Child and spousal support laws don’t account for the increased involvement of fathers
For the past 11 years, I have been fortunate to be a full-time musician. Since the time of our daughter’s birth in 2003, I have been home with her during the day and working at night. Three years before my marriage ended, my wife and I agreed to switch roles. In order to make this arrangement work, I was extremely ambitious and found a way to work a 9-5 job as well as teach, perform in an Off-Broadway show and play weddings. I paid all the bills while she took care of our daughter. After two years of trying to fit back into the corporate world, I started to get burned out from the corporate lifestyle and quit. I also noticed a lack of communication between my wife and I. My focus was on our family; her attention appeared to be on the social calendar. My frustration with what seemed to be a lop-sided allocation of duties in our home-made for several stress filled months. Not only was I the sole breadwinner, I took care of many of the duties at home.
The birth of our second child only intensified the tension in our home. I felt my wife was unwilling to continue the therapy sessions we’d set up to find a way to repair our marriage. The constant arguing and conflict at home led to her hiring an attorney and filing for divorce.
Our custody battle began in Family Court. During our first hearing, I received a court order for spousal support, which stated I was to continue paying all the bills until our case went to Supreme Court. On top of paying the household expenses, I had to pay my ex an additional $500 a month. I was furious. I questioned why I was responsible for everything and my wife was only responsible for being with the children.
Soon after filing, my wife began using the children as pawns to anger and frustrate me. She filled the kid’s day with play dates, and after one of our many heated arguments, took the kids to her mother’s home in another state for two weeks so I could not see them. In addition to alienating me from my children, my wife called the police after several arguments in futile attempts to have me vacate the marital residence and be thrown in jail.
When our case was transferred to New York State Supreme Court, things began to change. A few months into our dispute I received an unlikely source of inspiration. My family had given me a father’s day gift certificate to a men’s spa. Here is where I received life-changing advice from a female staff member who’d gone through a divorce several years before. She and her former spouse had mutually agreed that their son be raised by his father. She informed me that in New York State, couples had the option to “opt out” of paying child support upon dissolution of marriage. I immediately called my attorney and told him I was doing just that—opting out.
After 11 months in and out of court, we settled. We agreed that my parenting time would take place during the day; hers at night, and no one would pay child support. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I walked out of the courtroom secure in the knowledge that I could financially support our two children in a way that made much more sense to me. I did not succumb to the societal pressure to pay an ex-wife child OR spousal support because men have traditionally done so.
I’m not sure many men have the testicular fortitude to endure the pain it takes to achieve this goal. I read several books on what to do and what not to do in custody battles. I certainly thought of giving up but never did. I was driven to get the court to understand the seriousness of my desire to be a fully committed parent and I was willing to go through the financial expense of seeing it through. I became good at understanding how the courts worked and the law as it applied to my case. I persevered in demonstrating that I was rational, reasonable, and always focused on the best interest of my children. I didn’t live a victim’s life. I didn’t leave the marital residence, I wasn’t taken to jail, I never assaulted my ex, and I remained devoted to my two children. I always took the high road and never talked badly about my ex to our children.
I feel state ordered child support should only be enforced when a spouse chooses to abdicate the responsibility of raising their children. There is no excuse for a parent to abandon their children. It does not matter how angry you are with your ex. The threat of divorce should not stop anyone from having a healthy relationship with his or her children.
It is easy to abuse a system that was set up in the 1950’s to assist with the necessary expenses of child rearing. I have seen many cases where spousal and/or child support is automatically assumed to be part of divorce even though it may be unwarranted. Men, who truly desire to be a part of their children’s lives, need not pay their future ex-wife at all. My ex and I peacefully co-exist without state ordered child or spousal support. If a spouse chooses to not pay child support, it requires a lifelong commitment to taking care of your children—something that, unfortunately, some parents are not willing to do.
I must emphasize that I don’t want to minimize the importance of child support for those who really need it. There are far too many single mothers that do not receive anything from the noncustodial father. I am merely pointing out that when there are two loving parents that want to be actively involved in their children’s lives after divorce, there is no need to travel down the expected path of family court and mandatory child and/or spousal support.
I think it’s time to think differently about how divorce is handled in the new millennium and find ways to improve an antiquated system that can do more harm than good.
I say it’s time to stop paying child support and support your children!
—photo by Phil Roeder/Flickr
—this essay originally appeared at CINCOPATION