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September 16, 2009

"It's the Commitment, Stupid"

The longer I live, the more astounded I am at how many people make life way more complicated than it needs to be:

...a study Stanley co-authored in February found that of the 1,050 married people surveyed, almost 19 percent of those who lived together before getting engaged had at some point suggested divorce, compared with 10 percent for those who waited until marriage to live together.

Those findings mimic the reports from the mid-1990s that first peaked Stanley's interest, showing that men who cohabitated before marriage were, on average, less dedicated to their relationships than those who didn't.

"It was one of those kind of findings that I wouldn't have suspected," Stanley, 53, recalls. But he immediately had a theory: "The basic idea was, 'Okay, there's a group of males there that married someone they wouldn't have married if they hadn't moved in with them.' "

The problem is one of inertia, he says. Living together, mingling finances and completely intertwining your lives makes it harder to break up than if you'd stayed at separate addresses. "Some people get trapped by that and they end up hanging around," he explains. Even if a couple doesn't eventually marry, they might prolong the relationship and "miss other opportunities with a person who's a better fit."

But not all cohabitations are created equal. Stanley's studies have shown there's almost no difference in marital satisfaction between couples who moved in together after they got engaged and those who did it after their wedding day. He attributes this to varying levels of deliberateness; engaged and married couples have committed to a future together, while some couples who cohabit before engagement are ambiguous about where their relationship is headed.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but... "Duh".

Yesterday morning I was reading the comments on a site that seems to attract far more than its reasonable share of bitter divorced men. Before I go any further with this, there are comparable sites where bitter, disenchanted women go on (and on... and on...) about what beasties the male sex are. I rarely visit them because they rarely discuss any topics I'm interested in.

At any rate, yesterday morning there was a persistent refrain weaving in and out of the comments: "She was so nice before we married... and then - for no reason at all! - she turned into a deranged harpy on crack."

While I'm quite willing to stipulate that there are bad women and men in the world, real life relationships are rarely that simple. One person may well be the instigator (especially when the marriage hits a rough patch and outside circumstances cause one partner or the other to temporarily wig out):

LET’S say you have what you believe to be a healthy marriage. You’re still friends and lovers after spending more than half of your lives together. The dreams you set out to achieve in your 20s — gazing into each other’s eyes in candlelit city bistros when you were single and skinny — have for the most part come true.

Two decades later you have the 20 acres of land, the farmhouse, the children, the dogs and horses. You’re the parents you said you would be, full of love and guidance. You’ve done it all: Disneyland, camping, Hawaii, Mexico, city living, stargazing.

Sure, you have your marital issues, but on the whole you feel so self-satisfied about how things have worked out that you would never, in your wildest nightmares, think you would hear these words from your husband one fine summer day: “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out. The kids will understand. They’ll want me to be happy.”

If there's one thing I've learned in three decades of being married, we have absolutely zero control over someone else's state of mind. But we have quite a bit of control over how we respond to them.

I think the hardest thing about being married for a long time is remembering the importance of self-restraint. We get comfortable, we fall into a rut, we begin to take each other and the relationship for granted. And then suddenly we hit a speed bump and find that gradually, imperceptibly, we have drifted apart.

When someone hurts you deeply or their behavior throws you for a loop, the natural response is to lash out; to retaliate in kind or to react without stopping to consider how your response might make things worse rather than better. We've come to think that promises are no longer relevant these days.

I think promises act like a keel on a large boat. When gale force winds strike, sometimes the promise is all you have to cling to until fair weather returns. Marriages are built on faith, and faith in a promise can sometimes tide you over when faith in your partner seems hard to come by.

That said, if my spouse suddenly announced he wasn't sure if he ever loved me, I don't think detached reasonableness would be my first response. Sometimes knowing what to do is not the same thing as being smart enough to do it.

But then again, maybe that's what the promise is for.

Posted by Cassandra at September 16, 2009 05:44 PM

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Comments

Do we expend more time and effort on buying a car than marriage? Hopefully not. We need to judge ourselves and prepare to be judged on the quality of our promises and commitment to them once made.

In short, the words "Love, honor and obey" are in there for a reason. The reason being that becoming a couple requires the humility of acceptance that the couple is the pinnacle of two people reaching and maximizing their potential in the life process.

The shared experience of life is the glue that holds the relationship together through thick and thin. Like the old parable presented, sometimes when there is only one set of footprints in the sand it probably means you were not alone but being carried. In the final analysis all we have is each other. Believing that all we have is our own self is self-defeating and a road to emptiness, loneliness, and nihilism.

