happy family after divorce

What New Parents Hope For, Plan For, and Agree To

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If you’re getting married… And if you wanna have kids… Let’s find some common ground, before starting our unprotected sex adventure into KIDS.

Happiness and the New Parent

First off, let’s assume you are both competent and committed partners, and the idea of having children together (50% of your DNA, and 50% of their DNA) is exciting. Part of the initial agreement to becoming parents comes with the understanding, that both parents are equally valued, equally responsible, and equally essential to a healthy and happy family. I wrote a book (The Pre-Natal Agreement) to cover this idea: if we want kids, we’re both agreeing to 50/50 shared parenting forever. Even if divorce happens, we’re agreeing that moms and dads are equally valuable and equally essential to raising healthy kids.

But in most states in the US, this equal parenting idea is just an idea. Once the big D is on the table, moms will typically get the custodial parent role, 70% of the time with the kids, and a hefty child support payment. But this imbalance was not by accident. In fact, the imbalance in family law is a known scam. Let me explain.

In my state, Texas, 85% of women are awarded the “divorce package.” Dads, who are given the non-custodial role, and the paying role, and the diminished parenting role, are on their own. The entire attorney general system in my state is geared toward enforcing child support. And for men like me, there was zero risk that I was going to bale on my child support or my availability for my children, and still, my ex-wife threw me to the AG “enforcement” team as a punishment for giving her the divorce she asked for. Here’s the rub:

For every child support dollar the attorney general’s office has under management, the federal government pays that state’s attorney general’s office a bounty. The more child support they can get awarded in family courts, the more budget they are going to have to hire new collections agents. Over half of the entire function of the AG’s office in Texas is child support collections.

But, not every dad is a deadbeat dad. And certainly, not every dad referred to the AG’s office for “enforcement” is a deadbeat dad either. Sometimes, it’s an angry and vindictive ex-wife. She wants to make things more difficult for their ex-husband. Why? Don’t they understand that hurting their co-parent also hurts the kids? Didn’t my ex-wife understand that attacking me, and keeping me from refinancing my house, was going to leave me and the kids with no place to go on my two weekends a month? I don’t think she cared. I know the AG’s office didn’t care.

When Things Don’t Work Out

There’s a bias against men when the family courts are involved. There’s actually a pretty strong bias against men when divorce is involved, period. Don’t we assume it’s the man who cheated, the man who is the alcoholic, the man who is abusive? Isn’t that the story we’ve been told? I mean, if you’re turned over to the AG’s office for collections you must be a deadbeat dad, right?

When the happy couple pictured above begins to discuss dissolving their marriage, it’s a sad moment. And if the law were balanced, that would be the start of a fair and thoughtful negotiated divorce. In my case, we agreed to a collaborative divorce. No lawsuits, no attorneys. However, my then-wife changed her mind after all the heavy lifting and discovery had taken place. She was certain there were no hidden assets. We’d agreed to everything but the parenting schedule. And at that moment, she changed her mind and changed the course of all of our lives. She decided, as the courts were providing her support, that she wanted the divorce package. She wanted most of the time with the kids. She wanted the house. She wanted child support that would enable her to keep the house. All she needed to do was find a job.

For the last year of my marriage, my then-wife was angry and threatening. She was supposed to be finding a new job to contribute to our finances. In that year, however, she lost $10,000 rather than earning any money. But when the divorce was getting negotiated she learned that she’d have to have a full-time job before the courts would agree to give her the house. She had to be able to pay for the house (even if the mortgage was covered by child support) and pay for the kids to have food and clothing. She landed a job within a week of learning this condition.

Rejoice In Your Children

Be glad in your decision to have kids. The journey you are about to step into is going to change your life for good. And please agree to parent 50/50 forever. Even if the marriage doesn’t work out, your kids need both parents equally. Regardless of what you hear from your girlfriends or boyfriends or legal counsel, it’s best if the kids have equal access to both parents. In many states, you’re going to have to negotiate and litigate to get to a 50/50 agreement. And in many states, you or your spouse are going to be required to pay some form of child support. The state needs the federal dollars, so you have to pay.

If you can put the interests of your children ahead of your own, you will easily agree that moms and dads are both important in raising kids. Let’s reset the law of the land and allow this process to unfold in a more balanced way.

Can you be a happy family after divorce? Yes, but it takes honesty, a willingness to be fair, and the choice to share 100% of the responsibilities of having children. That’s what you agreed to, right? Let’s make it the law of the land.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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a good dad's guide to divorce

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