Surviving a separation, part 2: boundary setting!
November 9, 2012 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Hoping for advice on setting boundaries within a co-parenting relationship following a marital separation.

So, this was me a couple of months back.

In a nutshell, my husband of 10 years turned into a cultish nut, decided he didn't believe in marriage, and made the decision to set an "end date" for our own marriage. I decided I wasn't going to wait around for the eventual desertion, took an apartment for myself and my two young children, and basically started a new life for us.

Fast forward: it's been financially devastating and emotionally exhausting, but somehow the kids and I are getting by. I'm dating, which is going well, and have received a fair amount of emotional support from family and close friends. My ex moved in with his "spiritual partners" (a married couple who do marriage counseling and perform marriage ceremonies). I learned yesterday that my ex is now, for all intents and purposes, sharing the wife in that couple -- he's madly in love with her, is having a sexual relationship with her, wants to be with both of them long-term, etc. He withheld this from me (and actively lied, as I asked him about it directly) for about six weeks. So did she, when she emailed me to extend an olive branch and offer her compassion and "support" to me.

So that's all background. (Sorry!) My issue now is this: I realize I've been allowing my ex to manipulate me emotionally, and part of the reason I've let him walk on me is because I desperately need his help with the kids. (I definitely have issues with this whole single-parent thing, and I need him to visit them and spend time with them if I am going to have a life and/or get anything done.)

The problem is that he has not respected any boundaries I have tried to set. (Example: I told him I did not want him bringing our children to his home, and I didn't want them around the couple he lives with. I didn't know he had a sexual and emotional relationship with them at the time. First time he was out with my kids and one of them had to pee, he took them right to this couple's house and introduced them.) He also is not, in my opinion, generally trustworthy. (Example: just last week, I asked him point-blank if he had any kind of relationship with this couple beyond being friends, and he adamantly denied it.) Finally, he does not respect my privacy. I am a deeply private person (AskMe questions notwithstanding, haha) and he shared my personal thoughts and struggles with this couple even before he and I were separated, even after promising he wouldn't. He has also said he has no secrets from them and will share with them anything he feels compelled to share, period.

He says he wants to form a deep friendship with me, that he wants to change the horrible patterns we've had for the duration of our relationship so we can both have better relationships going forward, etc. He says he wants to "heal" me and believes he can do so.

This is not healthy for me, obviously, and I want to draw the line.

Please know that I am not in a position to hire an attorney right now. While I am dead broke (I literally put $5000 on a personal credit card to help cover payroll for my staff this past week), on paper I appear to make way more than any sliding scale would cover. I have every intention of retaining the best attorney I can find come January, when my finances turn around. In the interim, though, what I want to do is to excise as much of the emotional turmoil of my relationship with my ex as possible, and to try to establish some boundaries. Basically, to create a "business" relationship insofar as our kids and our shared work. I believe this will reduce my pain, will demonstrate to me over the long term whether there is any hope for me to trust him, and will make clear his intentions.

The boundaries I would like to communicate are: the kids do not go to his home; the kids are not exposed to his partners or any members of their "spiritual family"; he does not discuss spirituality with our kids; he does not discuss our private communications with his partners; he sets a regular schedule for visitation and sticks with it, so that I can enjoy some time for myself and get more work done; he does the work he's agreed to do for our (still, for now) shared business.

Sounds pretty simple, but I am looking for a clear, emotionless-yet-not-so-cold-as-to-totally-alienate-him way to communicate this to him, as well as a way to remove myself from this weird codependent emotional tangle I have with him. I'm tired of feeling used, manipulated and patronized simply because I am not spiritual and I am not *her*. I want to regain some power in my life and I want to look out for my kids' best interest (as well as my own, for once). Again, I absolutely cannot afford legal counsel right now, so I'm hoping someone might have some general advice to either help me present this information to him, or some perspective to help me get through this tough situation. Thanks in advance.
posted by justonegirl to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Oh dear. This is really challenging.
First of all, I think you need to be clear and straightforward about his life-style being way beyond the norm, and thus not an acceptable place for your kids to be.
You are a good person, and a good parent for your kids. The other part seems borderline crazy. I've been through something very similar, and had great help from the authorities, but I am not in America. On the other hand, I am in one of the most liberal/tolerant countries in the world, and still, the basic paradigm is that our children need to grow up in sane families. To me, this does not seem entirely sane.
When I was divorced, I had ambitions similar to yours. But reality forced me to recognize that my ex was not participating in the same society as I was. A psychiatrist I consulted because our child was confused and unhappy practically ordered me to take responsibility.
posted by mumimor at 4:47 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know people who indicated this book helped them - Joint Custody with a Jerk. I realize you aren't divorced yet, so it's not "joint custody" technically, but I've gathered this book is a lot about boundary setting.
posted by jasper411 at 4:51 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I was your friend, and I wish I was, I'd hope that I could provide more for you than emotional support - by taking the place of your husband as far as visiting and spending time with your kids.

