Posts Tagged ‘Divorce’

I Am Not the Father

June 19, 2011

Lately, it’s become fashionable to wish single mothers Happy Father’s Day.

Miss me with that.

I am a single mother raising two kids alone. I do it by necessity, since my kids’ father has chosen, for the most part, to be absent from their lives since our divorce.

I also do it a little bit by choice. Some women in my shoes would have initiated a search for Mr. Stepdad a long time ago. Marrying a man for the sole purpose of providing my kids with a replacement father does not interest me in the least.

Being a single mother does not also make me a single father. Or some type of mother-father hybrid. I am a woman, and I can only approach parenting from a woman’s perspective. I grew up with my father and mother, but my mother was the more dominant influence in our home. For better or worse, I adopted her style of parenting even when I was married.

The notion that a woman raising children by herself is acting as both mother and father is misguided and harmful. It does a disservice to all of the fathers – including the single fathers – who are also working hard, every day, to raise their children. We single mothers enjoy the appreciation, but on Father’s Day, fathers, not mothers, deserve all the love.

My kids do benefit from positive male influences. Unfortunately, their father isn’t one. I don’t live near my family, so my children don’t have uncles and older male cousins who take the place of their absent father in providing this influence. They do have teachers. coaches, their friends’ fathers, and my significant other.

None of them can take the place of a loving, caring father, but my ex-husband is not a loving, caring father. They wouldn’t have a nuturing dad in their lives even if their dad were still around. A psychotherapist told me recently, if the absent parent does substantial damage to the child when he or she is present, it is better for that parent to remain absent. My children are not better off without a father, but they are better off without a father who is still so hurt from his own childhood that he inflicts pain upon his own children almost without knowing.

I am not a hero. I am not “holding it down.” I’m doing what I have to do. I take care of my children because I’m supposed to.

I take care of my kids because I love them and I need them and they need me. I do it alone because their father is unwilling and unable to participate. That doesn’t mean I fill both roles.

I am a mother. That’s more than enough.

So while I appreciate the acknowledgment of single mothers on Father’s Day, don’t wish me a Happy Father’s Day. I am a lot of things to my kids, but a father is most certainly not one of them.

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Upgrade Him? Girl, No

July 25, 2010

I was chatting recently with one of my law school friends about a classmate of ours whose marriage was ending in divorce.

At first I thought it was regular gossip about another seemingly happy marriage falling apart.  But as my friend filled in more of the details, I understood it was, instead, yet another example of the Negro Improvement Plan gone wrong.

And as my friend and I are veterans of the Negro Improvement Plan Gone Wrong War, we clucked our tongues and sent up prayers for what we both know lies ahead for this woman in her efforts to divorce her low-income spouse.

“Negro Improvement Plan” is a term coined by my friend Stephanie to describe the phenomenon we began witnessing as one woman after another from our Harvard Law School class partnered up with lower income men.  The men were never just the construction workers, secretaries, mailroom guys, etc. they appeared to be.  Inevitably, he was “going back to school.”  In the rare cases where he wasn’t going back to school, he was starting a business.  Or he was a producer — for artists no one had ever heard of. 

The Negro Improvement Plan meant there was a plausible and legitimate reason for these Harvard-trained women lawyers to be marrying their Mr. Blue Collars.  He was going places.  He just needed a boost.  And his loyal, loving woman was going to be just the boost he needed to take him where he should go.

When more of us, including Stephanie and me, embarked on our own versions of the Negro Improvement Plan, we didn’t recognize that we had just joined the same club we had been so scornful of. 

The Negro Improvement Plan wasn’t always about trying to force the man into some sort of career change.  My ex was a construction worker when I met him.  I liked the sound of that, and was disappointed he didn’t stay in construction when I moved him into my Brooklyn apartment.  He decided he’d rather be working in an office, and I was OK with that, too.  I didn’t try to influence his career choices too much.

