First, there was mansplaining. Now, I’d like to introduce missplaining. In this case, I’m going to refer specifically to recently divorced moms talking about how their recently divorced ex-husbands should behave. I first came up with the idea in a post about a divorced mom coining the term “divorced dad syndrome” as if she had some authority to do so. Then she proceeds to bash her ex-husband, and thus all of us ex-husbands, for being so insensitive about his role as a co-parent.
Let’s come back to the present moment, in my life, and discuss missplaining. Ex-wives like to missplain their husbands problems and air their co-parenting laundry about how they do it better and their ex-husbands are not holding up their end of the bargin. Or, in many cases, not keeping up with their child support payments, that the women feel is their right and entitlement.
In my case, my ex-wife has gotten a $1,500 a month (tax-free) check from me every month since we divorced. Our kids were six and eight. You do the math. Today, I am only paying for one child, who is sixteen, and my wife gets a check each month for $910, tax-free. Now, whenever I begin to have this conversation with a woman (a divorced mom, most likely) and I start to complain about fairness or equality, the response is usually quick, judgemental, and righteous. I am often hit with several givens.
- Of course, I owe my ex-wife child support
- Of course, my ex-wife should have 70% of the time with the kids, she’s the “mom”
- Of course, my ex-wife should get to stay in the family home, it’s “in the best interest of the kids”
Hold up. Let’s examine these givens and see if we can ferret out the missplaining.
Of course, I owe my ex-wife child support
Well, this is not necessarily so. As our divorce went down in the state of Texas, our family law demands that a non-custodial parent pays a custodial parent. That’s how the law is written. And the family courts are aimed at achieving this result. But is that really the best path for divorcing parents? Shouldn’t we have started at 50/50 parenting, cooperative financing, and cooperative custody?
If we had gone 50/50 there would have been no custodial parent and no non-custodial parent. We would have been joint custodians of our two children. And this legal arrangement would’ve eliminated the child support requirement. Essentially, we would have shared our custody and parenting time 50/50 and we would each be responsible to pay for our kids and ourselves when they were in our care. NICE. Yes, but not the way Texas chooses to start divorce negotiations.
Do I “owe” my ex-wife child support payments? According to the state of Texas and the divorce decree I signed so we could get on with out lives and not waste $50,000 in legal fees, the answer is yes. But if we had done what was fair and best for the children, my ex-wife would not have had my check each month. And in turn, I would not have had a $1,500 a month payment BEFORE I got to take a dime for myself, my own living arrangements (with the kids when I have them), my own food and insurance, and any entertainment money. As it went down, my ex-wife got her mortgage paid for and had to earn her spending money and money for the needs of our kids. Owe is the operative word here. Legally I do owe her the money. When I am missplained that “of course, dads should gladly pay their child support, after all, they are responsible for their children,” I begin to question the speaker and their understanding of fairness and “best interest of the children.”
Of course, my ex-wife should have 70% of the time with the kids, she’s the “mom”
Back in the 70’s when my parents got divorced, the standard possession order was written to favor stay-at-home moms with husbands who worked to provide for the family. The laws were written to maintain these roles as best they could. Moms should be with their kids. Dads should be at work. But this is no longer in “the best interest of the children.” Recent studies have shown, dads are just as important as moms in every stage of a child’s life. Moms are no more important. When the kids are infants, yes, only the mom can produce breast milk, but other than that, dads are just as capable of providing love and nurturing.
And to take it one step further, 50/50 shared parenting, after divorce, best mimics the normal 50/50 parenting we’ve come to expect in our modern society. In most cases, BOTH parents work, and both parents are responsible for providing financial and emotional support to their kids. When the courts give the mom an incentive to take the “paycheck” in the form of child support, then the expectation that follows is she needs to provide more of the childcare so the ex-husband can continue to earn the salary that supports the family system.
When my then-wife was shown the divorce brochure, she was able to appreciate the strategic advantage of Texas law, and the divorce seemed like a good deal to her. She gets 70% of the kids time, she gets to keep the house (regardless of who paid the downpayment and the lion’s share of the payments), and she gets a monthly paycheck to support the kids’ lifestyle. When given the outline of options, it was an easy decision for my then-wife to choose divorce. She’d get to keep her life as close to normal as possible. Of course, this was “in the best interest of the kids,” but it was also in the disinterest of the dad.
