat again, to find compassion and caring for everyone involved.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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