But from the day he moved to New York until the day he moved out of my Harlem brownstone, I rode him relentlessly for the way he mangled the English language, the fact that his subjects and verbs never agreed and his vocabulary was a bit “too street.”  He was a grown man from North Philly who had been speaking like a North Philly gangsta pretty much all his life, and he was very comfortable with how he spoke.  His friends were comfortable with how he spoke.  I was the only one who had a problem with it.  I told myself it was because I wanted my daughter to learn “correct English.”  I wasn’t honest enough to admit it was my issue and no one else’s.

I tried to upgrade my ex-husband’s grammar and vocabulary.  Other friends tried to upgrade their men similar to Beyonce’s “Upgrade U,” by putting them in Hickey Freeman suits, Pink shirts, Rolex watches and BMWs.  They tried to slot their blue collar men into their Pottery Barn worlds of 600-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, towels folded just so, a utensil for every kitchen-related purpose, and Jack and Jill for the children.

Stephanie had once snarked, “I guess he got tired of being bougie,” after one of our classmates’ marriages to a lower-income man fell apart.  But, as it turned out, Stephanie’s Negro Improvement Plan was the classic career changing  one.  She tried to turn her man into a small business owner.  The business failed, in part because her partner wasn’t a reliable employee of his own so-called business.

In all cases, including mine, the men enjoyed the perks of the upgrade efforts — the cars, the suits, the trips, the real estate — until they figured out their women expected those changes to be lasting.  My ex knew how to speak properly.  He was also very well-read.  Thanks to my nagging, he would correct his grammar in the presence of our children, but whenever I dragged him to some law firm function, he would reach deep in his storehouse of Ebonics and entertain my law partners, to my horror and frustration.  I was furious with him for deliberately fitting neatly into the stereotypes I assumed “they” held of “us.”

Once, I actually listened, and discovered he was carrying on an intelligent conversation, despite the Ebonics, with one of my partners and his wife about U.S. drug enforcement policy.  Later, the wife told me, “Your husband is a very smart man.”  I never knew if that was a genuine compliment, or if she was surprised to hear rational arguments coming from someone who spoke so poorly, like a dog sitting down to the piano and playing Mozart.

My ex-husband called me controlling, which I resented.  In hindsight, I realize most of our issues stemmed from a battle for control.  He already felt emasculated by my position and salary.  The fact that I would snark on his grammar was probably just a bit too much for him to stomach.  Embarrassing me at my law firm functions was his way of getting back at me.

It’s insulting and demoralizing to treat a man like, as my friend @HarlemWriter put it, stray animals or shelter rescues you can return when they soil the rug or chew on your pricey shoes.  You can’t change your mate.  You are supposed to love your mate as he is.  If you can’t do that, you are with the wrong partner.  Period.

Bottom line: leave the upgrading to Beyonce. 

And for the record, she didn’t have to upgrade her man, either.

My First Haters

May 31, 2010

 

I’ve always been opinionated, and I’m not shy about expressing my opinions, whether in a real-life discussion or on my blog.  I suppose it was inevitable, therefore, that some of my posts would rub some people the wrong way.

That doesn’t bother me.  I’m all for spirited debate.  Except . . . I haven’t gotten any.

It seems some of the people who disliked my posts, in particular the one about men, or the one about celebrity divorce settlements, chose not to post comments on my blog.  They also chose not to debate me on Twitter or Facebook, where I usually post my newest blog posts.

What they did choose to do was make cowardly ad hominem attacks on Twitter.

I’ve gotten one or two “you’re divorced, right? figures” comments on this blog.  I haven’t thought much of them.  What exactly does it figure?  Figures that I, a divorced woman, would be interested in the subject of divorce? 

Or does it “figure” that I’m divorced because I’m a bitter, unlovable hag, as evidenced by my writing and my opinions?

Apparently I’m supposed to believe the latter.

