Friday, June 24, 2011

How I Could Have Become a Deadbeat Dad

“What a total deadbeat!”

Those words were said of me by my former wife’s attorney during a court hearing almost 10 years ago as I was going through my divorce. But why did he say that?

Well, in the midst of the most turbulent chapter of my life, I was sinking deep and quickly. I didn’t plan for the nightmare that I was experiencing – the divorce and all the emotional and financial turmoil that comes with a very ugly court case. Sleepless nights after being served with divorce papers, attorney fees, custody evaluations and everything else that came with the unpleasant process had me perpetually behind the 8-ball, as the expression goes.

Her attorney just felt that I should have just been content to pay child support and maintain all the bills of the former marital home while seeing my daughter every other weekend for visits. When I wasn’t complying with his ideal, that’s when the dreaded “d” word was said of me: deadbeat! In a sense, he was implying that I should just focus on the financial aspect of the case and forget about maintaining a strong presence in my daughter’s life.

I had long been familiar with the term deadbeat dad. My image had always been of a rough guy who's impregnated a woman and disappeared - then years later he’s found and is dragged kicking and screaming into court to pay child support. Then when he doesn't pay, he's jailed for being a deadbeat who doesn't support his child. That's the image I've always had. Perhaps that’s the image you have. Well, let me share with you how I could easily have become one.

Here I was - a professional, a Certified Public Accountant. I got married and 2 years later our daughter was born. I never missed a doctor’s appointment while she was in the womb. I was fully engaged in everything concerning her - at home, at her daycare and so on. She was Daddy’s little girl – my world and the sunshine of my life.

Then came the demise of the marriage. It just didn't work out, much to my dismay. The thought of divorce and seeing my daughter going from house to house spending time with each parent just wasn't something I envisioned. I grew up with two happily married parents. In my view, divorce was something others did - but not me. "Till death do us part" was my vow. The challenges and obstacles could always be worked out, in my view.

Yet divorce hit our home. And it hit it hard. The emotional part was just awful. I couldn’t eat. I lost 30 lbs in the first month of this new chapter of my life. The only time I was at peace was when I slept. Every waking moment was like torture. 

The pain I felt wasn't just for me. I was an adult - I knew what was happening. But my daughter was a little three year old child. She was confused by all that was going on. She cried. She blamed herself for the fact that Daddy wasn't living at home anymore. The first time I saw her after the separation she said, "Daddy, I'm sorry I yelled at you - can you come home now?" That really broke my heart. It was like something out of a movie. But it was very real. 

The family law system was so one-sided that it was hard to believe. My attorney was great. She really was. It wasn't her fault. It's just that the system itself was broken and I just had to grit my teeth and bear it. She and I have kept in touch over the years and we have a very good friendship to this day. The thing that concerned me most about my experience was that people who have never met my daughter were making these life-altering decisions that impacted her life in a significant way. And despite my best efforts, I could do very little about it.

The financial aspect of all this was like nothing I encountered before. I couldn’t afford to live anywhere – literally. If not for my sister and her family, I'm not sure what I would have done. They housed me for 18 months - throughout the divorce and the immediate aftermath.

In addition, the legal fees and other divorce-related costs were sky high. My other bills were still there - with less money to pay them. And the concept of paying child support was new to me. In the past, our daughter was just a part of the household so by default she was supported. Whatever she needed was provided – from diapers and formula as a baby to costs like clothes and daycare fees as a three year old. Now I had to come up with a child support check. That was a very new concept. And considering that the check was almost as much as the mortgage of the marital home, it's little wonder I had no money to even consider renting an apartment.

With the financial woes, I seriously contemplated filing bankruptcy – it was that bad. I was working as an auditor with a large corporation but with my expenses tripled and my discretionary spending money so much lower, I just couldn't manage. Loans and gifts from family members and friends were the only thing that helped me to stay afloat.

Do you notice that when you hear advertisements by companies that help people with bad credit issues, they include divorce along with things such as foreclosures, repossessions and late payments? I was experiencing the reality of why this was the case. Divorce can destroy your life - emotionally and financially. If you really believe in the institution of marriage, it’s just not something you plan and budget for. But somehow divorce happened and I just really had to pick up the pieces.