Commitment; thy name is responsibility and accountability.

Posted by: vet66 at September 17, 2009 09:00 AM

I think there are other things too; my Devoted Husband is very supportive of me getting my degree; to the point where he has cooked meals, done laundry and hasn't complained when I burned the midnight oil.

To him it is more than 'I-have-my-degree-now-you-need-to-get-yours' equality; he truly does believe in me and has my back. How can I possibly fail with that kind of support?

Posted by: Cricket at September 17, 2009 09:52 AM

Yes, but you cannot force someone to stay if they are determined to leave a relationship. Commitment is a two-way street if it is to have any meaning at all. One spouse staying committed to the idea or principle of marriage while the other acts as if he/she were single is ridiculous.

As the old legal maxim goes, it only takes one party to break a contract. I think that applies to a marital contract no less than any other contract.

The problem with marriage, unlike nearly all other contracts in our society, is that if the breachor is female, she gets rewarded rather than punished for breaking the deal. Women still overwhelmingly get awarded custody of the kids, despite the "official" legal position that no preference is to be shown between one parent vs. another. Women can often claim to be better situated for parenting because they don't have the career demands imposed on a husband and can therefore spend more time with the kids. They will therefore usually wind up with the house, and the majority of the assets.

The husband, in a traditional marriage, was likely the primary wage earner, and therefore starts at an automatic disadvantage once the divorce gets rolling. I don't know any dads that wouldn't like to spend more time with their kids, but bearing the heavy lifting of keeping everyone fed, clothed, and otherwise supported with a nice house, college fund, braces, etc takes a lot out of your day. Even if dad did want to cut back his hours to devote more father time with his kids, the courts won't allow it. Between huge piles of child support (nearly triple what I think we spent on each child while married), alimony so princess can "maintain her lifestyle" which she only attained because of husband's career success, hubby has to keep working like a dog. And here I thought we had abolished indentured servitude!

I know that there are women who have gotten raw deals from divorce as well, but I find that to be the case when they are married to loser men. "Snake" the biker gang leader, sexy bad-boy that he was, can't provide much child support doing twenty to life in Folsom prison. I know another gal that married her sweetheart and had three kids very young. He had a budding career as a carwash worker. After the divorce, he split town -- perhaps for a more promising carwash job across the state line. This "deadbeat dad" will never be able to support his kids and ex, even if he wanted to.

For successful men, though, its a whole nother story. Until you have been through it, and I truly pray that none of you ever do, its hard to believe or understand those who have gone through it.

Once my ex dropped the bomb on me, out of the blue, that she needed to "move on" from our marriage, I could deal with the end of the relationship if that's all there was to it. I am realistic enough to know that sometimes you just can't put humpty dumpty back together again. It was the financial ruination that had me pissed.

It is for these financial reasons alone that I will never cohabit or marry a woman again. I will never again place a lifetime of hard work, frugality, and struggle at risk based upon something as ephemeral and inconstant as a woman's "feelings". I don't want to spend another decade recovering my financial position and working ungodly long hours to achieve the same success. I only have so many decades left, and I would like to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

Posted by: a former european at September 17, 2009 10:13 AM

The problem with marriage, unlike nearly all other contracts in our society, is that if the breachor is female, she gets rewarded rather than punished for breaking the deal.

Ironically, no fault divorce was supposed to make life "easier" for women. In some ways it has but I am very much opposed to it.

Part of the problem you had, afe (other than the fact that your ex-wife turned out to be a twit :p) is that you live in a community property state. I am also very much opposed to community property laws.

We're trying to figure out where to move when we retire but hell will freeze over before I voluntarily live in a community property state. They are more common out west. Not sure why.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 10:23 AM

Oops!

I also meant to say that I agree 100%. You can't make someone stay if they don't want to.

I had mixed reactions to the NY Times article I excerpted in this post. On one level I liked that the woman held her husband to his word. On the other, something about it creeped me out. She seemed... I don't know... patronizing to me.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 10:25 AM

Well, she's talking about using childrearing (and animal training) techniques on her husband. Naturally, that seems patronizing. It's also insulting to your spouse to discuss your marital difficulties in public -- nothing could be more humiliating.

That said, the advice isn't bad. Everybody takes a hit at some point in their lives, when their dreams begin to die. Some people get hit earlier, and some not until late midlife, but it happens to almost all of us. This is true even for those with really good lives: as Chesterton said, "When you become the King of England, you give up the post of Beadle in Brompton. If you go to Rome, you sacrifice a rich suggestive life in Wimbledon."