Sorry, but no.  Anyone else who wants to believe that about me, believe away.  And feel free to believe, based on a few blog posts and tweets, that you know all you need to know about my marriage and my divorce.  As long as I write about divorce and custody issues, I guess it’s understandable that people would try to construct a story about my own divorce.  Until and unless I choose to publish my divorce story, good luck with that.

I’m just disappointed that the people in question chose to resort to personal attacks, instead of making rational counter-arguments to the positions with which they disagreed. 

In the end, though, I’m pleased that people are reading and reacting to what I write.  Thanks to everyone who visits my blog and read my posts.  Whether you agree or disagree, I appreciate your readership. 

I do not, however, tolerate personal attacks, on me or any of my commenters.  As long as you keep it respectful, debate away.

An Incivil Action: Child Custody Litigation

May 14, 2010

Writer Debra Dickerson shocked many when she revealed recently that, as a result of a five-and-a-half year custody battle with her ex-husband, she and her children are now homeless.

Dickerson and I crossed paths briefly at Harvard Law School: I was a 3L when she was a 1L.  I knew of her, though I can’t really say I knew her.  Dickerson chose not to practice law and became a writer instead.  I chose not to be poor and unable to repay $90,000 in law school debt, so I went on to practice, although the desire to write never left (hence, this blog).

I empathize with Dickerson, not because we have HLS in common, but because of my own experiences with never-ending child custody, visitation and support court battles.  I, too, had a lengthy and expensive divorce.  I, too, spent over $100,000 in legal fees — most of them in an unnecessarily protracted custody fight.  I contend my ex never really wanted custody, but included it among his demands to gain settlement leverage.   And unfortunately, because divorce = litigation, we had to fight it out. 

Child custody contests are indeed battles, ones in which the most forceful weapons are the children.  In litigation, someone has to win, and someone has to lose.  And when kids are used as weapons, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they’re the ones who get hurt.

I’m still in the midst of visitation issues with my ex.  And although I admire the professionals who are involved in my case, the process is completely illogical.  I strongly believe that child custody–and divorce, for that matter–should not be determined through litigation.  In New York, it is possible to avoid litigation if the parties negotiate a separation agreement (which they file with the court), remain separated for at least a year, and then file for a judgment of divorce based on the separation agreement.  But this approach will not work for everyone.

Negotiating a separation agreement can be a very expensive process.  A separation agreement is, in essence, a settlement agreement, and settlement negotiations are still quite adversarial.  Unlike a regular contract negotiation, a settlement negotiation involves two parties who would otherwise be suing each other, attempting to resolve their conflict by contract.  Therefore, the parties and their lawyers are often positional rather than conciliatory in approach, and unreasonable demands made out of anger and hurt can derail the process as easily as as in court.  In most cases, however, people who decide to divorce by separation agreement generally are motivated to agree and avoid litigation.

The underlying motivation is a key reason why separation agreements do not work in every divorce.  If one party wants to settle and move on, and the other party wants to fight to the death, trying to negotiate a separation agreement would be a colossal waste of time and money. 

I believe every divorcing party should be required to undergo counseling, and custody matters should be resolved through mediation. Mandatory counseling and mediation would create an atmosphere of resolution and agreement, not war.  A mediated child custody settlement, assisted by counselors skilled in navigating high conflict divorces, could keep both parties focused on the children’s best interests, since neither side would benefit from making false or overblown allegations.  The goal would be to reduce the number of pointless, endless custody and visitation battles that hurt everyone, especially the children involved.

The particulars of Dickerson’s situation do not matter to me.  I don’t want to know, nor do I care, which party is “at fault” or who has done or said what to whom in the last 5.5 years.  I’m sure, in 5.5 years, there’s probably plenty of blame to spread around.  But I feel compassion for the pain and suffering her family has endured and continues to endure.  I hope that, as news of her plight spreads, the court intervenes to force the parties to settle this lawsuit and resolve their differences in a way that allows for co-parenting and healing. 

