Friday, April 2, 2010

What Divorce Law is Doing to Marriage Part 45

More from the words of Jed Abraham

You’ve been looking forward to the day for over a decade. In a month the day will dawn. The day your oldest turns 18. The day he’s no longer a child. The day you don’t have to pay his child support anymore.

The letter you get in the mail has that familiar feel. Your ex’s lawyer’s name boldly threatens you from the top left corner of the envelope. You are notified to appear in court to determine your financial obligation for your oldest’s higher education.

You didn’t think your oldest could get in to college. His grades put him near the bottom of the class. He didn’t care much for books. Didn’t care much for anything. You thought the best higher education for him would be the army. They would make a man out of him if anything could. Next best thing would be to leave his mother and go out into the world and get a job.

Instead, he’s been admitted to a junior college just a short commute from your ex’s home. He’ll be living at home with her and her husband, and he’ll work part-time for pocket money. The law says you have to pay towards his tuition.

Your son will be 18 when he goes to college. He will not be a child. He will be an adult just like any other adult. He can drive. He can be drafted into the army. He can vote. He’s responsible for his own taxes. If you were still married to his mother, not all the court’s bailiffs could make you pay for his college education. It would be your choice. And you wouldn’t have to give anyone a reason for it.

But since you aren’t married to his mother any more, the law says the other fact change, too. He’s an adult, but he’s not out on his own yet. He needs a higher education to get a good start in life. If you were still married to his mother, you would surely do the right thing and pay what you could towards his tuition. But you’re not married to his mother: she divorced you and got custody, and you haven’t seen him much all these years. The law says you can’t possibly have the same concern for your son that a married father has for his son. You can’t possibly care enough about him to make the voluntary financial sacrifices a married father makes for his son. You won’t want to give him the gift of a college education. You will have to be ordered to do so.

So why did they wait all these years to admit it? When they first took your son away and gave him to your ex, they told you it would be in his “best interest” to be with her and away from you. They told you that your visitation and your child support payments would be “reasonable,” that they would keep you “liberally” involved as a good father. They knew back then it couldn’t work. They knew back when it wouldn’t work. They knew back then they’d come to you at the very end and say, sorry, but it just didn’t work, you still need us to tell you exactly how much you have to pay to be a good father.

The law won’t tell you how long you’ll have to keep on paying. One day, you may have a graduate student to be proud of. And then there is your daughter’s college education to look forward to.

You’re scared. And you’re angry.

The best years of your life, and not much to show for them: a few bucks in the bank, an investment or two a tiny pension plan. You’re going to have to find work when the company tells you your time is up. Social Security won’t begin to help. And your kids, the ones you supported all those years, they’re not going to be around to help, either.

You have a recurring dream. You see in your dream all the child support you paid over the years accumulating in a tax deferred retirement account. Thirty percent of your historical income just sitting there, compounding tax-free, for when you no longer work, for when you’ll surely need it. The picture comes sharply into focus. The bottom line is double-underlined, and a tidy sum is sitting on it. Your eye flits pleasantly over the page. It strays to the top line which is also double-underlined. And your ex’s name is on it.

This wraps up the chapter “Child Support”. The next chapter I will be covering is “How to Write It Your Way: Pre-Nuptial Agreements”