Sitting before me is a man, a father, a provider of love to his children. He has soothed scraped knees, taught bike riding, and changed wet bed sheets at 3 a.m. He is fighting back tears because we are not close enough yet for him to let me see the hurt. I know he needs to let the pain out, I know how to say just the right thing to make him feel comfortable, and his defenses crumble. For the first time in two months, he allows himself to feel the loss of his family.
I’m a divorce attorney. I’m one of those people that helps others through an incredibly difficult period of their life. I have to deliver bad news regularly. Some days it feels like that’s all I do. I specialize in helping men; fathers and husbands who are entering a minefield, financially and emotionally, through what is arguably one of the most difficult and treacherous periods of their life.
Frequently a man comes to my office having already left the family home and the first thing he says is, “I don’t care about the house, I just want to see my kids.” What he doesn’t know, and what I have to tell him, is that he has already lost the war for custody.
He and his wife were not getting along, they were bickering and fighting in front of the kids, she kept telling him to “get out, just leave!” He thought it was best for the kids — that if he moved out the fighting would stop.
Big mistake. Huge. Tremendously bad move.
The only time that I tell a man to leave the home is if there is physical violence, or she’s mean enough to lie about being abused to get a restraining order. Other than that, moving out is the single worst thing a man can do in a divorce, financially, emotionally, and strategically.
If he moves out, he has to get an apartment, which takes money. It increases the financial strain on the couple, who are already low on money, and now he has to buy furnishings, dishes, pots and pans, etc. for his apartment, plus anything the kids need is duplicated. As the money gets tighter, they are going to fight more, and if he’s not living with the family, soon enough she’ll be after him for child support, which will only put more strain on him.
When he moves out, the little communication that was happening between him and her usually gets worse. Frequently it stops altogether, and the reasons for the breakup never get talked about, or worse, he now gets blamed for “leaving.” Which makes him feel guilty, trapped in a “Catch-22” situation and he just wants to give up and run away.
Lastly, and the worst part of this tragedy, is that moving out has created a “status quo” as far as the courts are concerned in regards to the children. Since dad left the kids with mom, the court thinks that they should be with her, and that’s what is most likely going to happen. He will see them every other weekend and a weeknight dinner. This is the bad news I have to deliver to the man who sits in front of me in tears.
He didn’t know that was going to happen. He didn’t think he’d lose seeing his kids all the time. He doesn’t care about the house, the furniture, the only thing he wants is to be a dad, and now he’s a weekend dad. All it took was for her to push him out of the house.
Simply because he left, he’s now a part-time parent. He did it to create peace, which didn’t happen. He did it to make his relationship with his kids better — that certainly wont happen. He did it because he thought he’d get a 50/50 custody deal, which is a pipe dream, while her child support is tied to how much time she has the kids versus him.
Men are hugely uneducated about what happens in a divorce or a child custody battle. We don’t talk about it with each other. We don’t share how to plot, strategize and set up the situation to our advantage, which is our own undoing.
Fathers shouldn’t leave until they have to. Fathers need to talk to each other to find out what to do. Men use coaches in sports, and mentors in business and they need to rely on each other to get through life’s challenges, and to keep what is theirs: their children.
DAVID PISARRA is a family law attorney specializing in father’s and husband’s rights. He is the author of the soon to be released, “A Man’s Guide To Divorce Strategy.” His website is www.MensFamilyLaw.com. If you have a question you would like answered in this column please e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org or he can be contacted by phone at (310) 664-9969.