Dads: When Family Courts Start at 70 – 30 Custody, the Kids Lose

Dads: When Family Courts Start at 70 – 30 Custody, the Kids Lose

In my family, I was also a nurturer. I was the one who got breakfast started every morning, woke everyone up, including my then-wife, and ushered everyone along the path to getting ready, fed, and off to school. I was that dad. 

It’s too late for me now. My kids are 15 – 17. My relationship with them is 100% up to me and my efforts to stay connected. When my then-wife asked for a divorce my kids were 7 – 9. Those are the prime parenting years. And in some dark corner of historic family law, most states think the kids belong primarily with the mom. (I know many modern women who still hold fast to this idea as well.) So, when we started down the road of negotiating a cooperative divorce (because it’s all about the children) our divorce and parenting plan counselor also suggested 70-30. I was stunned. I was depressed and not really ready to gear up for a legal battle, besides, we’d agreed to cooperate. And in those closing moments of my marriage, I signed away most of my rights to see my kids.

My ex-wife is called the custodial parent. This entitles her to child support until my kids are 18. This also means she can, and did, use the AG’s office as a battering ram to extract her child support payments from me, even when I was unable to pay due to unemployment. She didn’t care about me. In her mind, even as she spoke the words to me, it’s all about making sure the kids get what they are owed. It’s easy to deflect the anger when you try and repeat the mantra, “it’s for the kids, the money is for the kids, it’s always for the kids.” But harder to maintain when the ex begins buying new cars and hiring babysitters to go out on dates.

But it wasn’t the money that was the hurtful blow. The immediate impact of divorce for both parents, is you get less time with your kids. What once was an assumption in your life: “I’m going to get to tuck these kids into bed until they leave for college.” Becomes a different song: “You mean I’m not going to see the kids for six days in a row?”

It should’ve been fully cooperative. We negotiated about the money. (Who paid the down payment on the house, what’s it worth now, if we sold it where would the kids live.) But when the time came to negotiating about the schedule my ex-wife knew the law. She knew she did not have to negotiate with me at all. She arrived at the counseling session on schedules with the SPO recitation in her mind. The Standard Possession Order is the rule of law in the state of Texas, unless you go to court to ask for a variation. This meant, that in order to negotiate a 50/50 schedule I was going to have to break my “cooperative” agreement with my then-wife and sue her in family court. I couldn’t do it. Again, I was depressed about the entire thing, I wanted a reconciliation and not a divorce. I did not sue my wife, I went along with the well-paid counselor’s plan and agreed to a 70-30 schedule.

Today, as my kids are teenagers and making their own decisions about where to live and where to spend time, I am sad about the years of lost time with them.

Today, I regret that I did not sue my then-wife for 50/50 custody. The time I lost due to being the non-custodial parent is irretrievable. The loss I still feel about the distance that has continued to grow between me and my kids is still weighing on my life. It’s not about the money. It’s about the time. Sure, my ex has used the money as a battering ram to get out some of her anger at me, but it was never about the money for me.

When you’re in the early negotiations for a divorce you don’t want, it is very hard to make rational decisions. Slow down. Get the emotional support you need. Get therapy if you need to shore up your own life. And then make sure the decisions you are making are in line with the way you parented your kids.

A lot of vicious things begin to come out when someone is negotiating to say that you are not as good a parent as they are. They have to rationalize the 70-30 split both in their own mind and to the counselor or judge if you go to court. They might begin to paint a picture of you that doesn’t match up with reality. They might point out how much you work rather than parent. How they were the stay-at-home mom who bore the primary responsibility of bringing up the kids. But wait… That too was negotiated BEFORE we had kids. I would work to support a loving and nurturing environment where you could be home most of the time, and when they were in school, you could meet them at the bus at the end of the day. We negotiated that. Our plan was for me to work more and you to parent more. It could’ve easily been the other way around.

As you enter divorce negotiations this imbalance is brought out as a weapon. See how much more the mom parented. See how dad really doesn’t contribute that much to the welfare of the young children. The young children need their mom. I mean, dad, doesn’t really even know how to take care of little kids.

In my family, I was also a nurturer. I was the one who got breakfast started every morning, woke everyone up, including my then-wife, and ushered everyone along the path to getting ready, fed, and off to school. I was that dad.

When my then-wife began talking about what a better provider she was, again rationalizing her 70-30 ask, she must’ve felt she was being honest. She must’ve reframed reality in her mind to fit some other plan. Oh yes, when they were infants… I worked and she stayed home. That’s how we worked it out. But to bring that loving plan around as a weapon against me as a good and nurturing father was a low blow. There was zero “cooperation” in that claim of superior parenting responsibility. Zero. She was going for what she wanted: 1. time with kids; 2. child support; 3. the house.

I can’t recover any of those lost years. I can only be the best dad I can be and make myself joyfully available for engagements when they arise.

Today, as my kids are teenagers and making their own decisions about where to live and where to spend time, I am sad about the years of lost time with them. Sure, I was sad about it as it was happening too, but I still reflect on the loss of that 20% of their lives. I took my 15-year-old daughter to breakfast yesterday. We have a lot to talk about and a lot to catch up on. She tells me about her old boyfriend who is making plays to get back together. I tell her about my thoughts about dating again and really slowing things down and waiting for some of the women of potential to step up and ask for what they want. We share a lot of deep things. And we go get her ear pierced for the 3rd time. Just, normal father-daughter stuff.

And I realize again how much I miss her. How I miss having her wake up in my house and let me cook breakfast for her as we rush out the door to make cross country practice. Except I didn’t have to get her to cross country practice at all, because she and her brother have decided it’s too much hassle to change over to “dad’s house” every other weekend. And that’s really their decision. And as teenagers I understand it. When my kids were 7 and 9 however, they needed a dad as much as they needed a mom and the courts are not oriented to that balanced and modern way of thinking.

I can’t recover any of those lost years. I can only be the best dad I can be and make myself joyfully available for engagements when they arise. I’ve even learned, with my 17-year-old son, that too many great offers are a hardship. So, I’ve had to back off even asking him to dinner. I suppose telling your dad “no” three or four times a week is stressful too.

We sail along, a broken family. My ex sails along in the house we bought together with a new husband and plenty of money and she still has the AG’s office riding shotgun on her “collections.” Again, how that is serving my kids, I don’t know. How she rationalizes that in her mind, is probably the same way she rationalized that she was the better parent and should get more time with the kids.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I have majority custody of my kids, and sometimes have them for six straight overnights (Fri-Wed). When the magistrate set that schedule, she wrote in a Monday evening dinner visit with the kids’ mother. At first I wanted to fight that as another disruptive transition, because their mother has clinical issues that make her unreliable, toxic, and worse. But I’ve come to accept it as being a good mental health break for me, and we’ve largely mitigated the negative issues that the visit entailed, so it’s not all that bad when she just takes the kids for two hours and brings them home fed and relieved to be home.

    My point is that if it can work for my situation, it should easily work for yours. Think a dinner visit in the middle of those six-day stretches could help? Might be something to request of the court or parenting coordinator (if applicable) next opportunity.

    1. Thanks Hip. My kids are making their own decisions at this time. So the court is not involved, except in sending me collection notices on a monthly basis.

  2. Ugh, sounds like a ball.

    This is why I now discourage all marriage and/or procreation.

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