Tag Archives: fair divorce

The Homeless Dads: The Bad Deal Divorce

The typical divorce is actually pretty painful. The standard DEAL is almost an assault to fatherhood, and we need to fight to change it. In the most common arrangement, Mom gets the kids and house, dad gets the child support payment. It’s how things used to work. But today, unfortunately, the courts still go by this structure unless there is significant fight to something difference.

There are a few problems with this pattern.

So let’s see, I’ve got no home. I’m paying $1,200 a month for child support and $1,200 a month for health care. How can I afford an apartment?

The non-custodial parent is assumed to be a deadbeat when they are calling the AG’s office. You are segmented into custodial or non-custodial parent at the beginning. If you are the non-custodial parent the only reason you’d be calling is you are behind on your child support.

When we complain about unavailable dads, or dads that check-out after divorce, here are a few of the reasons why.

  1. The child support burden is a lot of money.
  2. Dads might be resentful of the “money only” role they are being put in.
  3. When dad is asked to leave the marital home they are often forced to move in with family members or friends, this is largely because of the cost of child support.
  4. In addition to $500+ per kid in child support (estimate) the dad is also asked to pay for health insurance. (Today, in my case this is an additional $1,200 per month with two kids.

So let’s see, I’ve got no home. I’m paying $1,200 a month for child support and $1,200 a month for health care. How can I afford an apartment? If I don’t have a killer job ($2,400 after tax expenses before I get a dollar for myself or my survival. Well, that’s a pretty steep hill to climb.

IF the playing field were equal, I would guess a lot more divorces would be negotiated in good faith. Today, even if you declare a collaborative divorce, the issue of money is liable to strike the dad in the pocketbook in a way the mom, to start out with, does not even have to consider. RARE is the case where the dad is given full custody and the mom pays child support.

Shouldn’t we start with 50/50 in both financial responsibility AND parenting time? This is the fight we are fighting in the courts today. I’m considering going back to court to reset the arrangement. I was attempting a collaborative divorce, but in the end I was handed this lopsided deal. I have to earn over $3,000 per month (taking taxes out BEFORE I pay the mom) before I have a chance at even putting food on the table.

Dad’s are just as important as moms. The loss of either parent is one of the most painful aspects of divorce.

This leaves a lot of dads as deadbeats, not because they are actually trying to shirk their responsibility, but because the mom and the court have saddled them up with so much financial liability that they cannot afford to make the payments each month. At that point the dad is subject to financial liens, foreclosure, and checking account freezes.

You know what happens when the AG’s office freezes your account?

  1. The bank charges you $57 – $150 for the freeze.
  2. The bank processes no further payments (rent, car payments, even your child support payments)
  3. You bounce checks.
  4. You’re credit get’s screwed.
  5. You end up with an additional $200 – $400 in fees.

And you know what the AG’s officer will tell you? (The Humans Of Divorce, Dear AG’s Office Special Cases Officer Mr. McK!)

Fair treatment of fathers begins at the beginning of the relationship. BEFORE you have kids, you can agree to parent 50/50. If that’s the deal, you should have the discussion about if things don’t work out. (I’m not talking prenuptial, just an understanding) In my marriage we started out 50/50, but as soon as she decided she wanted a divorce (yes, it was her idea) the arrangement went to the cutting floor and I was handed the dad deal. A bad deal for everyone.

As the dad can’t afford a nice place for the kids to come visit, they want to come visit less. As mom’s house maintains some of its status and comfort (important for the kids) the dad is left in the cold to fend for himself AFTER he makes all the payments to help the mom stay in the house and live within the lifestyle the couple achieved TOGETHER. Except now it’s not together. And the cooperation you started with before you had kids, becomes a longterm ground war between “the money you owe me” and the money you can afford to pay without suing your ex.

Dad’s are just as important as moms. Even with young kids, the loss of either parent (my dad left when I was 5) is one of the most painful aspects of divorce. For the dad it is doubly devastating: the no longer have a house, and the courts and the AG’s office have now put their credit at risk, making employment and ability to pay even more difficult.

Let’s put the balance back in divorce. Give both parents the benefit of the doubt.

Consider the dads. If you’re a dad consider the courts and get an attorney who can show  you examples of winning in court for fair arrangements.

The money after divorce should be divided equally. Anything else puts man men at risk for debit issues, credit issues, and put them at risk of suicide and depression. Let’s put the balance back in divorce. Give both parents the benefit of the doubt. And both parents should be advocating for a 50/50 split in the same spirit they entered parenthood, with expectations of a 50/50 partnership. That partnership doesn’t end at divorce. But if we load up the man with all of the financial obligations and punish him for being late on a payment or two, we are hurting all the members of the family. The mom loses when the dad’s account is frozen. Even if the mom didn’t want it to happen. Once you’ve asked the AG’s office into your divorce, they never leave. (Inviting the Dinosaur Into Your Divorce)

We need fair divorce laws. We need courts that will listen to the needs of both parents and consider 50/50 parenting as the desired outcome. Until we stand up and fight for equality AFTER marriage we will continue to be on the losing side of the post-marriage equation.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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The Money After Divorce Manifesto; A Neverending Story

WHOLE-beachfam

Money, if you don’t have an abundance of it, can be a hardship for a lot of us.

