The Holidays After A Divorce Surviving Your First Holidays As A Single Dad, Post Divorce

The Holidays After A Divorce Surviving Your First Holidays As A Single Dad, Post Divorce

The holidays after a divorce are never easy. Fraught with endless uncertainties, the holiday time period is disturbing and unrelenting in emotional turmoil for the newly divorced, regardless of gender. The holidays, book-ended by Thanksgiving and Christmas, or other religious holiday, are a seemingly unending challenge for who will have the kids? For how long? Will they be able to stay over? All this, creating endless worry and stress for the newly divorced as they suffer through their first holiday period without the kids and their significant other.

The Holidays After A Divorce and Without the Kids

Yeah, the first holiday after a divorce is a scary one. It’s not normal to be without the kids. They’ve always been around and there is great comfort with their presence. But, now, the divorce is over and the kids are with Mom. More importantly, they are not with you. And, it hurts. Wrestling over who will have the kids and when they’ll be over is a great struggle as we try to reestablish some degree of normality. We are resetting or establishing new traditions and new norms that hopefully we can count on and rely on for years to come. That’s what makes life bearable and predictable.

Divide and Conquer. Your first option when it comes to any holiday is to divide and conquer. And by this I mean the day itself, not your ex. What this means is that both you and your ex, and presumably your extended families, get to see the children on the day in question. While this sounds like a win-win for the adults it can be exhausting and confusing for the children, particularly if they are still quite young. Dinner times need to be negotiated. If the unwrapping of gifts are involved, schedules can be very tricky. If a tradition such as a parade or the attending of a service needs to be factored in, your entire day may be spent looking at your watch, clipboard in hand as you wave people on to the next event.

If your children are under the age of 10, the idea of divide and conquer will be even more difficult for them to understand. Offering explanations to the escalating question of “why” can be extremely difficult when family is watching. Consider the holiday from their point of view when answering why they have to leave now when they just got started playing with their cousins, or just unwrapped the coolest toy ever, or they’re just having fun and don’t want to stop. Travel time can be a hassle, weather conditions may come into play and children who fall asleep in the car will not be at their finest when they wake up in a new location, out of sorts, tired and wondering where the other parent went.

If you think you are going to outsmart your ex by taking them earlier rather than later, remember that they will likely be exhausted from the night before. Anticipation of the big day may have kept them awake later than normal. Do your little angels morph into screaming hot messes of taffeta and shirttails when told they have to leave? Do they throw caution and their little backs to the wind when told it’s time to go? The question of “why” now carries much more weight, more syllables and is likely asked at a pitch that makes cats leave the room.

If you think taking them second is the way to go, remember that there will be no naps that day. Let the full implications of that statement settle in before you make your decision. Consider also that whatever festivities you have in mind will have to follow their earlier predecessor. While your little bundles of joy may not be able to fully and adeptly make comparisons, keep your self and your own sanity in mind as you field questions that start with ‘well how come you’re not” followed by any number of innocent queries. Is this is a box you want to unwrap at Grandma’s house?

Concede. If the picture of sugarplum meltdowns sounds a bit much for you during these holidays after a divorce, there is the option to concede. Concede the holiday completely to the ex in the name of peace and tranquility for your children. Allow them a full day of relaxation and enjoyment and allow them to just be where they are. No schedule, no split day. Just presence. The trade off for conceding an entire holiday is that they really do grow up so fast. Phrases like, “No that was the one we spent with Mom, not you.” will happen. While this may be par for the course when the ex lives in another city or state, it may be very difficult to spend a holiday in the same zip code as your children and know that you won’t get to see their smiling faces. Which leads me to our third option. Dust off your tutu and get ready to declare it so.

Declare It So. The silver lining to your first set of Reverse Firsts when your children are young is that you get to make the new normal. You get to decide which traditions stay, which go and the level of enthusiasm and normalcy with which these changes are presented. I call it the Tooth Fairy Effect. Whether your child comes to you the next morning having found a nickel or a hundred dollar bill under her pillow for her lost tooth, your reaction is the same. Your reaction is that she has shown you the most exciting thing ever. And based on your reaction, she will agree. Declaring it so means that you are declaring your own market rate as it pertains to holidays. If you want to celebrate 1 day or 1 week later, then so be it. Just do it with all the enthusiasm and gratitude you can muster. And if you need to wear a tutu, so be it.