I know that you mentioned that one of them has special needs, but is it something that you could show friends how to address?

I just think, based on your question, that this guy shouldn't have any unsupervised time with the kids right now - for many reasons, but mainly his ignoring your stated wishes and his extremely odd behavior over the last year.

As for his not respecting your privacy - well, you can't do much about that. From here on out, you know that he's not your friend, so fend off any statements about "deep relationship" with the awesome MeFi phrase, "I'm sorry, that won't be possible right now."

And...I'm probably overstepping, but please be careful about dating right now. It takes time to mentally process a divorce, and having romantic relationships can extend that or complicate it. I know, I know, not always - I'm just speaking from personal experience and the experience of friends, so take that as you will.

You're doing great, though. Hang in there.
posted by HopperFan at 5:05 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

The problem here is that, despite his abominable conduct toward you, he is still (and always will be) those kids' father. In the absence of a court order stipulating which terms you can dictate to him, you can't dictate terms any more than he can tell you that he doesn't approve of your apartment or whatever. You can ask him not to do things, and if he agrees to but does them anyway, you can be mad at him, but that's about it. If he doesn't agree to do what you ask, you (and yes, this is infinitely easier to type than it is to do) just have to shrug and let him do them.

And it sucks. My ex and I had some screaming fights about what we wanted to "allow" the other one to do when the kid was with the other one. But we've come to an uneasy detente where one of us asks, and the other considers it, and we generally come to a synthesis. It will take time and tears, but you can do it. Ask yourself if he's really damaging them by introducing them to a nonstandard domestic situation.

You'll get through this. You'll do some stuff that you look back on and wince, but you'll also do some stuff that you're very proud of standing your ground on in retrospect. Just take a deep breath and reconsider whether a particular issue is the proverbial hill upon which you want to die.

P.S. MeMail me if you want. A neutral party that you can ask "Is this reasonable?" Can help immeasurably.
posted by Etrigan at 5:12 PM on November 9, 2012 [14 favorites]

You can either get him to parent his kids OR you can keep the kids out of his life. Unfortunately, it's not really going to work to do both, because you can't control him. I'm not trying to be a butt, it's the reality.

If you keep trying to supervise him and control his behavior (and believe me, I TOTALLY understand why you want to do this) it will perpetuate the emotional entanglement and hurt on your end. Figure out what you reasonably can and can't control, and try to let everything else go.

It doesn't matter if his lifestyle is weird, they're his kids and if he's going to spend time with them, it's reasonable for him to do it in his home. You can't supervise him when it comes to imparting spiritual information. You can't keep him from talking about your relationship with his partners. You can't keep him from talking about what you tell him with his partners.

Basically, the only parts of what you want that you can actually enforce while allowing him regular unsupervised visitation are the regular visitation schedule and the work he does for your business. Frankly, even those are not things you can make him do, but at least you'll know if they're done or not, which can't be said for the rest of it.

So I suggest ignoring his fucked up behavior until you can get through this crisis situation and don't have to rely on him, or if it's possible, really and genuinely moving on from being dependent on him.

Being a parent in a separating marriage SUCKS. It is really fucking awful not to have that control over your kids' lives anymore. I feel you 100%. At this point though it's about survival, nothing is going to be ideal, put your shoulder up against that giant stone and keep pushing.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:14 PM on November 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

Also, I find this comment to be really insightful:

You can't expect a relationship to function better during a divorce than it does during a marriage.

I know a woman who was upset because her unreliable husband didn't follow through on picking up divorce papers from the courthouse. His behavior and her upset over it just a continuation of the pattern they'd had for several years. She didn't see this until I pointed it out.

Basically, you can't expect him to suddenly become this reliable, reasonable guy who follows through on his promises. Managing your expectations is key.