Every life requires giving up some of the things you really, really wanted. The realization of that fact is painful. A desire to escape, to run off and try to rescue a few of the dreams that haven't crashed and burned yet, is not unusual.

When the partner of a husband or wife is going through that moment, a lot of understanding and forgiveness may be required. Still, if you know the process is normal enough, and understandable enough, it's possible to summon the forgiveness and understanding. The wife here did very well, even if she isn't able to speak well of what she did.

Posted by: Grim at September 17, 2009 11:45 AM

Well, she's talking about using childrearing (and animal training) techniques on her husband.

She did talk about him like he was a child.

Of course he really *was* acting like a child. But my gut told me when reading that article that sooner or later, he will resent her attitude towards him or all the anger she stuffed down inside of her over the summer will come back to bite him in the ass.

Then again, she may have known him better than he knew himself. Who knows?

I thought a lot about what I would have done after reading that article.

I think that I would have said something along the lines of, "You know, marriage isn't something you throw away lightly. It was supposed to be a lifelong commitment."

"But if you are dead set on leaving, I can't hold you here. What I will tell you is that you need to think very carefully about this. I'll let you go with no repercussions if that's what you really want. But I will not take you back if you break your word to me and our children and I won't live in the same house with you unless you're willing to abide by our marriage vows.

So I hope you will think very carefully about what it is that's bothering you so much. I will work with you if you want to keep trying, but be aware that whatever decision you make is permanent."

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 01:37 PM

Would that be before, or after, he got out of traction?

Posted by: DL Sly at September 17, 2009 02:13 PM

You know, that is a funny thing.

Years ago I am not sure that getting angry would have been my response. Hurt? Yeah. Worried? Absolutely.

But angry? I don't know.

That is something that has changed as I've grown older. I would like to think that I've never been a doormat, but I have always tried very hard to be understanding, even when I totally don't understand.

My take has always been that both partners need some breathing room - maybe that's b/c I need a lot of breathing room :p But at this point in my life, I think it's much more likely that I *would* be angry. Not vindictive angry, but I would definitely be saying to myself, "WTF???"

As Grim indicated, it's completely understandable that the bonds of matrimony chafe from time to time. I don't take that personally so much b/c often it doesn't have as much to do with your partner as how you feel about your life and about yourself. But having some guy tell me, "The kids would want me to be happy?"

Can you say, 'self centered' boys and girls? I knew that you could. At that point I might be thinking unkind thoughts ;p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 02:25 PM

Maybe this article is the payback, and they can leave it behind them now. It sounds like he's had his existential crisis, accepted the loss of all the dreams but the one he actually lived out, and is grateful that his family is still there and still loves him.

If she's satisfied with having humiliated him in front of eleven million people, then, they may be back at "even." :)

Posted by: Grim at September 17, 2009 02:26 PM

I read at the end of the article that he supposedly told her to write about it.

But having been married for some time now I can see no good coming from that :p My mind would have been screaming, "Aiiieeee!!! Trap!!! Warning: passive-aggressive pit dead ahead!!!"

Like I said, my gut feeling about this story is that it ain't over yet.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 02:29 PM

I am not married. But I've had several long-term live-in relationships, both here and back in my birth country. My take on the situation described in the NYT article is that the result described is only possible when the couple viewed their marriage as a life-long committment from the start, have been in tune and did listen to each other (she did see 'pain' in his eyes, didn't she??), and at least one of them already went through that 'my-dreams-are-not-working-anymore' stage. Too many variables for it to be a successful MO for anybody else. Unfortunately, if a person does not want to be with you anymore, there is nothing you can really do to keep him/her... Especially with the modern my-happiness-is-above-all culture...

Posted by: olga at September 17, 2009 02:43 PM

But having been married for some time now I can see no good coming from that :p My mind would have been screaming, "Aiiieeee!!! Trap!!! Warning: passive-aggressive pit dead ahead!!!"

I don't know... I don't read it the same way (as far as passive aggressive, "you can write about it if you WANT to.") That's not normally a "guy" thing. Then again, neither is "I want out... why aren't you fighting with me?!?"

Personally, I liked that she was fighting for her marriage in what she felt was the best way. To not make it about her but to focus him on the fact that he was the one with the problem in a completely non-confrontational way. Sure, it was dealing with him like he was a child. But fact is, he was acting like it. Second fact is, it worked.