 

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5 Secrets to Cooperative Co-parenting On Holidays Reduce Stress and Maximize Visitation Time with Your Kids

5 Secrets to Cooperative Co-parenting On Holidays Reduce Stress and Maximize Visitation Time with Your Kids

The Thanksgiving holiday is now in the past, and Christmas is fast approaching. This is a tough time of year for any divorced parent who is not the primary care giver. This is especially true for divorced Dads as they are least likely to be the primary care giver. Kids naturally gravitate to spending time with their custodial parent which is with whom they spend most of their time. They view their custodial home as ‘their home’ and they don’t naturally think of Dad’s place as ‘their home’. It might not seem fair, but it’s reality.

To find more time with your kids during the holidays, you must act more cohesively than ever with your Ex. You have to co-parent on holidays to get the most from your kids and get the most for yourself. Keep in mind, this is not about you, Dad. This is about your kids and what they want and what they need.

Holidays are full of traditions. Your kids likely have traditional things that they do with Mom. Maybe they bake cookies and decorate the tree while drinking their favorite cocoa. But, what traditions have you established with your kids? What have you done to create new traditions for you and your loved ones? Time is on your side and you have time to think of new ways to connect with your kids. If possible, go out and cut down a fresh Xmas tree. Go Christmas caroling with them. If you have daughters, take them to the Nutcracker. If you have boys, take them hiking in the woods or camping in nature. There are lots of creative things you can do to establish new traditions. But it starts with you.

Co-Parenting Agreements Can Help

Some divorced families stick to rigid scheduling around holidays that have either been agreed to previously, or are court ordered. While it can ease co-parenting tensions to have clearly defined dates set far ahead of time, I also believe it is valuable to have flexibility.

After our separation, the mother of my daughter and I had a detailed support agreement to rely on when issues arose. We used that as the final say, though in most circumstances we simply communicated effectively about what our needs were, what our child’s desires were, and sought to find resolutions among our choices that would best benefit our kid.

His and Her Holidays

I recommend having at least one holiday a year that is “yours” and one holiday a year that is “hers” and work to keep those traditions in line as much as possible. I would also suggest that these holidays are not the big ones like Christmas and Easter (or Hanukkah and Pesach if you’re a Jewish family).

Making permanent co-parenting schedules for minor holidays can help to ease the tensions surrounding the major ones, and also ensures you will have the opportunity to have at least one special time of year with your kids, where you can instill traditions, knowledge and that cherished feeling of family togetherness.

Family Traditions of Her Side of the Family

Thanksgiving has always been a pretty big deal for my ex’s side of the family. My daughter’s mother has a large extended family with three great aunts and many cousins. One of the great aunts had made it a tradition, years before my daughter was born, that she would visit the rest of the family every Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, while my family isn’t small, we also don’t have long standing Thanksgiving traditions. I’d love for my daughter to spend that holiday with me and could easily have argued for my rights within the stipulation agreement, where it outlines we trade holidays yearly. Honestly, the only real point in doing so would be to disrupt my ex’s family’s traditions and assert my own egotistical needs.

Instead, when we first looked at holiday times, we decided since Thanksgiving was an important one for her family, my ex would always have our daughter for Thanksgiving, and I would always have my daughter for Halloween (which happens to be one of my favorite holidays).

Special Time With Daddy’s Girl

From the time my daughter was old enough to trick or treat, until the year she graduated high school, we have had almost every Halloween together, and over that time we also established life-long friend for her that joined us in our celebrations.

Equally over that time, my daughter has enjoyed the richness of her mother’s traditions concerning Thanksgiving and will hopefully want to continue those into her adult life. Personally, I really look forward to a Halloween evening out with my adult daughter some year.

Here’s That Flexibility Thing Again

Over the course of my daughter’s life, there have certainly been one or two times when this has changed for various reasons (one year the great aunt was sick, and my sister in Texas asked if we could join them, so we switched it around that year), though for the most part, those holidays have become the least stressful of our planning year. My daughter came to expect Thanksgiving with mom and Halloween with dad, which also created ease for her.

Co-Parenting on Holidays and School Vacations, Too!

Concerning the major winter and spring holiday breaks for schoolchildren, I would recommend a flexible approach that places emphasis on raising the children with the influence of both families over time. An “every other year” policy seems to be the best, at least from what I have experienced.

Again, it is important to listen to your kids. Ask what they want concerning holidays (once they are old enough to reason, of course) and do your best to accommodate.

