Fred and Ginger continue their story… (Find Part 1 Here)
During mediation, Fred agreed to give up his interest in the house (along with his obligation to make the mortgage payments) so the kids could stay in their school, but did not agree to more than the statutory mandated child support, so as soon as the divorce was final, the temporary support that Fred had been required to pay Ginger stopped, and the mandatory spousal maintenance payments began. The costs of the divorce had exhausted their savings. Ginger has a house with mortgage payments, a car with lease payments, but no job and little money. The part-time minimum wage job she took during the divorce to help pay her lawyer cannot support her and the kids, even with the child support and maintenance.
In a little over 2 years, Ginger has gone from affluent to poor. Her family income has dropped from $115,000 (the median in Frisco, TX; US Census Bureau stats) per year as a married mom to about $44,000 (also the median in Frisco) as a single mom. Her house payment of $2,175 (the median monthly payment) now consumes nearly half of her income, putting her in the category of financially “stressed” by her housing costs alone. Fred is paying her $1,000 per month in child support (the median in Texas is $430). Although Ginger has been looking for work, 80% of the listed jobs open in the area won’t support her family. In order to support her family working minimum wage jobs, she would have to work 73 hours a week just to afford a one bedroom apartment in Texas, and more than that in Frisco.
Fred has already moved in with Ethel (the woman from his team at work), and made it clear to Ginger that he is “moving on with his life.” He also agreed to “standard visitation” since he travels so much, and has been getting the kids every other weekend. His once regular nightly calls to the kids are down to a couple of times a week. His career continues on pace, and within a year after the divorce, he gets a promotion that requires him to move to another city. Within a few months, he stops coming back to Frisco to get the kids for the weekend visitation. He and Ethel are making wedding plans; Ethel is pregnant and she wants Fred to spend his weekends with her, not with his kids in Texas. Fred stops making his support payments, contributing to the $23 billion of unpaid child support owed in Texas. Ginger objects, of course, but she cannot afford to hire a lawyer to go after Fred; she has no money for lawyers.
Three years after his divorce, Fred marries Ethel. [This is about average for men, most of whom remarry within 3-4 years of divorce.] Even though he continues to make his child support payments, he no longer sees the kids. His own child with Ethel now consumes much of his time and attention away from work, and Ethel is increasingly annoyed by his regular child support payments to the “children of your ex-wife.” Little Joe and Ashley are now fatherless.
Not only are they fatherless, their lives have changed dramatically for the worse. First, they lost their dad. Next, since mom couldn’t afford to keep paying for select soccer, Little Joe had to drop out, followed by an end to dance lessons for Ashley. As the family financial situation worsened when spousal maintenance payments ended, Ginger had to sell the house in Frisco (not a problem, the market is hot right now) but they couldn’t afford to buy another house in Frisco, so they had to move to a nearby suburb where the prices were more affordable. Without a good income, they couldn’t qualify for a mortgage, so they had to move into an apartment. [The median percentage of single parent families in most cities is 28%; in Frisco the number is 6% for the reasons I just explained. Frisco “exports” single parent families to surrounding communities.] Now the kids have lost their dad, their house, their neighborhood and friends, their teams and activities, and their school. [Frisco has some of the highest rated schools in the state]. This scenario is consistent with some of the new research on divorce: kids of divorce from affluent families are most profoundly and negatively affected.
Although I picked an affluent family for my story, the emotional and economic dynamics of the ‘Fred and Ginger’ family are evident in middle and working class families as well, leaving an astonishing number of kids at risk for being fatherless.
Here’s why that matters:
The roots of our most serious social problems can be traced this insidious and largely invisible process that is happening every day. Kids who are fatherless are in serious danger of being lost; when 24 million kids are at risk, it’s not just a social problem, it’s a national crisis.
There is hope.