Through all the turmoil, I made it. Yes, I made it. Now that whole chapter is a distant memory. The marriage ended. The house is gone. The attorneys have been paid. The only remaining connection to that relationship is the most important one - our daughter. She doesn't know - and likely never will know - just how much was endured on her behalf.

I learned firsthand why so many dads walk away from the family law system discouraged. I know men personally who got so tired of the one-sided nature of the court process and how it can negatively impact them that they just opted to leave the country with no intent to ever return. They cut off support to the kids and all communication with them. In other words, they allowed the judicial process to get the better of them and make them become deadbeat dads.

Believe me when I tell you that not every father who is a deadbeat has always had that mindset. I don’t like the fact that many of them adopt the philosophy of becoming uninvolved in the lives of their children. They refuse to support them financially and otherwise as a means of getting back at their exes and the judicial system. I don’t agree with their approach but I can totally relate to the circumstances that lead them in that direction.  I have said on many occasions that I think the court helps to create deadbeat dads. The obstacles to maintaining one’s rights as a father are so great that some can't be bothered to try to endure it.

If you're a dad dealing with family law issues, my encouragement to you is to keep focused on your kids. Focusing elsewhere - on the house, cars, investments, etc - might give you temporary relief but in the end, it's your kids that really matter. I lost everything from that marriage - home, savings, 401K and more. But still I won the heart of my daughter and she’s so much better for it – and I’m so much better as well. 

Today, we’re as close as we have always been. She's a happy, well-adjusted 12 year old who lives with my wonderful new wife and me. And now she has a little 10 month old brother who she just adores. We’ve got a happy blended family of four and things are just fine. You can read about how it all came together in The Story of My Blended Family by The Upbeat Dad. Believe me when I tell you that life gets better in time.

I share this post to really become transparent and share my personal experience on this matter. In one of my poems I wrote, “Don’t be fooled by the smile that I wear; because each smile you see has cost me a tear.” It hasn’t been an easy road but for my daughter’s sake, I’d do it all over again. If the family law system is broken, that should never cause a dad to walk away from his kids. That’s not something that one should even contemplate. But many do, and it’s the kids who suffer.

Your kids need you to be Daddy – their provider and protector. No court or any ex should change your mindset towards your innocent little ones. Let’s commit to standing up and doing our best for them. They're worth it in every way.
Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad



  1. I haven't been thru divorce, but I have writtened that Child Support check and everything it entails. This is a well writtened piece, and could open a bunch of eyes if read with an open mind. Even with all the emotions that you've said, I am sure there would be people to still belittle and berate you to no end. Thanks for writing this!

  2. I agree that divorce tears you apart in ways you never imagined or ever dreamed of enduring. I'm a "weird" case though - as a mom who "supported" the family - I ended up paying alimony to my exhusband, and I kept the house, got custody of my son and became solely financially responsible for my son. All my ex had to do was "show up" for his visits. He KNEW that his son would be exceptionally cared for (he never even asked for custody, bc he never wanted it). In the three years we've been divorced, he's moved progressively farther and farther away (he now lives 80 miles away) from his son, and had less and less to do with him. He's remarried and has stepkids now. He didn't endure any of the financial hardship that you did - he got half of everything in the house (AND alimony...and didn't pay child support for a few years bc of what he made with his alimony). But STILL, he couldn't step up to the plate as a "dad." My son CRAVES his dad's attention. You are so right on point when you say that it all boils down to the fact that the child is what really matters. My ex had NO financial fallout (other than having to move out of the marital home) - shit, he even got all of my jewelry in the final settlement (bc I didn't care about "stuff" and just wanted him to be gone!)...but it breaks my heart that my son spent more time with MY parents last year than with his own father. I'm glad to hear that you've remained steadfast in your quest to be a great dad. I'm hoping that in the years to come, maybe my ex will come around. My son deserves that.

  3. This post was so powerful! My heart goes out to anyone who experiences the legal system getting involved in family matters.

  4. Great post, man. I know too many guys who've gotten the short end in their divorces for the exact reasons you mention, and it all started with unscrupulous lawyers who worked the system (in a bad way) to get their clients what they want. He knew exactly what he was doing when he used the D word, it's a buzz word for divorces. I guess there are a few bad apples in any profession. I've also worked with alot of guys who are picking up the pieces after divorce, and the financial part always seems to be one of the toughest things to rebound from. Glad to hear your story ended well.