Bottom line: When holidays and vacations are approaching, work to plan far in advance with your ex. If you know that next spring break your side of the family is planning a reunion, don’t wait until three weeks from break to start asking your ex and your child how they feel about the vacation. Co-parenting on holidays and vacations can be stress free if you start negotiating as soon as you know about special events.

My ex and I were pretty good at scheduling on holidays and vacations. We often had our daughter’s summer schedule worked out by late winter!

Early negotiating made long term planning much easier on us both, and gave our daughter the comfort and security of knowing where and when she would be while on school breaks. My daughter was never left hanging until the last minute, and could make advance plans with other kids that live where she would be on break.

Co-parenting Conflict Resolution

No matter how carefully you plan, no matter how good your relation with your ex is, there will be times when you have to find a resolution to a scheduling conflict.

Obviously, one of you will have to give in. Let’s not make a big deal out of it, okay?

Listen, as the years go by, the important thing is your continued presence in your child’s life, and one holiday isn’t going to make the difference. Keep that in mind as you negotiate.

By the same token, it is important to give your children routines that they are comfortable and familiar with. One of these is keeping holiday schedules intact. Though it isn’t critical to adhere too strictly, it is definitely a good idea to keep a comfortable schedule your children are familiar with when possible.

The Art of Negotiation

Giving your kids routines around the holidays (and frankly, around just about any recurring activities in their lives) provides them a sense of comfort and security.

So, let’s say you both want to spend the 4th of July taking your kids to see fireworks. What can you do?

Well, the most obvious first question is; do you already have a set routine between your ex and yourself concerning this holiday?

For the sake of argument, we are going to assume that she normally has custody on this holiday. You’re disturbing the co-parenting routine with your request. So, be certain to ask yourself how important is it that you get the kids? Do you just want to spend time with them on a date you normally don’t, or is there a compelling reason to ask your ex to shift schedules (family in town, great deal on a houseboat, special activities for the kids, etc.)

If you honestly believe the children will benefit more from time with you than from their established previous routines on this holiday, then you should proceed with careful negotiation.

I feel the first fair proposal to make your ex is to see if you and she can both spend time with the kids on the holiday. This makes a huge impact over the years, when kids can see their parents interacting without malice.

If it is already established that you and your ex will not share a holiday together, then there is no point in trying that route. Concerning the children, the real question is what will make the most sense. If you know that having the kids will best benefit them, then I suggest you do your best to discuss your position with your ex. Explain how they will benefit, and be willing to make a counter offer.

Effective Co-Parenting On Holidays Means There Has To Be Some Give And Take

Perhaps if you take them for Independence Day, your ex will take them for Labor Day weekend when you would normally have them?

When working with your ex towards finding co-parenting holiday schedules that will work for the both of you, compromise is key. (Mostly, your compromise.)

Remember, the goal is to find the best experience for your kids. Though you may have ideas of how you want your holidays, you will have to negotiate in most cases. Always try to keep the conversation focused on the resolution, not your personal wants or desires.

Again, try to keep a bigger picture in mind. Swapping holidays is really pretty common among single parents, and unless you have some type of stipulation either clearly defining each holiday or clearly stating your rights, then there is going to be room for redefining your holiday scheduling.

I have mentioned this previously, and it bears repeating: The farther ahead you can plan holidays with your kids, the easier it will be on all involved.

The farther ahead you can plan holidays with your kids, the easier it will be on all involved.

The sooner you are aware of the need to change an existing schedule, the better the chances of getting it accomplished. Use your first available opportunity to communicate with your ex what you would propose for a change, and be willing to make concessions.

Remember, anything that isn’t already defined is going to be a disruption for her, so keep that in mind as you ask. If you know you want your kids for one holiday, perhaps you can come up with ways that taking them will actually look like support of your ex. Just being willing to work with her will make a difference, for you, for her, and most importantly, for your children.

How are you dealing with the challenges of co-parenting on holidays? Tell us what works – and what doesn’t – in the comments below!

Now is the perfect time to check out Melissa Ricker’s tips on Using Google Calendar for Effective Co-parenting. You won’t want to miss Sara Gabriella’s reasons why Co-parenting Agreements Put Your Kid’s Best Interests First.

 

Thank you for visiting Guyvorce.

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Creating Happy Holidays After Divorce Have It Your Way

Creating Happy Holidays After Divorce Have It Your Way

The year has flown by and the holidays are fast approaching. You may be newly single following a divorce or approaching the holidays as a single Dad who has suffered through the divorce process some time ago. Regardless of when your divorce occurred, time is afoot to make a pledge to yourself to create a happy holiday after divorce.

