Saturday, February 5, 2011

What did you do?

“Divorce is the psychological equivalent of a triple coronary by-pass. After such a monumental assault on the heart, it takes years to amend all the habits and attitudes that led up to it.” -- Mary Kay Blakely

Confession time...I have never been divorced.  I watched my parents go through a divorce.  I've watched friends get divorced.  I've watched my sister get divorced. 

I've experienced the aftermath of my husbands divorce, but I have never gone through the legal process that would dissolve a marriage. 

So, do I have any business writing about it?  Can I possibly understand the pain and anger and sadness associated with getting a divorce?  I'd like to think I can understand.  I'd like to think I can empathize with the myriad of emotions that must be felt by both the male and female side. 

Let's consider first that based on data offered by the Center for Disease Control - there is a marriage rate at 6.8 marriages per 1,000 population and a divorce rate of 3.4 divorces per 1,000 population.  Aside from the very humorous fact that the Center for Disease Control offers data on marriage and divorce, the point I'm trying to make is not that I can do simple math, but that 50% of marriages are ending in divorce.

Next comes the big question...WHY?  Why does divorce happen?  What happened from the time you said, "I do," to the time you found yourself looking at The Causes of Divorce - When Love Can't Carry On list?

According to Yahoo! Associated Content the top reasons people get divorced are (in no particular order):
1.  Money
2.  Cheating
3.  Poor communication
4.  Change in priorities.
5.  Lack of commitment to the marriage.
6.  Sexual problems.
7.  Addictions
8.  Failed expectations of your spouse
9.  Physical, emotional or sexual abuse

So, which one are you guilty of?  Or, which one is your ex-spouse guilty of?  Actually, just from my personal experience I have found that most divorces happen because more than one of the above reasons (and maybe even a few that aren't listed) is a constant companion in the marriage.

Now moving on to the real meat and potatoes of this blog post.  Which one of those should remove you, as a father, as a constant figure in the lives of your children?

I'm not going to mince words here...if you have an addiction that is uncontrolled and in any way dangerous (i.e. you drive drunk, you like to shoot up while the kids are in bed, you bring home prostitutes...) I'm of the opinion your time with your children should be supervised or non-existent depending on the severity of your addiction. 

Abuse is another no-contest reason for me.  Abusers should not be left unsupervised with children.  Ever. 

I know that there are lots and lots of false allegations out there...remember I've been investigated as an abuser myself.  I'm not talking to you that have been wrongly accused.  I'm saying if you actually abuse another human being you need some help and you do NOT need to be around your children without supervision.
Let me ask you again - which one(s) on the list are you guilty of?

Let me just throw out this idea - Issues, problems, irreconcilable differences between adults have nothing to do with a father's love for his children and should not prohibit him from spending equal time with his children.

So, you had an affair.  You cheated on your wife.  You made her feel unloved, worthless, belittled, and embarrassed. (just to name a few) She is angry.  You are angry.  She is hurt.  You feel guilty.  Morally, you have made a mistake of enormous proportions.  It doesn't mean you should lose the right to be a father.

You mismanaged the household money and have overspent.  You can't pay the mortgage on time.  Your ex-spouse is D.O.N.E. with living paycheck to paycheck and asking her family to supplement your income.  It doesn't mean you should lose the right to be a father.

You and your ex can't talk to each other without it ending up in a shouting match with each of you trying to outdo the other by increasing your volume.  It doesn't mean you should lose the right to be a father.

You no longer want to work a 9-5 job and have decided to follow your dream, move to the country and become a farmer.  Your ex isn't as excited about your new dreams...  It doesn't mean you should lose the right to be a father.

You simply do not want to be married.  It doesn't mean you should lose the right to be a father.

You and your ex were sexually incompatible...whatever that means.  You are not physically able to relate to each other.  It doesn't mean you should lose the right to be a father.

You married a woman who you expected to be a certain way and do certain things that are crucial for your happiness.  She isn't the woman you thought she was.  It doesn't mean you should lose the right to be a father.

In fact, none of these should even be a factor in limiting your time with your children from the equal and fair distribution of 50-50 shared parenting.  