Driving your ex to bankruptcy might feel like a “told you so” moment, but it’s not. You are bankrupting half of your family, and your kids will see this.

Marriages can come apart as a result of money woes. And if there’s anything more stressful than not being able to pay your survival bills, I’m not sure what it might be, except perhaps terminal illness. But money after divorce can be a nightmare. Even when you are hurt and grieving you have to continue the painful negotiations and discussions about money. If you’ve got kids, you never escape the money matters meeting, but now you have to do it under duress and potentially adverse interests.

But let’s get a few things straight about money and divorce.

1. Money has to be about the kids, and not you.

2. You don’t get to divorce your money obligations.

Even the debts you get assigned to your ex’s account, are part of your financial picture, even if they have gotten removed from your credit report.

3. What was hard to negotiate when you were married becomes nearly impossible when you are divorced.

4. The divorce courts are set up, by legal precedent, to give the mother primary custody and the man the burden of child support.

(In Texas this represents 80% of all divorces.) While this was helpful 40 years ago when my parents go divorced, today it’s not a fair or balanced starting point. But even in cooperative divorce negotiations this is often the suggested starting point.

5. If you want 50/50 custody and a full split of the expenses, you will probably have to fight out your divorce.

If you can agree early on to split the co-parenting responsibilities, just as you agreed to 50/50 parenting before you even had kids, your life and the life of your kids will be easier. If one of you wants 50/50 and the other person wants “primary custody” there might be more negotiations. But when you fight everyone loses.

6. The health and well-being of your kids is still dependant on BOTH parents doing okay.

If one of you is unduly burdened with a binding contract, and yet suffers a job loss or extended illness, taking the matter to court is likely to hurt both of you and the kids. Driving your ex to bankruptcy might feel like a “told you so” moment, but it’s not. You are bankrupting half of your family, and your kids will see this.

7. Conflict over money is 90% of what you will argue about after divorce. The other 10% is scheduling, school, and transportation for the kids.

8. Fighting your ex about money is a no-win situation.

And even in divorce you are still a family with your ex. When they are struggling with money, that is the time to help not to attack.

You may win a financial victory, but you are likely to score an emotional defeat, or potentially damage your kids right along with your ex. Their lives overall, will not be better, by you getting more money if it means your ex has to take a second job to pay for it. Negotiating the little things, like school supplies, or clothing budgets is manageable, but even these little things might spark resentment and angry reactions. Try and find a simple and amicable way to discuss the little things.

9. Survival obligations ALWAYS trump wants and needs.

Both parents need food and shelter. If one of you is doing well while the other person is facing foreclosure or bankruptcy… Well, your family, and thus both of you are facing foreclosure and bankruptcy. Driving an ex to this point will have a grave impact on your kids. For the kids, you need to stay on the same side of money woes. You are in this together until your kids are out of college and successfully launched in their own careers and lives. Until then, an attack on one of you is an attack on both of you. An attack on your ex is essentially shooting yourself in the wallet.

10. How you deal with money is exactly what you are teaching your kids about how to deal with money.

They are watching you. They are listening when you are complaining to your friends about your ex or about the bills. The healthier you can be about your attitudes towards your ex, and specifically about the money, the better example you are setting for your kids.

11. Money isn’t everything, but it’s a huge part of what is still left of your relationship to your ex.

You don’t get to opt out. Just as decisions are jointly decided, money decisions and money troubles are equally shared.

12. The more money you spend on attorneys and fighting, is less money you have for your kids and yourselves.

13. If the money is imbalanced and unfair, you might have to fight to change things.

The relationship you formed with your partner to get there, to have these wonderful beings, is still your partner, even if you have moved on and are with someone else.

And while this seems contrary to every point above, suffering under massive financial hardship due to the initial divorce decree, can be important for your survival and ability to thrive in your new life. Sure, you’re going to court, but you had to do this in some form before to get divorced, and if it’s absolutely necessary, at least make it as non-confrontational as possible.

14. Unless there is a huge abundance of wealth, we are often caught in the trap of feeling there is a lack.

We want it for our kids. We want to keep our car running and our AC in the house working properly during the summer months. And you will always spend what money is available and thus you will always feel like you need more money. And you might. But you need to be aware if both households are doing okay, before raising petty money issues.

15. Think first of the kids.

The relationship you formed with your partner to get there, to have these wonderful beings, is still your partner, even if you have moved on and are with someone else. From a loving perspective, realise the post-marriage is still a tight relationship and every move you make, every transaction, has an effect on the entire family. Pressing the money matters in order to punish or damage your ex, because you are still angry, or feel justified or entitled, is still a bad idea. It’s as if you were attacking your kids. You might fight them over buying the $150 sneakers vs. the $50 sneakers, but you wouldn’t fight them about having sneakers in the first place.