Do I like the fact that she's basically publicly humiliating him in her column? No. It wouldn't have been my first choice for her to do. But ignoring that fact (otherwise, how would we have heard this story?), everything else she does in it is actually quite good. She's not letting him throw away their family, nor is she getting confrontational and letting him make his problem about her. Nor is she exactly chaining him to the basement wall until he gets Stockholm Syndrome. Overall, I give her a 9 for her solution, with a -3 for writing about it. Six.

Posted by: MikeD at September 17, 2009 03:07 PM

The reason I brought up the passive aggressive thing is, I admit, just an unsubstantiated hunch.

Not all men are alike. The whole "the kids would want me to be happy" thing really set off alarm bells with me.

I totally agree that being unemotional about it was the best response, though that's really an awful lot to ask of someone. That's why I wouldn't live in the same house with the guy. I wouldn't ask him to move out, either.

I would have left him to think it over, and I would not have trusted myself to be in the same house while the 'drama' was ongoing, nor would I want my kids exposed to it :p

To not make it about her but to focus him on the fact that he was the one with the problem in a completely non-confrontational way.

I completely agree that this was the best thing she could have done. Often, when people feel guilty about their own behavior they take it out on the other person or blame them for the guilty feeling. Like I said, that's just another reason I would have opted for him to have some time to himself. It kind of creeped me out, though, her description of having family events all summer that he didn't show up to (his own kids, too).

I can't imagine what she told the children to explain their father's behavior. Maybe nothing (I hope not!). I guess what I can't get past is a sneaking feeling that it's not entirely natural to be so preternaturally calm in that kind of situation. I wouldn't want a lot of yelling and drama, but the "I'm just going to wait out your little temper tantrum" seems a bit condescending to me.

However, as you said it worked and my hat is off to her!

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 03:25 PM

"You know, that is a funny thing."

Yanno, it is...a very close friend of mine had this happen to her six months after she invested a rather large amount of time, money and effort in their 10th anniversary celebration -- the highlight of which was a ceremony to re-affirm their wedding vows.
Her initial reaction to his "I don't love you anymore." was WTF!? from shock due to the "completely-out-of-the-blue" nature of the whole thing. It took a while for the real anger to set in.
I'm not sure I would have been so *calm*....annnnd I'm *pretty sure* I wouldn't today.
0>:~}

Posted by: DL Sly at September 17, 2009 04:08 PM

I have never really understood that whole reaffirmation of the vows thing. A dear friend of mine did it on their 30th.

Idea never really crossed my mind. In fact, our 30th anniversary was very quiet. I guess I am a little funny about things like that. I'm suspicious of too much fuss - I think it puts pressure on people to feel a certain way, and in my experience that's rarely a good thing. It's hard enough to do what we're supposed to do most of the time without having to make protestations of our undying willingness to do what we already said we'd do :p

But then I'm a notoriously mean spirited poopy head in the regard.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 04:13 PM

Not knocking it, mind you. Just saying I don't understand it.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 04:14 PM

though that's really an awful lot to ask of someone.

I did completely forget to mention that. She's one tough cookie. I know I could never have pulled it off. So kudos for sure on that front.

I can't imagine what she told the children to explain their father's behavior.

In the article she said that she told them 'Daddy is going through some tough times as adults sometimes do.' Honestly, she HAD to tell them something. To tell them nothing would have been infinitely worse, as children are not stupid and might have even blamed themselves for why Dad's acting so strangely. As children are wont to do.

I guess what I can't get past is a sneaking feeling that it's not entirely natural to be so preternaturally calm in that kind of situation.

Well, to be fair, in reading it, I can tell she wasn't THAT calm, she was just outwardly calm. And that speaks of an inhuman amount of self-control to be sure. Like I said, I could never have pulled it off.

True story time, when the Lovely Bride and I were dating, she decided at one point to break it off. She claimed that she was "not good enough" for me. I'll admit, I lost my temper and yelled at her (semi-publically as we were in the barracks). It just so happens that this was the perfect response as it got her angry at me, so she came back and got indignant ("Don't you yell at me!") From that position she couldn't really maintain a mopey depression, so she got over about it. And really, I had an awesome point. Namely that it wasn't her prerogative to determine who was or wasn't good enough for me.

Posted by: MikeD at September 17, 2009 04:14 PM

Is that like being a resident reprobate?
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at September 17, 2009 04:14 PM

We broke up shortly before our wedding.

I was very calm outwardly but inwardly I was extremely hurt even though I was the one who left. So I agree, you can't tell from the exterior.