Dads are not given any reprieve from the child support payments. If the dad loses a job, the monthly check is still required, and the dad’s credit report is hammered any time they get even one month behind on child support. “Deadbeat dad” is a term that was created for dads who attempted to skip out on their responsibility as a parent. As the term was coined, it applied to dads to left the area, attempted not to participate in their child’s lives, and (most importantly) attempted to not pay for any of the expenses necessary to provide for the child or children. But as the child support routine became the norm, a deadbeat dad was any dad who fell behind on his child support payments. Job loss, depression, illness, all had no bearing on the dad’s responsibility to make his monthly payments.
Of course, my ex-wife should get to stay in the family home, it’s “in the best interest of the kids”
There is no question, my kids benefited from not being routed from their childhood home when their mom and I parted company. But, the way the family law is written, there is no consideration for the dad and where he is going to live. The divorce is all about “the best interest of the kids” and the home is no exception. So, my ex-wife gets the house that I contributed the downpayment for, out of money I had before we were married. And my ex-wife gets the house that was paid for, during our marriage, 80% of the time by my paycheck from some big tech company.
But with the $1,500 a month payment required before I could even start thinking about myself, it made shelter and food quite a bit harder for me. If I wanted to have a place of my own (rented) I needed to earn an additional paycheck. If I wanted a place that was big enough to have my two kids over on “my weekends” I was going to need a much bigger paycheck to accommodate the $1,500 per month and then another rent check. Where is the fairness in that equation? While mom gets to stay in the house, paid for via child support, the dad is out on the street looking for work and shelter over and above the monthly child support payment, just to begin his life after the divorce.
Should the mom get to stay in the home with the kids? In many circumstances, yes, that is the best-case scenario. But when there are financial hardships, shouldn’t it be the entire system that deals with those setbacks rather than just the dad? When I was unable to replace my high-paying Dell job immediately after the divorce, should’ve we all have tapered our lifestyle a bit until the salary was replaced? That’s perhaps the way it should’ve been, but the way it worked is I simply turned into a deadbeat dad in the eyes of the state of Texas, and after being one month late, my ex-wife sent our decree to the Attorney General’s office for enforcement.
Yes, my ex-wife was entitled to her child support payment. Her and my kids had come to rely on the money. But, shouldn’t we have been cooperative when I lost my job rather than adversarial? Shouldn’t we have both been required to reset our expectations when my income was greatly reduced?
In a 50/50 shared parenting arrangement, we would’ve had to discuss options. My ex-wife would’ve had to negotiate with me about the money she needed for the kids. My ex-wife would’ve been responsible for her own income and her own housing arrangements, rather than depending on me and my ability to pay. In the current arrangement, the standard possession order, and the general child support obligation, my ex-wife simply turned our account over to the state’s attorneys to “collect” her money.
It’s more missplaining when my ex-wife tries to justify her entitlement by saying, “The money is for the kids.” Yes, that’s fine. But shouldn’t you have to earn the money “for the kids” while they are with you. And I should have to earn the money “for the kids” while they are with me? As it went down, my ex-wife has gone on vacations with the money I gave her “for the kids.” Sure, they all deserve a vacation. But, doesn’t a dad deserve a vacation from time to time? Shouldn’t both parents be responsible for their half of the money?
Going Forward, Divorced Should Start at 50/50
It’s too late for me to make any changes to affect my case. My ex-wife will get $910 each month until our daughter is 18 years old. And my ex-wife now has the state of Texas behind her, watching for every payment, garnering every paycheck I’ve ever made. My ex-wife is getting her pound of flesh through the punishing process of the Attorney General’s office. Had we gone 50/50 she would not have been so abusive. We would’ve cooperated about expenses for things like healthcare, summer camps, and education.
I am working with several organizations here in Texas to affect change in Texas family law. I hope that fathers after me are not simply handed the bad dead divorce, but are given the opportunity to start at 50/50 cooperative and shared parenting, and work together from there, “in the best interest of the children” as well as “in the best interest of BOTH parents.”
Today, the law serves the best interest of the kids and the mom. Dad is seen as the breadwinner, and thus the “paycheck” for divorcing moms who are showed the divorce brochure and the good deal they are being offered. I hope the “deal” becomes more balanced. As studies show, kids need BOTH parents equally. Today, the law supports a 70/30 parenting schedule with dads footing the bill for a large portion of the family expenses. I hope to find balance and hope for dads in the future, to start at 50/50 and negotiate on a level playing field. Today’s law sets divorce up as a war. Divorce should be a collaboration. Divorce should not be an entitlement contract. And divorce should respect both parents and their contributions equally.
See more from The Positive Divorce section:
- Divorce, Depression, and My Ex-wife: Humans of Divorce
- Nine Years Into My Divorce: Finding My Single Parenting Superpower
- Father’s Day: Love Fiercely, Because This All Ends