You Are In Control of Your Thoughts and Actions

There is no doubt about it – your life has changed following the divorce. You may have chosen to become more outgoing, more adventurous and more socially connected. Or, you may have chosen to spend more time alone, to concentrate on your thoughts and rebuild your life, from the inside out.  But keep in mind. There is a strong correlation to your thoughts and your emotions.  People who are more outgoing, positive and socially engaged and generally happier and healthier as individuals. These types of people are more likely to be positive thinkers, even through the worst of times and these people tend to experience emotions that are more positive (i.e. joy, contentment, peace, calm, etc.). Likewise, people who are more reclusive and entertain more negative thought processes often find themselves burdened with negative emotions (i.e. sadness, anger, jealousy, loneliness, etc.).

As the holiday season draws near, be more mindful of your thought patterns and resulting mood. If you find you are more in tune with how you are feeling emotionally, start there. You can then trace back to the associated thinking patterns. Challenge irrational, distorted thoughts and change negative thinking to uplift your mood.

Avoid making decisions when in the throes of negativity (thought and mood). Your opportunity to do things differently, and take control of your happy holidays diminishes when blinded by the cloud of negativity. Taking a pause and allowing a moment to thoughtfully consider the options can make all the difference between resolving to be miserable or joyful.

Embrace the Opportunity to Do The Holidays After Divorce Differently

While married, you and your partner had to make decisions about how the holiday would be done differently from when you were single. Whose house and when. Which invites to politely decline. How to share the gift of your presence across multiple families.

Who. What. When. Where. Why. How.

When those decisions were made, you may not have been overly happy, and it certainly took some getting used to, for both of you. The same holds true for holidays after divorce. You now have an opportunity to do the holiday differently…again…and with fewer details (i.e., people) to factor into the mix.

If you have children and know that you will be splitting time with their mother, determine how you will go about making your time with them extra special and amazing (see below for starting new traditions). Also, consider that the celebration doesn’t have to occur any certain day. Some families have opted to have a full-on Christmas celebration at Thanksgiving, and have admitted that while it felt strange at first, the tradition grew on them and they’ve come to enjoy their “Thanksgiving Christmas” even more than Christmas on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The trick is to get your mind wrapped around the idea and fully embracing it so that the plan can take off. Toss aside all the ideas of how things ‘should be’ for a holiday.

If children aren’t part of your story, immerse yourself in festivities with friends and family. Assess what you might need to do for yourself, in the name of self-care, and take advantage of holiday time away from work to engage in these things. Maybe a trip with your buddies to the mountains, complete with a cabin and snowboarding is in order. Or if a tropical destination is more your style, get the trip booked!

The bottom line is there is no one way to make a holiday fabulous and worthwhile, particularly holidays after divorce. The possibilities are endless. Meditate on what will make you happy and go for it! Even if it means staying in, reading a book and having a hotdog for dinner (provided you aren’t secretly lonely and miserable) is an option. Society may try to convince you there are rules about what should and should not be done but the truth is you’ve earned your adult status.

Create Holiday Traditions with Your Kids

Most everyone can recall (most of the time with fondness) the holiday traditions from when they were young. Maybe you had hoped to carry some of your childhood traditions forward or had ideas of traditions you would have liked to have started once you married and had children of your own. Whether or not you had the opportunity to begin these traditions in your previous married life, holidays after divorce afford you the opportunity to plug in your ideas and carry them forward for years to come.

Unsure where to begin with holiday activities? Consider some of the following ideas:

