losing my kids in the divorce

The Single Dad Afterglow: I Lost My Kids In the Divorce

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11-years ago my then-wife accidentally revealed that she’d been speaking to a divorce attorney. That her slip was IN A COUPLE’S THERAPY session and that she had not mentioned this urgency, was a bit of a surprise to me and our therapist. And just like that, within 5 months it was done. My wife had negotiated as a 50/50 co-parent but divorced me as a custodial mom in the state of Texas, with all the rights, financial compensation, and awarding of the kids’ primary residence. I would not recover until this year.

When Child Support Ends

Two facts about child support in Texas:

  1. The state’s attorney general’s budget is 80% about enforcing child support
  2. Mom’s are awarded the custodial role with child support 90% of the time

My child support was set during my most financially lucrative moment. I agreed to the reduced role (non-custodial parent) and reduced time with my kids, because I was advised that I would lose my 50/50 shared parenting request if I took my soon-to-be-ex to court. So, I never fought her for custody. I never contested the amount I was going to pay in support of my kids. I bowed to the coup d grace my now ex-wife orchestrated. I don’t think it was an accident. I think it was mapped out with calendars and excel spreadsheets. I now wonder if her REVEAL during couple’s therapy wasn’t her way of getting protection from her selfish and divisive act. She wanted the divorce. She went for the divorce she felt she deserved. She shafted the other parent of her children. She never looked back.

Except, now the child support has all been paid. The $240,000+ has been accounted for and spent. She did not put aside any of the “college” money as I requested. She did the same thing she has done all along, whatever the fk she wanted. And today, as of June of 2021 she has no more grip on my credit report and livelihood through the AG’s office of enforcement. She’s got nothing on me but her anger and resentment. Not sure about how that works, but I think she REALLY DOES NOT LIKE TO SEE ME HAPPY.

Kids On Their Own

Once my kids were out of their mom’s house and off to college the timbre and pace of our relationship changed. Now, it was easy for them to FaceTime me or call me for no reason. Now, it was even easier to connect with them, because their mom was not around to listen to our phone calls. She still does, when they are home from college, but soon, even that tether of hers will be gone. She’s losing her kids for the first time, as an empty nester. I lost them 11 years ago due to her selfish and misguided actions.

It is important to maintain the best relationship you can with your kids. I know that goes without saying, but it is easy to get off track. Single dads can get resentful, angry, and sad, and choose to withdraw from their kids’ daily lives. This is just how my ex-wife would’ve wanted it, as long as the money kept flowing. But, I stayed close. I called frequently. I never missed my dad-time. And I always asked for more time and suggested more opportunities for us to be together. All of this was not adverse to our co-parenting plan, but it was in stark defiance of her non-co-parenting behaviors. She didn’t really care if I was in their lives or not. She was the mom, she had the house and the money, and she had 70% of the time with the kids. She was in charge. If I didn’t like it, I could sue her in family court. Of course, I did not do that.

Just over Thanksgiving break, I took my daughter to New York City for her birthday. Her brother chose not to join us. During a phone call with them, my daughter told me later, their mom expressed her opinion about how unfair it was that I had taken her and not her brother to NYC. My daughter had to fight with them. “He didn’t want to come. He wouldn’t want to hang out with us.” But, the bigger point is this: their mom needs to keep her derogatory opinions to herself. Do I think she’s been clean in her explanations of the divorce or her lack of co-parenting inclusion? No. She’s the golden one. She did exactly what was “in the best interest of the children.” And, more importantly, in the best interest of the single mom.

Most Single Moms Get a Free Pass

Do you know most elementary schools are led by women? Most teachers are women. And when a family gets a divorce it’s mainly the women, the moms, who pick up the extra slack to keep the kids on a healthy path of learning. Dads, on the other hand, are sidelined. Even if you want to remain in your child’s school life, even if your parenting plan says your ex has to co-parent and include you in all school discussions, the school administrators and teachers will always see divorced dads as “the problem.” Schools are well prepared to take care of the kids and the moms who manage them. Single dads are outsiders.