I spent a lot of time in my room crying, but I was damned if anyone else was going to know how crushed I was, though I'm sure my parents saw through the big act. Falling in love is a scary thing. You have such ability to hurt the other person.

Often, people don't deal with that well - it can be a form of pressure in a way.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 04:17 PM

Damn, you guys are fast....

*looks at order of identical 4:14 comments....rolls eyes*

Of course, Cass' is first.....it's her blog.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at September 17, 2009 04:20 PM

I'm *special*!

Though perhaps not in the sense I like to think I am :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 04:31 PM

A good friend of my family had a renewal of vows because she and her husband were married by a JP. So after 20 something years they did the church and reception shindig (no gifts) and everyone had fun.

The marriages I've seen working best seem to be those where 1) people start out assuming that "till death do us part" means just that, and/or 2) preceded by a long courtship. Both suggest maturity and a willingness to work at the relationship. Just my $.02.

Posted by: LittleRed1 at September 17, 2009 06:02 PM

Cass, community property laws are so prevalent out West because they were put in place by the Empire of Spain. Thus, the legal tradition is spanish, rather than the english common law everything else comes from (just like a lot of Louisiana state law is incompatible with the other states because it derives from the french Code Napoleon, back when it was a part of New France).

Community property ideas arose out of a very parochial and explicit desire to protect women from spanish husbands who, apparently, were inclined to run off and leave them penniless. Because it was unaceptable for a woman to work and support herself (and being a helpless fluttering creature prone to faint away), she must be adequately provided for, before ex-hubby could run off with the new squeeze. I don't get it either.

Posted by: a former european at September 17, 2009 08:27 PM

My sister's fiance was previously married, and his wife is the one who decided she wanted out. They didn't have kids or anything, so that was good. He lost his job, though, at a Christian summer camp kind of place because he was divorced, even though he wasn't "at fault"... They've been together for over 5 years now, lived "traditional" doesn't mean a successful/happy marriage, either. I've got one cousin who's wife converted so they could do the whole Catholic wedding, and they might outwardly look like a happy family, but he's a drunk (has been since HS - he almost killed himself, skipping school, playing cards & drinking one day - his buddies dumped him, passed out, in my grandma's yard and if the neighbor hadn't seen him we'd have buried him nearly 20 years ago; let's just say he hasn't learned him lesson about alcohol). His brother and sister-in-law I don't think lived together before getting married (maybe for just a little while, after they were engaged), and while they have a better marriage, they've had their rough spots, too. My sister - the one getting married - has been a little vocal about being honest about how her relationship is portrayed, versus those who put on the mask for "the public" to hide the less-than-perfect, or even ugly, truth.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at September 17, 2009 08:54 PM

Community property ideas arose out of a very parochial and explicit desire to protect women from spanish husbands who, apparently, were inclined to run off and leave them penniless.

Well afe, having spent a lifetime fielding panicked calls from women whose husbands did just that (took off and left them penniless) I can attest to society's interest in not letting kids starve.

I understand that you stepped up. And I honor you for it.

But so many guys, don't afe. Until I came here, the vast majority of my experience with divorce has been that the woman and children live in squalor and even if the court awards child support, good luck on collecting it.

I often wonder why more men don't get angry with the deadbeat dads that caused these laws? Laws don't spring up for no reason. The are an imperfect attempt to solve real problems.

Divorce is a fraught topic and I don't want to antagonize you. Let me just offer this: I am 50 years old and (like I said) the vast majority of cases I've run into - and I do mean VAST - have been men who refuse to help pay for the upkeep of their own kids. They get paid in cash so the courts can't garnish their wages.

And it's responsible men like you who pay the price for this. Right now I employ a "dog walker". Now I can guarantee you: I AM QUITE CAPABLE OF WALKING MY OWN FREAKING DOG. But her husband left her with 3 college age kids and ran off with some bimbo, leaving her heartbroken. I pay her b/c I don't want to see her kids go without b/c their Dad is a deadbeat.

So tell me: is it all womens' fault? Or will you admit that some part of the blame lies with men (not like you) who abdicate their responsibilities when their marriages end?

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2009 09:42 PM

Laws don't spring up for no reason.

An aside: this is one of the techniques of historiography. Historians assume that a law against a practice is evidence of that practice. Thus, if you encounter a 14th century law against drinking turpentine, the assumption is that there was turpentine-drinking going on at the time.

I'm not sure how true that is: it could be that there was turpentine drinking going on in the 12th century, and the laws just stuck on the books for a few hundred years. It could also be that there were only rumors of turpentine drinking going on, and people felt like it was important to set a moral example by banning the practice.