  • Tree Decorating: whether you seek out and cut down your very own fresh holiday tree, or opt for the pre-lit artificial variety, tree decorating, start to finish, can become a memorable activity done with your children. Allowing your kids to help gives them the opportunity to rediscover and enjoy the ornaments and decor they had long forgotten from the year prior. Tree decorating can morph into another project if you decide to engage the kids in a decor creation activity like stringing popcorn with cranberries as tree decorating garland!
  • Decorating Gingerbread Houses: A pre-assembled house of graham crackers along with a table full of sugar-coated treats and frosting turns an ordinary afternoon into a marathon of creative bliss. Their work will proudly display until, over time, the candies have been picked away and consumed (hint: take pictures quickly! The decorated houses may not last long!). This tutorial will get you started on the graham cracker house build (the part of the project the kiddos may not have the patience to endure).
  • Holiday Books, Movies, Cartoons and Music Countdown: The holidays bring with them books, movies, cartoons, and music treasured by all generations. Consider a schedule to introduce your children to some of your favorites from your childhood as well as squeezing in the latest and greatest in holiday entertainment. A fun countdown to Christmas (or Hanukkah, or whatever celebration is in store) can occur as movies, books, videos with cartoons, and music are wrapped up, numbered and set under the tree. Each passing day a new surprise awaits unwrapping and family fun!
  • Giving Back: While need exists all through the year, there is never a more obvious time of year to give back to those less fortunate than the holidays. The timing is also never better to teach your children about giving back. Examine your options to engage in a holiday charity outreach event with your children. There are shelter meals to be made and served, opportunities to collect (sort and hand out) items for a food drive, and families with children in need of being ‘adopted’ through a secret Santa or gift giving tree program. Your generosity can also stretch over-seas with the Operation Christmas Child project.

Still in need of holiday tradition ideas? A quick internet search yields seemingly endless results and options to consider for all age groups.

Holidays after divorce, while different and something to adjust to, don’t have to be yet another reason to feel miserable. Resolve to change (and control) your thinking on the matter and set out to have it your way this holiday season. Let go of the ideas of how things are ‘supposed to’ be and avoid getting sucked into the storybook holiday scenarios. Treat this holiday after divorce like a blank canvas with endless opportunity to color it any way you choose!


(c) Can Stock Photo / VadimGuzhva

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The Child Support System Is Broken- Part 3 The Underbelly of Child Support Collection Programs

The Child Support System Is Broken- Part 3 The Underbelly of Child Support Collection Programs

August. The dreaded time for kids to go back to school. Most kids hate it. But, you love it for the peace and relaxation that lies ahead. But, for many, August is the child support system Awareness month. Yeah, that’s right. The states have instituted a Child Support System Awareness month to educate and focus their efforts to collect child support arrears from what many believe are ‘dead beat dads’.

The Child Support System’s Child Support Awareness month was started back in 1995 by states and municipalities across this great land. But, the implementation of this plan was one more focused on funding the STATE than funding needy parents in want of child support arrears.

The truth is in the numbers, so leave your emotions at the door!

The Child Support System – Every State Wants A Piece of This Action

You can’t avoid the emphasis on deadbeat child support collections dominating the news this month, second only to the Olympics. Here are a few of my favorite headlines, filled with biased, emotionally charged wording:

– “Texas Cracks Down on Deadbeat Parents”

– “New Jersey Rounds up 1221 Deadbeat Parents Owing $25.4M”

– “New Mexico Governor Announces Crackdown on Parents Failing to Meet Child Support Obligations”

Even the Feds have a Deadbeat Parent Punishment Act to catch parents who move from state to state to avoid paying up.

News outlets revel in hyping the national tragedy of unpaid child support exceeding $100 billion. Very often though, they leave out the details behind these numbers – important details!

First, this is the total running tally of unpaid support since data was kept, meaning decades of debt. The children owed the first $1 million of this figure are likely parents or even grandparents themselves now!

Parents Can’t  Pay From Behind Bars

The first article in this series covered how much of TODAY’s unpaid child support is actually accumulated by people in PRISON, who with their almost zero dollars income, are not likely to make those payments.

Even armed with this bit of common sense knowledge, the government is continuing to add up their debt while also piling on interest. Read the detailed article here.

The Numbers Will Blow Your Mind

Following the money, Part 2 of this series reveals how the National Department of Health and Human Services was responsible for the Enforcement Division of the collection effort. But wait! They also reported (through a separate division) who owed the child support based on annual income and the likelihood of collections.

Turns out, those making a livable wage owed only a small fraction of the total debt! The rest of the debt resided with those barely getting by, and this same federal agency labeled that debt as largely un-collectable! The shocking details are all here.

The Beatings Continue Regardless of Results

It’s terrible how so many parents out there are struggling to make ends meet at a poverty-level wages.

Both parents are struggling to provide for their children. Yet, instead of focusing on ways to educate parents to improve their job skills and wage potential, the authorities attack the parent who can’t keep up.

New Mexico, for example, as part of it’s annual crackdown on deadbeat parents, publicly lists the names of parents with delinquent child support.

Are banks allowed to list all those who are late with their payments? A bank would probably be slapped with a huge lawsuit, but I guess the government doesn’t have to follow the same rules.

