The Divorce Brochure: How Mom Plays the Game of Divorce

The Divorce Brochure: How Mom Plays the Game of Divorce

[I feel like I should apologize in advance for the anger in this post. I am sorry. I know there are a ton of great moms who don’t use divorce or the court system to harm their co-parent husbands. I salute you. But this is how my divorce and co-parenting wishes are going down, eight years in. Blessings on all single parents, your struggle is real. Moms and dads, we need to work together towards  50/50 reality. Anything less begins co-parenting discussions with the mom in the driver’s seat, and the dad in the back with the child’s car seat.] 

It’s no mystery about divorce, right? Moms typically get the child support, the primary custody, and the house.  Dads get the 30% access to their children and the substantial debt until each child reaches 18-years-old. I’m not here to debate this typical scenario. This is the way the laws were legislated, this is the way the family courts sees parenting after divorce, and even with all of our evolved talk about “co-parenting,” this is the way it’s going down.

I’ve wanted to be a positive co-parent with my ex-wife since before the divorce was finalized. But when our cooperative divorce turned to negotiate the schedule and the parenting plan, I was politely told to get in line. There was ZERO NEGOTIATION. I was told I was getting the non-custodial parent and the standard possession order. Sounds pretty official, right? I agreed to “negotiate” a cooperative divorce, yet got handed a deal that had been worked out before my wife and I even considered having kids together.

Make no mistake about it, though, when we decided to start having unprotected sex we agreed to a 50/50 parenting scenario. Yes, we also agreed that mom would get to stay home for the majority of the early years and dad would continue working to keep the house and benefits in order. We agreed to this, long before we had kids. And as the marriage went, we stayed to our plan. She stayed home, worked part-time after each of our two children were born, while I banged around the full-time job world to be a good provider.

When things changed in our marriage about 7 years later, our first child was in 4th grad and our youngest was in 2nd, my big, high-paying gig, ended. It was the big economic slump, and Dell laid off over half of our 500 person team. I was terrified and thrilled at the same time. Dell was going to give me two more months on the job, and then they were going to pay me full wages for six months while I looked for my next gig. Heath insurance was included. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. In less than a year, my wife would ask for a divorce, but I’m getting ahead of the story a bit…

My tenure at Dell ended in January, 2009. On the first Monday after my layoff, my wife and I had lunch at a nearby restaurant to discuss our future plans. Again, I was excited by the future and the opportunities that might appear in the coming six months. My wife was not excited at all. In fact, she was angry. In that first lunch of my post-Dell world, my then-wife began to read me the riot act about money and work and responsibility.

“It’s not that much money, ” she said, in response to my suggestion that we reconfigure our co-parenting and co-working agreement. I didn’t quite get what she was mad about.

Turns out we wanted to very different things. Two things that would define the rest of our marriage and perhaps a good portion of the rest of our lives as parents.

She wanted: me to get the full-time job with benefits that allowed us to live in a top neighborhood and top school district. And if I did this, she could continue to work 10 – 20 hours a week, as needed, and continue to do all the cool parenting things, like volunteer at our kid’s school several times a month, and meet the bus when it dropped our two little love bundles in front of our nice house.

I wanted: to renegotiate this whole “dad works while mom parents” plan and look at something that might provide a healthier lifestyle for me. I wanted a bit more balance in the roles of who was going to earn all the money necessary to fund our nice lifestyle and amazing school district in an amazing city. I wanted to find a way forward that allowed me to be a bit more engaged as a dad and a bit less stressed and overworked.

This was the fracture that broke our marriage apart.

Does that mean she did not want to go back to work? I don’t know, because when she divorced me, she had to return immediately to full-time work. Does it mean that she cared more about the money than she did about me? I don’t know, but today, things sure seem like that’s the case. (Again, I apologize for my snark here, but you’ll catch my drift in a minute.)

Money became the driver for my then-wife to seek a divorce and greener pastures elsewhere. Okay, so how does that work?

Well, when she went to see an attorney to check out her “options” she learned that she could keep the house, keep 70% of her time with the kids, and get a small paycheck every month to help support her new life.

Wait, what? We didn’t even get to have a conversation about it. We were in couple’s therapy, but she went to seek her “options” without bringing the concept of divorce into therapy? What? How does that happen? Was she going to therapy to cover for her planning? I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know.

When one parent checks out their options for divorce, they are beginning the process of separation and exit from the relationship. And hey, if they like the divorce brochure the attorney lays before them, they might even start leaning into divorce.

What if my then-wife had gotten a more balanced guide for the road forward? What if she was told, “Well, you’ll probably have to sell the house, have to go to work full-time, and lose 50% of your time with the kids.” Do you think the divorce brochure would’ve been so alluring at that point? I don’t think so. She might’ve still decided to divorce me, but the financial options would’ve been vastly different.

When I went into the cooperative divorce negotiations I didn’t know that 50/50 parenting often meant that no child support would be paid by either party. I was just looking to parent in divorce as we had parented in marriage.

Today, eight years later, the Attorney General’s office still has their hand up my ass as a result of a few more of my ex-wife’s negotiations. Any time I get behind on my payments, the AG’s office can freeze my financial accounts. All of them. I have access to zero dollars at this moment. I have about $70 in my wallet. That’s it. Until my ex-wife gets her entitlement, I’m a deadbeat dad. And I’m a broke deadbeat dad.

But, wait a minute. Does my ex-wife need the cash flow, right now? She’s remarried and remodeling our nice house in the nice neighborhood. Does she still need the AG’s office to police our divorce decree? No. Does she keep the AG’s office on my ass because she’s worried about getting paid? No. Does she do it because she’s still angry? Well, you’d have to ask her.

A fair and balanced divorce should be every parent’s right. Starting the conversation at 70-30 in favor of the mom is antiquated and does not serve the best interests of the children. No matter what the courts say, the Standard Possession Order is only at the convenience of the court. If they jam all of us down the same path, they can show it’s the most efficient and effective divorce arrangement.

Well, it’s not fair. It’s not right. And it’s not what’s best for the children. It’s what my then-wife was shown by her attorney. The divorce brochure should not be an entitlement, it should be a starting point for a 50/50 negotiation. And the AG’s office should be used against dads that are trying to avoid paying child support and not against dads who are doing the best they can at showing up in their kid’s lives.

Yay, the AG’s office grabbed another two months of child support payments for you. Well, that’s just the way it is. But it causes me to celebrate my son’s 18th birthday in an odd and unexpected way. Two more years to go. Whew!

Sometimes the Serenity Prayer helps:

God, grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Final note: I know it’s my fault. I did this to myself.

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