Still, it is a common practice in the writing of history.

Posted by: Grim at September 17, 2009 10:13 PM

Well, I guess you could say that there is at least the *perception* of a problem. Like the laws that are going to ban the incandescent lightbulb or tax us into oblivion because of the *perception* of global warming...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at September 17, 2009 11:40 PM

...it could be that there was turpentine drinking going on in the 12th century...

When the ban was instituted, they just renamed it "scotch" -- and the name stuck.

Posted by: BillT at September 18, 2009 04:04 AM

Cass, I believe my first post addressed exactly what you were referring to; namely, that women suffer in divorce when you are dealing with relatively UNsuccessful men. In other words, if Cleetus blows his entire paycheck from the Piggly-Wiggly on Boones Farm or crystal meth, that leaves ex-wife and the kids high and dry. It is the exact opposite if you are a relatively successful fellow -- then the system treats you like nothing more than a paycheck with legs.

A better analogy might be that I was treated with the same disdain that congressional Liberals in Washington treat a middle-class taxpayer. Those on welfare, however, are largely immune to confiscatory tax rates. Same thing for divorce.

Posted by: a former european at September 18, 2009 04:35 AM

It is the exact opposite if you are a relatively successful fellow -- then the system treats you like nothing more than a paycheck with legs.

I don't think being successful has as much to do with it as what you do for a living, afe.

If you are a business owner, it's harder to get paid under the table or avoid court orders. Also, if you have tangible assets registered in your name and live in a community property state, they're going to get split 50/50. There's no such thing as 'his' stuff and 'her' stuff. This doesn't discriminate against men specifically b/c if the woman had the same assets, they'd be split 50/50 all the same. It's just that in this case, you were the one who built the assets and so the 50/50 split was more 'unfair' to you.

The obligation to support your child, on the otter heiny, is something that survives the marriage. It existed before you got divorced too - you just didn't think so much about it b/c your finances were still co-mingled. A lot of men (not saying you're one of them) think the fact that they still have to support children they fathered is "unfair", but the law is there to prevent the child's standard of living from suffering b/c of the divorce. I suppose you could argue that Dads should only have to pay a bare subsistence level of child support sufficient to keep the kid from starving rather than child support based on his income, but it's hard to understand how any caring parent would think that was the right thing to do. A lot of men think of child support as alimony but they are two distinct things. Is it "fair" that a custodial mother can afford to live in a bigger house/apartment b/c of child support than she could on solely her income? I suppose not. But it's hard to argue that a mother with 2 or 3 (or even 1) child needs the same size place as she would if she had no kids. And I would hope most Dads would want their child to live in a decent neighborhood with good schools, even if this meant living with the unintended consequence that Mom benefitted from this, too.

If you get paid in cash (and I've known men with boats and fancy cars who make around 100K who still get paid in cash for a lot of the work they do and yet their wives get no child support) then it's easier to skate out of supporting your own children.

One of the most egregious cases I ever saw was a man who had a huge trust fund from Daddy and more money than most of us will ever see in a lifetime. He looked like Joe Upstanding Citizen.

But he never paid his child support and the courts wouldn't enforce the order. He hit his wife (that's why she left him). After the divorce he still roughed her up every chance he got. When he came to pick up their son, she used to leave her front door open and I would go over and stand on the doorstep facing into their living room until he came out with the kid.

Finally one day he knocked her around again and she took off with the kid. He sued and the court ordered HER to bring the child back (gotta enforce that visitation order - who cares if Dad isn't contributing to the child's upkeep!).

Now you can argue (as I've argued with regard to men) that she should have been more careful about who she married in the first place. But she says he never laid a finger on her until the boy came along, and that was several years into the marriage.

I understand that you've been wrongly dealt with, but normally unless you live in a community property state, courts don't award alimony anymore unless it's temporary. And paying child support is an obligation that existed before the divorce and doesn't terminate just b/c the marriage does. What I'm trying to get you to see is that the laws that were responsible for your plight came about because in general, women were getting the short end of the stick and it got so bad that laws were passed to solve a very real problem.

I'd be curious as to how much of your divorce settlement owed to community property (which is no respecter of gender) and how much to alimony (meant to compensate the wife for loss of earning opportunities during the marriage)? My guess is that most of it is community property, but I could be wrong.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 18, 2009 08:39 AM

re: turpentine drinking.

There is ample statistical evidence of failure to pay child support before divorce laws were reformed, Grim. So I don't think this is a case of "assuming".