Where’s The Money – According to Uncle Sam

So where are these agencies focusing their efforts? You can’t nail it down for all states, but the Department of Health and Human Services provides a clue about where recoverable money resides for those in arrears.

HHS reports suggest that once a parent with delinquent child support made over $20,000 per year, their debt was mostly collectable. But, only 17% of the “deadbeats” fall into the collectable category.

The rest – the vast majority- had little or no income.

The data shows that about three-fourths of the debtors have no reported income, or make less than $10,000 per year! This income group is also categorized by this same agency as one whose arrears are virtually “un-collectable.”

But hey, this is where the debt resides, so the agencies choose to focus considerable efforts towards collecting child support debt from those that can’t afford to pay it!

It’s pretty clear how bloated the budgets are for federal and state collection and enforcement agencies. The government collection agencies could pay off the total child support arrears in the country in just a few short years with only their fat annual budgets.

The government collection agencies could pay off the total child support arrears in the country in just a few short years with only their fat annual budgets.

But these agencies are getting results, and their results are widely publicized in the news. As an example, let’s look at New Mexico again.

The Poster Child For Child Support Collection

New Mexico proudly received a national child support enforcement award for the “Most Improved System”.

This year, they are on track to exceed $140 million in back-due child support collection. That’s a pretty impressive number – that leaves out the crushing impact to those who pay into the $140 million.

The New Mexico Division of Child Support Enforcement has an annual budget of $34 million, roughly 25% of the collections. So, for every dollar the tax payers put in, they received four. Sounds good, but there’s more to the story.

The problem with just showing the raw collected amounts is traced to the Bradley Act in 1986 that allowed states to add interest to arrears. So how much of that $140 million is actually money that was due to the parent versus interest that goes to the state? The answer is not advertised, but we have great examples from real folks.

A Payment Scheme Like You Wouldn’t Believe

Recently, a reader shared his story. Let’s call him Joe. His kids are now grown and out of the care of their mother. He made scheduled child support payments until he hit hard times and missed some. Eventually, Joe got back on track and made payments until his kids were grown. Now he’s making his payments for the overdue amount. Joe pays $100 per month.

Sounds good. He’s paying his debt. Right?

The story gets ugly though, when Joe shares the breakdown of his debt payments. About $25 of his payment goes to his ex. The rest? $75 goes to interest on his debt and goes to the state. Yeah, they can charge interest, remember?

Math time! 75% of that collection goes to interest…only 25% to the parent. Apply that to New Mexico’s success story.

Just Suppose …

$140 million in collections…outstanding! 75% back to the state, or $105 million. So $35 million goes to the parent that’s due. Considering that their annual budget, invested by the taxpayers, was, $34 million, the result was only $35 million to the parents and kids that needed the money, the kids that needed school supplies.

That’s pretty close to a 1 for 1 ratio, meaning the taxpayers gave the state $1 and the state gave $1 to the parent in need. After that, the state made over $100 million profit from interest. This is interest collected from people struggling to meet their child support obligations, struggling to make ends meet.

We aren’t talking about making $100 million from creating an industry that provides products and jobs for the community resulting in taxes collected on industrial revenue. This is money “taxed” on the poor.

Essentially, the states are cracking down on struggling parents to fund their programs. The states are publicly vilifying struggling parents, while crushing them with insurmountable interest and debt.

Wouldn’t the agency funds be better spent by educating parents, improving their income, and then taxing their income? The kids would have a better quality of life and the state would be funded to serve the people, not turn them into indentured servants.

There’s Gotta Be A Better Way

We must create a better system. The money invested is clearly wasted.  Currently we are treating the symptom of the problem, missed payments, as criminal behavior. The state is spending countless taxpayer dollars to collect back due child support from those that can’t pay, as well as interest to pad the state’s bottom line.

We need a system to treat the cause of the problems. Unpaid child support is caused by low incomes, poor job skills, and skyrocketing child care costs.

Children of divorce will be better served if the funds budgeted for child support enforcement and collections are spent fighting the poverty cycle!

Are you fed up with the broken child support system?  What is your child support experience? Share your opinion in the comments below.