I don’t know if my mediation and counseling proposal is workable in practice.  I do know that the current system is broken.  We need a better process for deciding custody cases.

Child/Spousal Support Awards of the Rich and Famous, and You

May 12, 2010

Every time there’s a news story about the divorce/custody battles of rich people, the Twitterverse explodes, with people complaining like their own pockets just got hit.  Reports that Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt will have to pay his estranged wife $637,000 in temporary spousal support sparked all kinds of outrage.  On Twitter, one man said, “I just don’t think you should get married if you can lose more than a 3rd world country in the divorce.”   Women, too, wondered if the prospect of going broke in divorce justifies delaying or avoiding marriage

Get a grip, people.

I’ve been married.  I’ve been divorced.  And I lost a whole lot of money in the process.  But the money didn’t go to my ex.  It went to our lawyers (both of whom I had to pay).  It went to the lawyers because instead of accepting a reasonable settlement offer, my ex went looking for one of those huge celebrity paydays and wound up with next to nothing. 

Anyone who is afraid to get married because of a celebrity divorce, or who expects their own divorce settlement will be like winning MegaMillions, is delusional.  The following facts may help you get over your fears or fantasies:

1. You’re probably not rich, and you’re probably not married to a rich person.  Accordingly, it’s unlikely you’d emerge from a divorce either super rich or financially devastated.  My marriage was coyote ugly, and I would have gnawed off an arm and a leg if that’s what it took to free myself.  Still, if we’d been able to settle, we both would have wound up better off.  Hopefully, your marriage won’t end in divorce, but if it does, divorce will cost a lot less, financially and emotionally, if neither party makes unreasonable and unrealistic demands.

2. Child support and spousal support are not the same.  Child support is awarded to help take care of the children’s needs.  Awards are made based on complex formulas that vary state-to-state, but that generally take each spouse’s then-current income and expenses into account.  The fact that Kelis may have sold a bunch of records 5 years ago is irrelevant to her current income and her child’s current needs.

3. Spousal support is where “big payback” fantasies go to die.  Spousal support is awarded to help take care of the needs of the spouse.  It is awarded most often in cases where a spouse has suspended his or her own career to support the career of the primary wage earner.  That’s probably not you.  If both spouses are working and earn enough to sustain themselves, it’s unlikely spousal support would be awarded to the lower wage-earner. 

Jamie McCourt’s job was being the wife of a rich baseball team owner.  She helped her husband maintain a certain community profile and image–including by being a non-working spouse.  As a result, she has every right to expect him to contribute towards her living expenses until the divorce judgment is final.

4. Rich people have expenses you can’t imagine.  Perhaps you think Kelis should be shopping for her child at The Children’s Place.  Maybe you think Jamie McCourt should move into a West Hollywood day rate motel until she can get a job at Hooters.  That’s what you’d do, right?

That’s why you’re not rich.

If a person’s net worth eclipses the GDP of a third world country, he’s expecting to have to shell out some dough to his soon-to-be ex.  News reports mention that Jamie McCourt originally sought $1 million per month in spousal support.  What’s really telling is that Frank McCourt offered her $150,000/month—nearly $100,000 more than the Kelis child support award that had people up in arms.  Truly rich?  Nas and Kelis aren’t even close.  If Frank McCourt could afford to offer $150K/month, another $500K/month probably isn’t going to bankrupt him.

5. For the benefit of the person who tweeted “The chick isn’t even hot” in reference to Jamie McCourt’s support award: hotness is not a factor considered by any court in entering an award of child or spousal support.  If it were, every star male athlete, actor and entertainer would be vying to marry the ugliest woman on the planet.

6. A pre-nup is unnecessary if you don’t have shyt to begin with.

So the next time you find yourself worried about the latest celebrity divorce payout, remember—unless you’re the celebrity in question, it’s just gossip to you.