FWIW, I worked in a family law practice for a time (in a community property state, no less!) and saw a large number of divorce cases and the ensuing litigation (no, no fault divorce laws didn't "end" things simply or cleanly).

My boss represented both fathers and mothers, so I saw both sides of the coin.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 18, 2009 08:45 AM

Nother true story time. The Lovely Bride was married before. There really was no drama involved (i.e. no adultery, no abuse, no children). He simply refused to hold down a job, and lied to her about it (had her drive him to work for a full week after he had already quit, even though it was a half hour away).

Anyhoo, to get him to leave (since SC requires legal seperation for one year before a divorce can be granted), she gave him the savings, kept the bills and the debt, and out the door he went. One year later, she had a bit of trouble getting him to sign the papers (more out of procrastination on his part than a desire to get back together), but the divorce was finalized with no issues about custody or splitting property or whatnot.

I only mention this to point out that "no fault" divorces can and do happen, and that sometimes the lady can be the responsible party in the process. Now, for me it meant I married into some debt that wasn't mine, but on the plus side, I got her. I count that as a win.

Posted by: MikeD at September 18, 2009 09:32 AM

A lot of men (not saying you're one of them) think the fact that they still have to support children they fathered is "unfair",

Is it "fair" that a custodial mother can afford to live in a bigger house/apartment b/c of child support than she could on solely her income? I suppose not.

My experience is that the two things are intertwined. Most of the non-custodial dads believe that their child support isn't going to fund the child, but towards funding Mom's luxuries. I've heard several Dads mention that they wish their child support payments were going to a seperate account in the child's name in such a way that he could review the transactions to ensure that the money is spent on the child and not the mom.

While this may *sound* nice, It's based on the desire to make money non-fungible. You might as well desire that Unicorns farted gold for all the good it'd do. Does the Dad really expect Mom to split the groceries into two transactions, one for her food and one for the childs? Bull$h!t. Does he really expect Mom to send two checks for the mortgage, one for her portion and one for the childs? Ridiculous, all you get then is bitching about the proportions (Does the little tyke *really use* a third of the house? Or is it only a quarter? Or a fifth?)

I have more sympathy for those who say that wish they could trade places with their ex as it seems more similar the the old "One cuts, the other chooses" way of dividing a pizza in half.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 18, 2009 10:42 AM

There is ample statistical evidence of failure to pay child support before divorce laws were reformed, Grim.

Pardon me -- I didn't intend to enter into your debate with afe. I meant that as a true aside: your comment about how 'laws don't spring up for no reason' reminded me of one of my old lessons that I always found interesting.

Posted by: Grim at September 18, 2009 01:03 PM

Ah... sorry :)

I misunderstood! I thought it was intended as a rebuttal point :p

since SC requires legal seperation for one year before a divorce can be granted

Heh. I was trained in SC - the laws are very different there! There are definitely drawbacks to any system of laws. After all, they're trying to resolve human situations in which most of the time reason and/or negotiation have already failed. So it's hardly surprising a one-size-fits-all system often results in real "misfit" solutions.

Like afe's situation.

*sigh*

Posted by: Cassandra at September 18, 2009 01:10 PM

Everyone has raised good points, and I can't really comment on other states' divorce laws. My viewpoint necessarily encompasses the laws of Arizona, which is a community property state.

I have no problem paying child support, and have never missed a payment. I have no respect for any man that won't take responsibility for the children he has sired. I take the need for child support as a given, and don't argue against it.

I do, however, argue with the amount. Yu-ain touched on this, but I disagree. I prepared the family budgets prior to the divorce, so I know exactly what was spent for child costs each month. Even after factoring in the proper proportions of housing/food/schooling etc., the "child support guidelines" formula set by the state have me paying about triple the pre-divorce costs of supporting each child.

Did my children magically become more financially burdensome once a divorce decree was entered? How did this happen? The truth is that this is just another hidden "tax" or redistribution of wealth from dad to mom. I call it "mommy welfare".

And yes, it does bother me that I pay ginormous sums to my ex, but my children don't see it. I have repeatedly asked my ex to sign up the kids at the local YMCA or park district for baseball, pop warner football, swimming or even some kind of arts, crafts, or learning classes. She won't because it "costs too much". When I get visitation, I see my kids in old, ratty clothes, when she gets enough in child support to buy them a new wardrobe each month. My son is old enough to start shaving now, and I have begun teaching him. I asked him to practice while at his mom's, but he said he can't because she won't buy him a razor. A razor!!!! Her response was: "well, if your dad is so concerned about razors, then let him buy you one".