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    The Child Support System - Making the Poor Poorer When Good Intentions Go Awry Our country makes child support collection a state issue. With each state having full authority over enforcement measures, they're free to set punishments for default anywhere from a ding on one's credit all the way up…
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    The Money Trap How NOT to spend money during your divorce So you’re in the middle of a divorce. Let’s say, just for fun, you’re probably not going to be the custodial parent, because even though you have a greater income, you’ve also spent most of your marriage working at…
The Truth About Child Support Arrears The Child Support System Is Broken, Part 2

The Truth About Child Support Arrears The Child Support System Is Broken, Part 2

Consider me frustrated, frustrated at ‘the system’ and its persistence in going after deadbeat dads and their alleged child support arrears. Don’t get me wrong. Real deadbeats are the scourge of the human race for not taking financial responsibility for their offspring. And, as the mid-term elections are grinding to a close these next couple weeks, I’m sure there will be many politicians proclaiming that the increase in households living below the poverty line is directly related to the increase in children raised in single parent households.

There are numerous websites that list and profile deadbeat dads in an attempt to identify them, expose them, find them and shame them into financially supporting their offspring. This is, among other things, no better than the public stocks located in the town square of our early American pilgrimage when those that broke the covenants of public reason and law were publicly displayed for rebuke and humiliation by the local citizens.

Many of these websites run public forums, and one such site run and supported by the Canadian Government has such a public forum as well. So, I joined in on the discussion about going after child support arrears.

Everyone was applauding the site and its goal when I arrived onto the forum. I chimed in and mentioned the first article in this series (which the forum managers removed shortly thereafter, but whatever) that plainly lays out the facts behind the myth that dead beat dads are the best un-tapped source of income for children living in poverty.

Note: Haven’t read it? No prob! Check it out here.

None in the forum knew how many so called “no-loads” were actually in prison with no chance at making an income. Even with that knowledge, many didn’t care. I received strongly-worded counterarguments about the many dads who hide income to avoid paying to support their children.

If you’ve read my work, you know how much I just love broad generalities and hyperbole! So, I moved the throttles to afterburner and asked about the moms who refuse to get jobs to artificially keep their incomes low to increase their child support award. My question also had no basis in fact, but since I was “discussing” grown-up topics with folks who weren’t, why not poke the bear!?

Cutting through the emotions, a real question emerged: What about parents with past-due child support arrears who aren’t in prison? Why aren’t they paying?

An excellent question, it turns out! And the FACT-BASED answer is the purpose of this article!

Breaking Down Child Support Arrears

The reality of over-due child support is shocking. In my previous article, I estimated the figure is at over one-hundred billion dollars!

Granted, that’s the total over decades, but armed with only that knowledge, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming we can go get that money and win the war on poverty.

The breakdown of the debt, though, crumbles the walls of that belief like a Christmas gingerbread house left out until May.

WARNING! REAL FACTS AND DATA AHEAD. IF YOU DON’T LIKE THESE, DON’T READ!

The US Department of Health and Human Services reports:

  • 40% of that hundred-billion-dollar pie belongs to people with NO INCOME! No income, as in zero! It’s a difficult source from which to pull, at best.
  • 30% is from individuals who make an annual salary anywhere from $1 (so that’s actually something) to $10K
  • 21% is owed by those who rake in an annual sum of $10K to $30K
  • And only 9% comes from people making over $30K

Remember that these individuals also need to sustain themselves!

Unfair Interest Rates on Child Support Arrears for Low Earners

I’ll save the debate on minimum wage for another series. But let’s at least consider the current system’s implications.

Some states have a higher minimum wage, but the federal minimum is $7.25 per hour. For a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job, that’s just over $15K per year or $1,257 per month.

Out of that comes food, lodging, health insurance, transportation, clothing, etcetera. There’s not much left after that. Most who live on that salary will tell you zero is what’s left over.

Our child support system is designed so that both parents are tasked with supporting their children. And both should!

For many reasons, our system built up an enforcement network over the past decades to seek out and collect child support arrears. The problem was only compounded by the Bradley Amendment of 1986 that allowed states to add interest to those arrears.

Think about that for a minute.

We have people out there struggling to get by on nothing (or almost nothing) themselves. When they fall behind in child support, we pile on interest to their debt? How do we expect them to dig out of that hole?

The Government has been very willing to attack predatory credit lenders that impose egregious interest rates on the poor. When the housing market crashed, the Government attacked banks to renegotiate the terms of the horrible loans that families struggled under.

This same Government, though, is charging interest to poor working parents who can’t meet their child support obligations. We all know what it’s like to struggle to meet our bills. For these parents, the pain never ends. It’s a constant shell game to keep creditors and bill collectors satisfied just to make it through to the next month, sometimes even the next meal.

