When people ask me how can I be divorced with two children and pay no child support, I tell them I took a cue from Nancy Reagan; I “just said no.”
I took the road less traveled. One that more men should be allowed to travel.
For the past 13 years, I have been fortunate to be a full-time musician. Since the time of our daughter’s birth in 2003, I was at 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 perform in weddings and corporate events. 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 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.
Working a full time job, gigs and doing much of the house work burnt me out so I quit my corporate job. Meanwhile my wife was unwilling to continue the therapy sessions we’d set up to find a way to repair our marriage. She hired an attorney and filed 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 cash each 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. 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 the attempts at 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. Luckily for me she was never psychotic enough to hurt herself or abuse the criminal justice system’s bias against men.
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 wanted to do just that: opt out.
I must acknowledge one piece of the puzzle that gave me a slight advantage that no one has today. At the time of my lawsuit, New York was the last state who hadn’t adopted no-fault laws. This gave me leverage that no one can use in court today. Now, everyone is at the mercy of their spouse and can’t contest their divorce. In fact, most people have no idea that your spouse can file for divorce for any reason and not have to prove why they want out of the marriage. This is a real disadvantage for the monied spouse in my state because the custodial parent gains an advantage with the child support guidelines. The spouse who makes more money is ordered to pay the non-custodial parent.
At the time, my attorney and I decided to contest my ex’s grounds for divorce. We were willing to compel her to tell the truth under oath. My ex would have perjured herself in court since there were several inconsistencies in her sworn deposition. Her attorney decided it would be unwise for her to proceed in that manner. This was the turning point that forced a settlement.
After 11 months in and out of court, we agreed that my parenting time would take place during the day; hers at night and that 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 historically done so.
I’m not sure many men have the testicular fortitude to endure the pain it takes to achieve this goal today. Particularly since the avenue I pursued is now closed off to men in the family court’s crusade against fatherhood. I certainly thought of giving up but never did. I was also determined 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.
During my custody battle, I came to a deeper understanding how the courts system works and how the law applied in my particular case. I persevered by demonstrating that I was rational, reasonable, and always focused on the best interest of my children. Instead of relying solely on my attorney’s advice and historical precedent, I saw the bigger picture and thought long term.
I used several tactics to my advantage. I never left or was forced out of our marital residence, I managed to avoid physical altercations by keeping my emotions in check as much as possible, avoided being taken to jail by the NYPD by calmly explaining my side of the story and kept my focus by remaining totally devoted to my two children. I always took the high road and never talked badly about my ex to our children, no matter how tempting. I still don’t-she is the mother of our kids. They love her just as much as they love me.
I know all too well the stories of men who get taken advantage of by unscrupulous attorneys who don’t offer alternatives and other potential options their clients can pursue. 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. In my subsequent research, I have discovered that many fathers do not want to leave their children. Many times they are FORCED out.
Mandatory arrests laws that were written to protect women over the years have often been abused and are at times used to force fathers from the home straight into jail. This, in conjunction with punitive child support orders and the threat of imprisonment if it isn’t paid have been just a few of the reasons for the increase of widespread fatherlessness over the past 40 years.
The threat of divorce, child support orders or jail should ever stop a devoted father from having a healthy relationship with his children. No one should have the right to deny that important relationship unless there are serious criminal matters and there is due process.
Today it seems that many women intentionally abuse a system that was set up in the 1950′s and 1960′s to assist with the necessary expenses of child rearing for children that both parents gave consent to have. Now that women have joined the workforce in unprecedented numbers–and birth control frees them from the constraints they were otherwise under–it makes little sense to keep men stuck back in an era that has long passed. Women don’t want to go back to that era-men don’t either. If times have progressed for women, why are men forced to stay in the past?
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, and most attorneys don’t even discuss potential options for their clients. I truly feel that men who desire to be a part of their children’s lives need not pay their future ex-wife at all.
My ex wife and I, more often than not, peacefully co-exist without a state ordered child or spousal support. I must emphasize this particular point: if anyone chooses the road I took, it requires a lifelong commitment of taking care of your children – something that unfortunately, most men today are not even given an opportunity to do.
I feel the default option in custody cases should be joint legal and physical custody with no court ordered child support absent a strong reason. Start with a 50/50 split of parenting time with the children. If that can’t happen and money needs to be transferred, the person receiving the funds needs to be held accountable for how the money is being spent. As it stand now, there is no way to account for how the funds are being used for the children.
The more often we keep the filthy claws of state and federal government out of our lives, the better. Once they get in, they never let go. The formation of the family court system, the state and federal offices of child support enforcement and all of the affiliated positions associated with it, has resulted in the creation of a massive state controlled Industry whose sole function is to affect the massive transfer of wealth from the father to the mother. The increase in state intrusion in our personal lives coupled with the culture of entitlement and unreasonable expectations currently embedded in our public consciousness, creates a system that feeds upon itself. It appears that this former government safety net has turned into a spider web. Eventually it will bleed fathers dry and the real victims will be their children.
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. Women can learn from my story and understand that just because you may no longer love the father of your kids, your children do. Children need their mother AND father. Find a way to stay out of that hell hole they loosely call “Family Court.” I am living proof that there is another way.
For father’s day, give your ex the gift of letting him be a father.