My ex spends the minimum amount of child support necessary for the kids, and keeps the rest for her own fun. So yes, I do call bullshit on the child support system. It is supposedly "for the children", but places no accountability on the custodial parent (usually the mom) to actually act for the benefit of the kids.

As the non-custodial parent, I have no say in this. My only duty under the system is to pay and pay and pay, and then shut the hell up.

Posted by: a former european at September 18, 2009 03:02 PM

My ex spends the minimum amount of child support necessary for the kids, and keeps the rest for her own fun.

Would that this were the only time I'd heard of this happening, but it's not. At times like this, I'm tempted to say "there oughtta be a law", but that's what got us here in the first place. What OUGHT to happen is that the court sets up an executor for the children who handles the actual money and approves all purchases. Or perhaps some form of debit card where the breakdown of all purchases get sent to the payer (in afe's case, him) to review. And if things look squirrelly ("Really? The kids needed pedicures? Then why is there only a bill for one adult?") he should be able to go to the judge and get custody re/examined. Because what he's describing (and I've heard from others) is nothing short of fraud. And if criminal behavior is a disqualifier for custody... well, if the shoe fits...

Posted by: MikeD at September 18, 2009 03:27 PM

I prepared the family budgets prior to the divorce, so I know exactly what was spent for child costs each month. Even after factoring in the proper proportions of housing/food/schooling etc., the "child support guidelines" formula set by the state have me paying about triple the pre-divorce costs of supporting each child.

Have you ever asked a judge to reconsider the child support settlement, afe? If it's excessive, another judge might revisit the amounts, especially if at least one of your kids is willing to back you up.

Not trying to cause trouble here. It does sound wrong. Sometimes (I know nothing about AZ law) the support guidelines are binding and sometimes they're just advisory in nature but can be superceded by a court order.

Having my ex stint on providing for the kids would really grind me, too. I am sorry about that.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 18, 2009 04:02 PM

From a case I'm somewhat familiar with, doing that takes a huge risk. That is, if the father has obtained raises since the last hearing, he is much more afraid that not only will the judge *not* decrease the amount, but that they will actually *increase* it. Thus complaining will only make things worse.

Like I said, the answer to things like AFE's situation seem to be to grant him custody and make her pay child support. If she balks at that, then the situation isn't really equitable.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 18, 2009 04:23 PM

Ha! Give up her meal ticket by letting me have custody? Surely you jest!

Actually, I have discussed this with my divorce attorney, but it will never fly. First, there is the unwritten presumption that the mother should always get custody. The statistics are about 80-90% in favor of mom, unless I can show she is "unfit". That's a heavy burden of proof.

Second, because my "child support" is greater than her entire income, she doesn't really need to provide for the family. She works at a "makework" administrative position at her local church. There is no stress, because she has very little duties, low hours, no need to work overtime, and can basically take as much time off as she wants to be with the kids.

I, on the other hand, am a successful small-business professional with my own firm. I work the long hours of any successful small business owner, including lots of unpaid overtime. Although I have always made time for the kids a priority, I will still compare unfavorably to the time my ex can devote to them.

The perverse thing is that my success is the very cause of my high child support payments, that in turn let my ex work essentially part-time, and by which she is deemed the better parent for custody. If I were on welfare, I would have all the time in the world to take the kids to the park every day, etc. Ergo, my assertion that the divorce system punishes successful men disproportionately, while loser men (Snake the biker-gang leader) get off scot free -- very much like taxes.

Posted by: a former european at September 18, 2009 06:40 PM

Actually, I have discussed this with my divorce attorney, but it will never fly.

Oh, I agree that the courts will never do it. Not even when pigs fly. And for pretty much the reason you describe. Apparently, having a penis impedes parental apptitude. A uterus is just so much more *useful* to the job. /sarcasm

Doesn't mean it isn't a better solution though. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 18, 2009 06:59 PM

...unless I can show she is "unfit". That's a heavy burden of proof.

Especially since an aquaintance of mine (passed away in his late 20s of a heart attack) couldn't get custody even though he could prove the mom was strung out on drugs (not weed either, the hard stuff), would leave their toddler daughter home alone for hours at a time, barely works, and has an arrest record a mile long.

All she had to do was lie and say "I'm afraid he might hurt her" and it's case closed, she won.

Now his parents (who are retired and fantastically wealthy) are trying to get custody but "she's the mom".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 18, 2009 07:12 PM

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