16. Everyone needs a safe place to live, and the ability to provide for themselves and their families.

And even in divorce you are still a family with your ex. When they are struggling with money, that is the time to help not to attack.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: family, ruthanne reid, creative commons usage

Finding Balance In the Inequitable Life After Divorce

Income inequity is a problem. Even if the “American Dream” path is pursued, like in my marriage, where I worked a string of ascending corporate jobs in an effort to afford the stay-at-home-mom lifestyle, while maintaining a residence in the really good school district. We agreed on the temporary imbalance, as we wanted our kids to have their mom at home to enjoy the pre-school years as well as meeting the bus later, as they started elementary school.

not so blue skies after divorceAnd while I was the primary bread-winner, and waved happily to my family as I left on my hour commute to the corporate mothership, I was a little more ragged each day as I returned around 7:30. NPR on the radio was nice to hear each day, to take my mind off the psychic and physical damage I was incurring, but when All Things Considered came on for the second time, I knew I’d been in my car too long. And if the kids were crying and dinner was not done, I got to feel the deeper pain of my commute. “Was this worth it?” And I’m certain, after being mom all day, my then-wife, was also a bit burned out with our deal.

What is the modern, aspirational family to do? We soldiered on. We committed further to the plan. I kept growing my responsibilities at the big-gig, and our kids flourished, even as we were paying the high property taxes, years before they would ever benefit from actually attending the schools. Oh well, this was the path we had chosen and the commitment we had made to each other. Mom with the kids, Dad with the job (with health care).

The work-life balance issues we had while we were married seemed to magnify as we struggled with the same financial issues.

As the time wore on, and the kids entered elementary school, we began to readjust the agreement. And my then-wife began working part-time to offset some of the after-school child care expenses. More soldiering on. To outward appearances we lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, but we were skating the edge of “making it.” It was hard work. And 20-hours of part-time work, with commuting and paying for child care, really starts feeling to everyone like full-time work. There was no relief that we could see. So we did what we knew how to do, kept going.

Then the 2009 economic collapse happened, and my big-job became a severance package. And on the very next day my then-wife was also laid off. Even with my “package” things were not going to last long in our deteriorating shangri-la. We needed to make some changes.

When I look back at the photographs of those years, I can now see how my weight had become a problem and my hair went from salt and pepper to just salt. And things weren’t the best in the marriage either, as we tried to negotiate plans and future options. As these plans didn’t go to plan, our marriage began to develop stress cracks: it was no longer about who was going to work, our problem was how could either of us find enough work to keep the house and keep the kids in their shiny schools.

Over the next year and half things began to unravel between us and eventually we divorced. This was definitely not to plan. But it didn’t really make our situation any easier. In fact, the work-life balance issues we had while we were married seemed to magnify as we struggled with the same financial issues, and yet now we were supposed to afford TWO HOUSES. What?

It’s funny, that even after divorce, the “til death do us part” thing is kind of still in place when it comes to money.

It’s not a surprise that divorce is expensive. But it might have been a bit of a surprise how much more expensive it is. And for the man, now homeless, to re-establish credit and income sufficient to buy a second house while still paying child support and health care… Well, even struggling a bit, I am very grateful that I have been able to put that financial equation together for myself and my kids.

And my ex-wife does not have it any easier: full-time employment with kids, no longer having a supportive and cooperative partner, must be overwhelming. But there’s not even an opportunity to be overwhelmed. You simply soldier on and do what has to be done to support the family and lifestyle. Here’s a chart from a recent study on the economics of divorce.

pew reseach - economics of divorce
* Pew study (see below)

This chart shows that the risk of experiencing a large income drop came down significantly for women who split from their partners, while it increased for men who split from their partners, reflecting the narrowing gap between men’s and women’s earnings.

I’m not sure what else it shows, but what the experience has been on my side is a lot less money after survival expenses are paid. Fortunately, my ex-wife and I are on friendly terms and setbacks and misses have not turned to litigation. In discussing my case with a family attorney, a few weeks ago, it was clear, the majority of his cases are bitterly fought between people who may or may not be hiding money. But what they are doing is using the court system to continue to punish their ex-partners. A blessing for those of us to intend to cooperate in any way with our partners. It’s funny, that even after divorce, the “til death do us part” thing is kind of still in place when it comes to money. And I suppose that continues even as your kids leave home to establish their own lives. My ex-wife and I will still be talking about money.

Even though it can be difficult at times, continuing my role as a supportive and cooperative partner is in the best interest of my kids. It’s really in the best interest for me as well. A happy ex-wife is much better than an angry one. And the more we can keep the lines of cooperative communication open, after divorce, the more flexibility we have when we too need help.

I’m grateful for how my ex-wife has been able to keep our positive parenting agreements even when things don’t go exactly to plan. The most important part is that we’re both trying. And the more UP we can keep our discussions the more UP the response will be when we call in need of a favor.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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