At my kids’ elementary school, there was only ONE EMAIL address and ONE PHONE NUMBER allowed for their accounts. I had to fight to get my name, phone number, and email added to the system. I had to address each teacher at the beginning of the school year, “My ex may not keep me in the loop, here is my phone number and my email address. I want to be included in 100% of the communications and plans about my kids.”

Even after all of my efforts, in high school, the connections were even harder to come by. My ex-wife was the center of all communications about school, about health, about relationships. And when she decided to stop including me in any family decisions, there was nothing I could do, unless I wanted to sue her. I did not ever sue my ex-wife. But my ex-wife did not abide by our agreement, she did not respect the decree, and she did not follow our parenting plan. She did exactly what she wanted to do and left me to figure it out during conversations with my kids. Most of the decisions had already been made. She left me out of the loop on purpose. She gave not one fk for the father of her children.

If “what’s in the best interest of the children” means custodial moms can do whatever the hell they want and suffer zero consequences, well, that’s a problem. But that’s where we are in family law in our great RED state of Texas. My ex-wife felt like she was getting what was rightfully hers. She would say, “This is for the kids.” But we both knew where the explosion of new shoes in her closet came from.

The End of My Ex-Wife’s Reign

For 9 of the 11 years since my divorce, my ex-wife had the power of the AG’s office clamped down tight on my balls. At some point during year two, my job lost a major client and I let my ex-wife know I would be getting behind on my child support payments, briefly while we looked for more business. She took that opportunity, when I was 5-days late, to file our decree with the AG’s office for enforcement. She was going to FORCE me to pay child support with the power of the state. But wait, I wasn’t trying to skip out. I wasn’t shirking my duties as a dad. I wasn’t hiding my financial issues. I was being transparent and asking for a moment to get my work life back together.

My ex-wife turned me into a “deadbeat dad” with a single phone call. The credit reports came crashing down. The past-due problems might have been known and documented, but now they were reported to all three credit bureaus. Now, I had a black mark, deadbeat, against my name. And, employers who run credit checks were going to require an explanation. What was the point of this? Was my ex worried about my evasion of child support? Was there any concern about losing the support (financial, logistical, or emotional) of the kids’ father? No.

She turned me into the AG’s office to hurt me. She knew I was trying to refinance my house. She knew I was always going to pay her. She knew my mom would never let her grandkids go without. My ex-wife had all the backup and entitlement of any other upper-middle-class white woman who was attacking their ex-husbands out of spite. There was NO REASON for my ex-wife to file our child support case with the attorney general’s office. There was only anger behind her request.

As I came out of debt to my child support account everything started to change for me. I immediately got 100% of my post-tax paycheck. I removed most of the deadbeat dad stink off my credit report and was able to qualify for a mortgage again. I was able to afford housing. Yay, dad, finally a place to live. And, today, my ex-wife has ZERO financial hold on my life. She still complains about getting less help with college than she’d like. She still bitches to them about me. And, so what? She can crow until her dying day and my kids are going to start seeing the stark differences between us.

I Am Nothing Like My Ex-Wife

While this post is a bit negative, my overall attitude toward my ex and my kids is 100% positive. I rarely get caught up in telling the divorce narrative these days. I still have some unanswered questions for my ex-wife, but I am okay with how things are going in my life. I wish my kids had gotten more of my influence during those critical years of middle and high school, but that’s not how it worked out. They will approach life with a slightly more cynical and angry approach. There is more of my ex-wife’s angry attitude in my kids than I would’ve liked. But, all I can do is focus on what’s to come.

My love for my kids has never wavered. A few years ago, my son texted me “You have not always been available for me. How am I supposed to believe you are here for me now?”

He and I cannot have a discussion yet about the divorce and the false narrative that I sold about it being a “mutual idea.” The divorce was not a mutual decision. The loss of my kids as a 30% dad was not my choice. The ongoing bs of resentment and entitlement was not about me. My ex-wife’s anger and resentment, here 11 years later, are 100% self-inflicted. If she’s realizing she made a terrible bargain in fking over her former partner… If she’s realizing the critical way she parents is not the best or most loving way… If she’s sad because her kids are just now leaving the nest of the home I put the down payment on… Well, I’m okay with that.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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