Child Support Arrears Collection Forecast

Some parts of the Government recognize how unlikely these debts are to be collected. Ironically, the same organization, the Department of Health and Human Services, reports their estimate about how much of the outstanding child support debt will be collected after 10 years.

  • 100% of the debt owed by those who earn >$30K annually will be collected
  • 50% of the debt owed by minimum wage earners will be collected
  • <25% of the debt owed by those making <$10K annually will be collected

I’m not presenting new math or even a new concept. The phrase “You can’t get blood from a turnip,” has been around for a long time. Yet we continue to bring up these parents as sources of income to solve the overall problem of children living below the poverty line in America. We spend a hefty chunk of change in tax dollars to go after these debtors.

How much does a federal enforcement bureaucracy cost per year?

Federal agencies don’t collect the debt themselves. Instead, they study the data and guide policy. The state enforcement agencies are actually charged with collections. So figure into your estimate another 50 collection and enforcement agencies in addition to the federal agency.

What did you come up with?

Remember how I told you the total child support arrears in America exceeds $100 billion dollars? Turns out, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement works for the same federal agency I keep harping on, the Department of Health and Human Services.

That division’s annual budget is public record and has been pretty steady for the past several years, around $4 billion EVERY YEAR!

Take that number and add in an agency for each state!

Want an example? California’s child support agency’s annual budget: $1 billion. That’s a big state, so assume most are 75% of that number. You end up with an estimate for state fiscal commitments around $37.5 billion. Add in the federal agency and you get $41.5 billion!

Seems to me that if you eliminated these agencies, you could cover the decades’ worth of debt in just under 3 years!

Final Thoughts

What if you cut the enforcement side of all those agencies completely? Take a portion of those funds and apply them to education programs for parents to help them get better jobs.

The same federal department I’m annoyed with myself for repeating shows that if individuals can earn over $30K per year, they have an almost 100% chance of making their payments.

If the real goal is to end child poverty, let’s attack it from all sides! There are 2 parents and both need to support their child.

One is tagged with paying child support. For those who can’t make their payments, help them get just twice above the minimum wage so they can. At the same time, we can help the parent receiving the child support earn a better wage and get more affordable child care while working so they can work full-time.

The result would be greater income for BOTH parents, which only benefits the children.

Assuming we only had about 15% of that annual budget, or $6.2 billion, do you think we could stand up a good program with the goal of increasing employment and eliminating (or at least decreasing) child poverty? Or is it better to keep spending our tax dollars on federal and state agencies tasked with collecting debts that THE SAME AGENCY ruled un-collectable!?

Let me know in the comments!

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Bonding With Your Child During Visitation This Is More Than Just Time With Dad

Bonding With Your Child During Visitation This Is More Than Just Time With Dad

When you get lemons, make lemonade. Ok, so you have a limited amount of time to spend with your child. Make the most of it when you can by bonding with your child.

Your visitation is limited by court order to every other weekend and Tuesday and Thursday. Cool, do all your chores and ‘must dos’ while he’s with his mom and have nothing to distract you when you’re with him. You might be surprised, but, you may have more time now to bond with him than ever before.

The keys words here are ‘quality time’. Bonding with your child is all about uninterrupted exchanges just between the two of you. Above all, always listen and ask his opinion. He has a voice and a lot to say.

Forget about trying to impress him.

Fancy places and expensive amusement parks are fine if you have the money for them. But, simple things like watching a movie or ball game on TV, while he’s sitting on your lap eating popcorn are more than a match.

Some ideas for bonding with your child:

  1. Teach him a sport and get him into it. Have his favorite snacks around the house. Don’t abuse this, but a little extra won’t hurt. Make this into a fun time that he will look forward to.
  2. Have a phone installed in his room so you can call him directly whenever you want.
  3. Take pics when the two of you are together and give them to him.
  4. When he is old enough, get him his own mobile phone.
  5. Volunteer to coach any of his sports teams.
  6. Agree to babysit when ever your ex needs you to.
  7. Don’t buy expensive gifts to impress, cheaper ones are just as appreciated
  8. Teach him sports, checkers, chess and  judo
  9. Play ball with him
  10. Read to him.
  11. Cook with him.

And, don’t ever complain about your ex or express hostility towards her and especially don’t ever yell at her in person or on the phone.

Lastly and most importantly, love him and show him your love. Studies have shown that in a lot of cases, the child is better of when the parents divorce, than when they stay together and argue all the time, especially when you’re bonding with your child

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