Have you ever had something bad happen to you, and for a while after it occurred you cannot seem to get over it? You think about it all the time. You talk to other people about it. You look through photos and documents and anything else that reminds you of the event. Keep in mind that this isn't a good memory that you keep bringing up, either. This is likely something that has caused you to pain on many levels. A divorce can be like this.
If you are only beginning your divorce you may not believe me when I say that many people who get through a divorce spend months afterward re-hashing the events of that case to anyone that will listen. What the lawyer could have done differently, how the paralegals forgot to tell the attorney this or that, how the judge wasn't fair, how their ex-spouse played dirty, etc. the events of that divorce will live forever in the memory of that person and every other person in their life. Not exactly a healthy way to phase in the post-divorce life.
To start today's blog I wanted to hammer home the lesson that I finished off yesterday's blog post with: leave your divorce in the past. Do not attempt to sort through its aftermath in an unhealthy way. Yes, you can and should reassess how you treat other people and how you allow yourself to be treated. Yes, you should be talking to your kids about how they are doing and figuring out how you need to parent them alone and with your ex-spouse in a co-parenting role. These are healthy reactions to divorce. What you do not need to be doing is constantly going over the entire divorce with a fine-tooth comb. Talk about picking at a scab.
When negotiating the terms of your divorce- don’t use your children as a means to negotiate
Parents on both sides of divorce can use their children as bargaining chips. For instance, if you are the parent who is going to have primary custody of the kids it would be tempting for you to try and offer your spouse more time with the kids in exchange for a greater amount of child support. Many parents fear losing time with their kids over a divorce and therefore losing part of their relationship, as well. This motivates parents to make deals that are no in their best interests to gain more time with their children.
While a negotiation in a divorce case is about many things, the fact is that if you are making negotiation decisions based on things that are not in your child’s best interests then you should rethink your negotiation strategy. Essentially what you are doing is sending your kids out to your ex-spouse in exchange for money. Go back and re-read that last sentence one more time. Does that feel right to you? I didn’t think so. If you need more child support than what your spouse is offering, then you need to justify what you are asking for and then make a concession to him or her from someplace else in the divorce.
On the other hand, if you are the parent who does not expect to be named as the parent who has primary conservatorship over your child then you are in a position where you may want to push for split custody with your spouse just to pay less in child support. This is although you work a job where your hours are unpredictable, and your children stand to spend just as much time with your parents/babysitters than they do with you. You can push for this, delay the end of your divorce and stress everyone out just to pay less in child support.
Again, you are not doing this to benefit your children. You know in your heart of hearts that your children would be better served to be with your spouse than a babysitter. However, sometimes good people let pride or other motivations get in the way when it comes to making decisions in a divorce. That is what you will face in your divorce, as well. Do not lose sight of the fact that you need to keep your children’s interests at the forefront of your divorce. Negotiate with their best interests in mind and you will not falter in your divorce.
The failure to pay child support is not an excuse to withhold visitation from an ex-spouse
This one goes out to all the mothers out there who have not been paid child support by their ex-husbands. Yes, sometimes the shoe is on the other foot and fathers can be put into a position where they are not paid the child support that is ordered to them. However, for the most part, it is mothers who are left holding the bag for fathers who do not pay the child support on time, in full or both. This can be frustrating and scary since it is likely that you depend on that child support to pay bills for yourself and your household.
If your ex-husband is two months behind in child support it can be a bitter spill to pack clothes and other items for your children as they head out to spend a weekend with your ex-spouse. You may be thinking about just giving him a call on Friday to tell him that unless he pays his child support that is owed he won’t be able to see his kids. That will teach him, right? Let’s examine that thought.
Yes, the failure to pay child support is not a good thing. Yes, your ex-husband is putting your kids in a bad position if they cannot do certain things or get things that they need because their father is not paying child support. This is a bad position all the way around. The failure to pay child support is rarely due to negligence or bad faith on the part of an ex-husband. Rather, your ex-husband is probably going through a difficult time financially due to the loss of a job or his hours at work being cut back.
If your ex-husband falls behind in his child support payments, you need to address this directly with him. Do not beat around the bush. Do not send a message on a co-parenting website and wait for him to respond two weeks later. If at all possible, you should address this issue with him in person or over the phone. Make sure that he is aware of what he owes. Go to the attorney general's website and print out the webpage that details what is owed in child support. Highlight that and give it to him. At least that way you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is aware of the problem. It is up to him to fix it or address it with the Office of the Attorney General.
The next step that you should take if he does not start to both pay the child support on schedule and begin to pay you for the child support that is owed would be to file an enforcement lawsuit seeks to do exactly what you would expect: enforce the terms of a court order, namely your Final Decree of Divorce. If you want your ex-spouse to pay you child support as he is obligated to this is the final step in the process. Hire yourself an attorney, prepare your case and go ahead and file it. You may be able to work out a settlement with your ex-spouse before you ever see the inside of a courtroom. The sad part it is may take you doing this for your ex-spouse to understand the importance of this situation.
Notice that nowhere in this process did I recommend that you keep the kids at home, not let them have contact with your ex-husband or do anything similar to that. The reason is that this is also in violation of your final decree of divorce. Go through the order and you will see that you are not allowed to do this. Two wrongs, as your mother probably told you long ago, do not make a right. Theoretically, your ex-spouse could never pay you child support and you could never withhold visitation in retribution for their having done so.
Be flexible with your children and their social calendars
This, admittedly, should not be at the tippy top of your priorities list either during or after the divorce. Your children's abilities to play sports, attend birthday parties, go on trips and generally have extracurricular fun is not essential. However, your children deserve to have a quality of life comparable to what they enjoyed before the divorce. Maybe not the same, and maybe not to the extent that they are used to. Keep in mind though, that they did not cause the divorce and are innocent by-standards of this situation.
So, if your children come to you on Friday that you pick them up from their mother's house and tell you that they were invited to a pool party on Saturday, you should use your best judgment in whether to allow them to go or not. You may feel that since you haven't seen them in a couple of weeks this is a party that they will need to miss. Their time with you is more important than their time with friends, after all.
However, if you are coming off a long summer visitation session where the kids were with you for a month straight, then you may want to allow them to greater latitude to see their friends on one of your weekends. Yes, the time with you is still of the same value as it was before the holiday month. However, your kids need some degree of balance in their life as far as family and friends are concerned. As their parent, it is up to you to determine that balance.
Final thoughts on how to handle your divorce and post-divorce lives
The divorce that you are going through or have gone through will change your life. There is little doubt about this. Your family is going to look and function differently. You will probably never approach another relationship the same after having gone through a divorce. Your children will view you differently. You will still be raising your children together with your ex-spouse but the dynamic is completely different now.
You can't avoid these realities once you begin the divorce. However, you can prepare yourself and your children for them. You can also take into account the things to avoid that we have been discussing for the past few days. Do not think that your family will avoid these issues for any reason. I can tell you from having worked with many families in your position that you all are not going to be the exception to this rule. However, that does not mean that you have to undergo some sort of herculean efforts to protect your family. You only need to resist the temptation to do harmful things. Failing to act in some ways is more powerful than acting in others. That is what I hope you all have picked up on over the last few days in reading our blog posts.
Questions about divorce in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan appreciate you spending part of your day with us here on our blog. We post blogs every day that deal with relevant topics in Texas family law. We hope that this information is helpful to you and that you can apply these lessons to your life.
If you have any questions about today’s blog post or need clarification on anything that we have talked about, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances.