The Parenting Trap

Divorce is a life event that invites many people to re-evaluate their lives.  During our day to day lives, we often lose sight of our priorities, instead questing  for professional or economic  success at the expense of meaningful relationships. And when people ignore these relationships in favor of external rewards, family breakup often follows. This notion is no great insight but a tragic reality in our “go go” culture. What Lex familia finds interesting, however, is the court’s unwillingness to allow people to reprioritze and reconsider these relationships after the breakup. Apparently, there are no second chances in family court.

Consider this. A succesful professional regularly works a 60 hour week, both because he is a workaholic and to maintain the family standard of living. He never attends his children’s school or extracurricular events.  As a result, he  knows very little about his children and relies on his wife for periodic updates.  While his career ascends, his relationships with his children never develops. Then comes the divorce…and the hard charger is jolted into a focus on the importance of his children. He realizes that he has been going down the wrong road and now wants to change course. However, when he decides to reduce his hours to a more reasonable 40-hour week, thus reducing his income by 30%, he is accused of intentionally reducing his income to avoid paying child support.

The problem that confronts family court judges is the  inability to discern the well motived reduction versus the dead- beat looking for a way to beat his ex-wife out of support. Our experience is that courts will rarely, if ever, allow a non-custodial parent to argue that he should be entitled to cut back on work (and thus his income) so that he can spend more time with the children.  This is the trap that confronts many parents. Families disintegrate because of inattention. Divorce follows. People take stock and re-evaluate priorities, realizing the importance of the relationships. However, when the pursuit of relationships costs the family in terms of reduced income, it is effectively denied by courts refusal to recognize the reduced income as legitimate. Thus the support-paying parent may cut back on work, but will likely pay support based upon his former higher income. This requires him to finance the rebuilding of the relationship. One could argue that this is fair since he created the breakdown in the first place. However, in some cases the excess work is due to economic necessity to maintain an extravagant lifestyle. Should that person be “punished” and forced to work excessive hours to maintain the former status quo, at the cost of continued neglect of his children? Lex Familia thinks not.

One of the truths of divorce is that everything changes. Many people cannot accept this fact and expect that because “it is his fault, ” there should be no disruption in the family’s standard of living. The truth is that there is always plenty of blame to go around and things must necessarily change. Courts need to sensitize themselves to good faith attempts of support-paying parents to rehabilitate their relationships, even if it means reduced income. While Lex Familia is not advocating that parents quit their jobs to spend more time with their children, we also cannot tolerate courts denying a second chance to well-meaning parents.  We all sometimes get trapped in our pursuit of “things” without recognizing the costs. Redemption too has a price. 

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Filed under child support, divorce, Parenting

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