The following is an email I received from one of our readers.
I’m a custodial father. I have to say it that way, because if I said “single dad”, it would be ambiguous enough that most would presume that I was like most single dads, a visitor and probable dead-beat.
I have paid spousal support and child support, in addition to being compelled to keep the existing status of the house and utilities. This situation left me with $25 per month to live on. The court was generous to my ex, compelling me to pay half of my income to her in spousal and child support, with the other half covering my mortgage. During this time, my ex did not pay any utilities, did not make the ordered vehicle payments that the court awarded her, (including insurance), paid no medical co-pays or deductible, and paid none of her legal bills. All of these obligations for services that she used later fell on me. The court, when providing her the support, did not enumerate her obligations, which were left as “joint”.
Fast forward a few years. Starting at 15 months after our divorce, I have had custody of the children, and my ex has an obligation to pay less per month in support than someone who makes minimum wage pays. This past summer, I was laid off. In a week, I had certified and obtained a job in a related field at the same wage. Less than a year later, I have a permanent position making 15 percent more than I was the previous year. During this time, my ex did not pay her child support, nor has she paid any of the expenses, insurance, or care for the children, but rather has run up a court tab for me for an additional $10k, and growing.
Given a year of support, my ex accomplished nothing. Relieved of the burden of caring for the children, and not even paying a pittance in support for 3 years, my ex has still accomplished nothing, save a growing file with the police, CPS and our guardian ad litem, and now faces incarceration for refusing to pay child support based on an income that, while she refused to substantiate it, she insisted was accurate, and on her own initiative, adjusted her obligation to reflect her claimed income. She’s behind on her rent, behind on her bills, and has warrants for her arrest (failure to appear).
While a custodial parent, receiving nothing in support from either my ex, nor the state, nor any other agency, I have kept a job, survived a layoff, recertified and re-employed, all while maintaining the same house, getting my kids to school, and keeping up with their day care, health insurance and other expenses. The Texas Bogey Man, aka Attorney General Greg Abbot, has done absolutely nothing except provide excuse after excuse for not engaging in enforcement. I was able to do more, as a Pro-Se litigant in 45 days, than his state agency accomplished in over three years, with a multi-million dollar budget. I also support an elderly adult recovering from a heart attack. I’m not rich – my income is at or under $50k a year, I have no massive savings, trust funds, wealthy family members, etc. It IS a struggle to make ends meet sometimes, just as it is for many intact families.
Having been on both sides of this argument, my observation is this: There is no excuse for a custodial or non-custodial ex spouse to receive “spousal support” for any term longer than a year, and it should come with enforceable obligations and restrictions of its own. Establishing an obligation for the ‘working’ parent to sustain the status of the non-working party will only invite abuse, and does not motivate the ‘non-working’ spouse to care for themselves. This sets up a ‘learned helplessness’ that is destructive to both the private parties and the community at large. The push should be to completely dissolve any dependencies as soon as possible at the completion of a divorce.