"During my years as a psychotherapist I have experienced many cases in which parents wage bitter custody battles against one another. In these battles, one parent is attempting to obtain sole custody of the children while severely restricting the visiting rights of the other parent. Under these circumstances you might be led to believe that the battle was being waged against someone who was alcohol and drug addicted and was abusive to the children. At least that would make some sense of the angry situation. However, in all too many cases there is no such addictive or abusive process going on. Rather, the motivation of the vindictive parent is to exact revenge against the other parent for sins having been committed between the two of them and having to do with their relationship and having nothing to do with any legal or violent issues. For example, an angry wife and mother may feel so entirely disappointed by the divorce that she is swept away by anger, rage and the desire to punish the former spouse by demanding sole custody." - Dr. Allen Schwartz

Is this what you are experiencing?  Are you losing the opportunity to be a father because of your ex-spouse's anger?  More often than not the answer is yes.  And, unfortunately, the family court bias is not only allowing this behavior, but encourages it by upholding the unjust and unequal standard that mothers receive custody and fathers receive visitation.

It's time for that bias to go away.


  1. (Part 1 of 2)

    It's still hard for me to read posts like this, even 12 years after being separated from my children. My difficulty comes from the common societal belief that the father is always, or even often, the one who "leaves" a broken family, or he's in some way the perpetrator, the primary cause, for family disintegration and divorce. I saw this bias in action, time and again through our family court system which provided rulings which fanned the flames of relational hostility around my own divorce.

    For me to even present a counter argument to my accusers was interpreted as the telltale signal that I truly was the "abuser" they claimed me to be, living in denial, guilty of draconian emotional torture which justified any and all actions to vilify me legally and socially.

    A well funded woman, like my ex-wife, enters our US civil court system with the reasonable expectation that she will prevail in most divorce matters, no matter what the "facts" of the case. My experience leads me to advise any father who enters a contested divorce case to enter with eyes WIDE OPEN - he will not receive equal consideration and he will most likely reach a point where his best efforts will simply not be enough to ensure that his children even spend court ordered custodial time with him.

    My court hearings lasted 9+ years, which included 7 years after my final divorce decree, and only ended when I finally had something my ex-wife wanted... she wanted to move to another state, to be near her parents, with my daughter... and the court gave me the ability to block that move if I would request that a Guardian-ad-Litem be reassigned to the case, in order to conduct a full evaluation of my daughter and her environment. Such an evaluation would have been mostly vindictive since my own job had already moved me out of state and the evaluation would simply prevent my teenage daughter from beginning the school year in the new state. I knew the situation in the new state was "safe" for my daughter, and all appearances indicated that my daughter also wanted to move. My daughter had been estranged from me for several years by this point, so my understanding of her wishes was only available through third parties. My ex-wife had not discussed the move with me and she had not obtained my agreement to the move, which I believe I would have granted in the hopes of lessening the ongoing hostility. But instead, my ex-wife had glibly assumed that she would get the court to affirm her wish to move since that was her experience - in spite of multiple findings of contempt which never resulted in anything more than a scolding from the bench. The lack of parental discussion about such a large decision was what finally pushed the judge over the brink to provide my option for the GAL study.

    (continued in Part 2)

  2. (Part 2 of 2)

    In exchange for allowing my ex-wife to move to the new state, my attorney forced her to agree to a fixed amount of child support (which was in line with the state guidelines) and she also had to agree not to bring any more motions to adjust the child support amount. Her motions for adjusting child support had become a regular routine, multiple times a year, with claims of a "change in circumstances" to get around what was otherwise a requirement for two years between adjustments. She also had to agree, written right into the negotiated agreement, that she would encourage my daughter to visit me. (3 years later, I have yet to have my daughter spend a single second with me, or even speak on the phone) I wanted this written into the agreement so there would never be a question about whether I wanted to maintain contact with my daughter.

    And then I had to emotionally let go of my daughter. I simply could not prevail in court, or afford to keep trying. I still miss her as a father and wonder about her activities often. Sometimes it still makes me sad, or angry, so I guess I haven't completely let her go. But there was simply nothing left which I could do to overcome the situation.

    Perhaps my situation was unique, in that my ex-wife was the one who was discovered to be unfaithful, and unwilling to leave her affair with a married worship leader from our church. I did not leave my children and I never missed paying court ordered support. But I still cringe when I hear the term "deadbeat dad" because I know the term has been applied to me. There is no similarly common term to describe my ex-wife's efforts to alienate my children from me.

    I agree that it's time for the bias against fathers to go away.

    But, unfortunately, we have to live with it. In my case, I had to reach the point where a father has done everything that can be reasonably expected of him, and he can step away without any shame. No one can tell a divorced father where this place is. He has to discover it himself. I faced some family criticism when I made that step... but I was comfortable that I'd met my own standard, and I didn't have to give a damn about the criticism.