24.9 million children in the US have not seen their fathers in the last 12 months (US Census Bureau)
I have a story that answers that question for some of these kids. The story that follows is informed by my 30 years of experience as a divorce litigation consultant to family lawyers, therapist, testifying child custody expert, forensic psychologist, adjunct in both forensic psychology and psychiatric evidence, published author of a divorce book and a child custody evaluation system, divorce recovery facilitator and course director, and by the research on the emotional and economic factors and trends in divorce. While the characters are fictional, they are a realistic composite of my experience in over 1000 divorce and custody cases with a bias toward families in my area of North Texas.
Fred and Ginger are an affluent couple in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. They met at work in their early 20’s and married shortly thereafter. Fred was a rising star in middle management at an IT consulting firm, and when they decided to have kids, Ginger quit her admin assistant job with Fred’s blessing to be a full time stay at home mom. They had purchased a nice $300,000 house in Frisco and with Fred’s rising income, they could easily afford to live comfortably on Fred’s salary. Little Joe was 2 years old when Ashley was born, and Ginger now had her hands full as a mom. Fred was moving up in the company and spending more time traveling for business and less time at home. As with most couple at this stage in their marriage, “the bloom is off the rose” and they are both experiencing much less satisfaction with their relationship and are drifting apart emotionally.
Time moves on for the family, and the kids are now 6 and 4. They have moved well into the window of greatest stress in most marriages: 4-7 years of marriage, and young children they both wanted have changed their lives and their relationship in ways they couldn’t have imagined. Ginger is now a full-time soccer mom and spends her days driving the kids back and forth to school and an endless variety of after-school activities for both kids: soccer practices, games, dance classes, play dates, etc. and has time for occasional coffee time with other soccer moms at Starbucks. Fred now travels at least a couple of weeks out of the month leaving on Mondays and returning Thursday nights or Friday. He plays golf with his buddies on the weekends, goes to the kid’s games, and does chores around the house, then rests up for the next week while watching sports on TV. Financially, they are comfortable, even affluent, as Fred’s $115,000 salary is leveraged because the company pays his expenses when he travels. His 401K is growing, they are fully insured, the mortgage is paid by auto debit, and the cars they lease are replaced every 3 years. From all outward appearances, life looks good.
One day Ginger notices a number on the phone bill she doesn’t recognize, and Fred has been calling it a lot. When she asks him about it, he says it’s somebody on his team at work and they have been working together on a big project. Ginger’s radar is now working overtime but she drops the topic and goes on with her busy life. A few months later, after Fred has been a little more distant and distracted than usual, she checks the phone bill again. The same number is still there, still a lot of calls. Now Ginger starts doing some internet research, and she tracks down the phone’s owner, locates her on Facebook, and finds a group photo of her with Fred and the team from work at a party. When she asks Fred about it, he’s defensive but denies anything inappropriate is going on and accuses Ginger of being “paranoid and insanely jealous”. This ends the discussion but not Ginger’s suspicions, and because the ongoing distance in the marriage is only increasing, after talking with some of her friends who suggest that Fred is having an affair, she decides to take action.
First, she suggests to Fred that they need to see a marriage counselor. He refuses. She tells him that she thinks he’s having an affair. He denies it and accuses her of being ungrateful and demanding. Next she calls her church and makes an appointment to see a pastoral care minister. The very nice pastor listens but has no answers for her beyond marriage counseling and patience. She decides to start seeing a counselor for herself, as the lack of intimacy and increasing distance in her marriage are starting to take a toll on Ginger, and she’s despondent and not sleeping very well. With everyone but her close friends, she’s putting on a brave front “for the kids”. Finally, after more than a year in limbo, she goes through Fred’s phone one weekend while he’s out in the yard, and finds romantic texts and incriminating photos. She takes some screen shots and sends them to herself.
The following Monday she visits a divorce lawyer recommended by one of her friends. She shows him the evidence from the phone bills and Fred’s phone and tells him to file for divorce. She says she wants custody of the kids, the house, and enough child support so she won’t have to work full time to support them. He tells her that she will probably end up with the house, but Dad is likely to get “50/50” visitation if he wants it, and under Texas law the maximum child support he could be ordered to pay won’t let her continue to be a “stay at home” mom. He explains that Texas has limited alimony called “spousal maintenance”, and that she can expect a maximum of $2400 a month for a maximum of 3 years or until she can support herself. She decides to proceed anyway.
[Notice that there hasn’t been a lot of fighting, no drugs, no abuse—Fred and Ginger have simply drifted apart. Consistent with the research, they are part of the 2/3 of couples who have “low conflict” marriages who divorce, and also part of the 2/3 divorces initiated by the wife, and of the 2/3 divorces triggered by infidelity by the husband.]
End of Part 1