So here’s your child’s upbringing as brought to you by a standard divorce agreement:
- S/he go to school
- S/he on sport teams
- S/he go on a few trips
- S/he go to university
Once completed university they are no longer childrenand parents cease parenting.
There. Done. The end.
It’s all summarized in a couple of paragraphs among dozens of pages of legal obligations. That’s childhood. We know who pays for it (the husband, of course). There, we’re done.
Now, it’s not the fact that I’m paying for it, that is raising my ire. I knew when we were married that I was the financial backstop. I want my kids to go to school and go on the trips, and do the extra curricular etc. etc. etc. that’s why I go to work. To be told I have to do something that I can’t imagine doing otherwise is personally insulting but it is a legal agreement and I remind myself not to take it personally. I get it.
It’s the reductionism that is repulsive.
Again, it’s all about the time and money. But now we’re measuring in years and thousands of dollars as opposed to days in the week and a few hundred.
There’s your life my friend, and not just your life… but your wife’s and your kids too. About 5 lines in a contract.
All the fits and starts and back-tracks, not to mention all the various parenting disasters – kid goes to jail, takes up drugs, car accident, runs away, gets pregnant, orthodontistry, gets sick, gets a data-plan… etc. etc. – is all obliterated, by a nice steady curve that leads out the door. It’s all straight line development and progress.
The kids live, they go to university, they stop being children
Maybe, I can use that as a parent? If they start skipping school or their marks dip, or they want to take a couple of years off after high school to find themselves in a snowboard commune in Kamloops, I’ll just whip out the separation agreement – “Hold on there, youngster! Says right here, in this here paper — you are contractually obligated to go to college after high school!”
“Where do you think you’re going with that suitcase and that stroller? Oh no, according to my contract, once you’re done with school, my obligations to you are finito, little lady. So you can take yourself and your newborn bastard and hit the road!”
This your middle class family and family break –up writ large. What we say about dealing with it, says a lot about what believe about the modern family:
- • Man is still the primary bread-winner and takes on all financial obligations
- • Only a man would avoid and run away from financial obligations so we will have to spell out his financial obligations eg. The husband will… comes up a lot to do with finances.
- • Kids go to university/college.
- • People get jobs and a life right after university.
There is an overall diminution of dreams. I don’t suppose it’s giving too much away to say that one of the motivations for my particular Leaver was to pursue professional fulfillment. She felt she had a vocation that she had never entirely committed to and couldn’t commit to in the context of her marriage.
Putting “dreams” and “vocation” into a legal agreement and it’s a bit like making sausage – you never have any idea what you started with and you wouldn’t want to know when you see the end results, even if the result is something you ultimately need.
There’s no sign of that vocation, that dream in the agreement, even though it’s what got us to this point and the agreement suggests she has no shot of them coming true. There’s never any provision that her gamble may pay off, that she’ll ever make any substantive amount of money doing what she wants to do.
No, as she is now, is the way she always will be – dependent on me. Her immediate and long-term future is dependent on me.
Go find your future, little bird. Spread your wings and leave the nest to find yourself… Fly! Fly! Fly!
Her lawyer’s comes back with something that says, that as you were then (with me), so it shall ever be thus. Actually, if we were living together for another two and a half years, I would be obligated to support her forever – something which I don’t have to do with the kids.
The thing is as the kids are also dependent on me. And I don’t have any extra money to spend on myself – everything goes to mortgage and bills and we try to live pretty frugally (don’t go out to dinner, don’t have cable, not compulsive shoppers, no PVR’s or iPad etc, bread’s from the bread maker). So by definition, any support I give to the Leaver, is support taken from the kids.
The legal agreements however are built on the supposition that there is money worth fighting over; that there is money that will not go to the care of the children; rather than the reality for the vast majority of people in this country and most – that you just get by. As far as I can see into the future by about a decade, all my money is going to either the kids or paying off the debt I owe my wife for this house.
So there’s no BMW in my future, no champagne nights with stewardesses, no discovering my inner child through skydiving or snowcat ski trips.
It’s all about getting by and anything I do is going to be pretty much with the kids. There’s no extra cash to play with. And there’s nothing in the immediate future that points to an influx of cash. My income has declined along with the overall economy. I’m not complaining. I’m grateful to have a job that is stable and has benefits. But the certainty that is implicit in this legal agreement that life from a material standpoint will just keep getting better and better is more than a bit presumptuous, given current circumstances.
That seems to be a hard thing for the law to grasp.
I don’t blame the lawyers – most people make the mistake of thinking that other people live like they do. Pretty much everybody – except for Donald Trump — thinks that they’re middle class. Most people who you consider in poverty don’t think of themselves as poor and people who have two incomes north of $100,000 look at themselves as average (when in actuality median Canadian household income for a two parent family is actually about $65,000).
So lawyers can’t help but look at a divorce from their own perspective and of those who can afford to fight and have something worth fighting for. A divorce agreement looks a lot like what would be givens for a couple of lawyers breaking up.
Dreams, vocations, causes, consequences, potentials and deep-seated dreams – just don’t enter it. They aren’t a part of reality, they have no bearing or weight.
And that is particularly soul-bruising for the Leaver. Her vision of herself – independent, driven by a higher purpose, selflessly supporting her children – is completely contradicted by her lawyer who’s mission is to secure for her the best future possible. Her best future from her lawyer’s perspective is one secured for by my income with no financial obligations to her children.
Moral: Don’t go looking for vindication or self-worth in the law. Legal mechanics can’t help but make any human life small and of negligible consequence.