Again, this is TOTALLY sucky and not your fault and I really feel for you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:21 PM on November 9, 2012 [11 favorites]

I am sorry this is so awful for you. You said you cannot afford an attorney but I actually think you really need to meet one now. Several of my friends have had no trouble retaining attorney's with no-to-little cash upfront and the promised payout in future. For example, your soon to be husband is most likely paying very little child support (based on your past question), but in some jurisdictions the couple's income would be considered part of the calculations and the three of them would have to pay increased child support to you. If he is not doing the work he has agreed to then he should be working elsewhere and paying a portion of that money to you.

Secondly, regarding your boundaries, I don't think you can set the boundaries you want. Boundaries only work if you can enforce consequences. You do not have that power because at the moment he legally can see the children and bring them to his partners whenever he wants. You need an outside agency (in my jurisdiction theyare called Children's Aid but some places call them children's protective services, we also have something called the Children's Lawyer). The outside agency will evaluate the impact on the children of his behaviour and draw boundaries like restricting access. In most places, absent a court order it is assumed both parents have access to their children whenever they want.

However you are currently communicating, you may want to change to one that is more comfortable for you. So if conversations in person become too fraught move all conversations to email, for example. The only problem is that all email can be brought up in court and if you get heated or misspeak it can be heard against you.

Mostly though, I get the feeling you have acted really reactively to everything that has happened in the past couple of years and your expectations of what is "normal" or legally required of a co-parent have gotten really confused. That is where you really need to talk to someone who is not emotionally involved that is aware of current laws and how to fix screwed up dynamics and can help you plan a path forward for your children, becoming more proactive without always first putting your soon to be ex husband's wants before your children's and your needs.

You have been handling all this stress really well - good for you that you left when you did and you are now taking control of your life. You are a strong woman. You WILL get through this.
posted by saucysault at 5:22 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

The boundaries I would like to communicate are: the kids do not go to his home; the kids are not exposed to his partners or any members of their "spiritual family"; he does not discuss spirituality with our kids; he does not discuss our private communications with his partners; he sets a regular schedule for visitation and sticks with it, so that I can enjoy some time for myself and get more work done; he does the work he's agreed to do for our (still, for now) shared business.

Is he actually harming the kids ? Call CPS. Immediately.

I get that you have lots of reason to dislike these people. But if he and they aren't actually harming them, then things get less clear. You can ask him to do these things, and explain how it makes you feel. However, absent an ability to get a judge and a court order, you can't really make him do anything.

He's their father, after all, and has all the rights you do. He doesn't really have to listen to you.

You need a lawyer, badly.

Let me briefly relate my experience :

My custody battle was pretty contentious and long lived. At some point early on, she sent me a letter stating what and when I could feed the boy, what I could and could not say to him, who I could and could not have around (my GF) when I had the boy, and so on.

It was all very reasonable, after all - I was just the kid's worthless piece of shit dad, and she was his mother.

Long story short, the judge found that to be part of a pattern of interference on her part of my rights as a parent, and I wound up with full custody. My lawyer had a field day with that letter from my ex - and she was just "concerned about the well being of her son".

I'm not trying to make this about me. What I am trying to say is that you need to be very careful about how you approach this. An honest mistake on your part can really hurt you later on.

You need to know better than we can tell what your actual rights are, what his actual rights are, and need a lawyer in your jurisdiction to tell you that. Even if you just a get a consultation, you'll be in a better position to do what you think is best.

If you do something wrong, he could use it against you in the worst way. Don't let that happen.

I cannot possibly advocate strongly enough for you to find a lawyer to advise you.

I ate a lot of ramen and worked two jobs.... that lawyer was worth every penny. I'm not saying it's easy. I'm saying it's worth it. If you post what state your in, we can maybe help you find some potential resources to help find a lawyer and maybe some other support for you.

I feel you - this crap is a nightmare. Keep your chin up and be the better human. I'll be sending some nice thoughts your way.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:38 PM on November 9, 2012 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far, everyone. I want to say, also, that those of you who have pointed out that my kids' dad does have rights are absolutely correct, and I know this. I do need to consider this, as hard as it is in spite of my feelings of anger and betrayal, and I don't want to do anything to cause myself legal trouble down the road.

I'm struggling not only with his nontraditional living/romantic situation, but also with what I believe are some off-the-wall spiritual beliefs and his refusal to acknowledge that his kids are his #1 priority (he has outright told me that, while he resents the choice at all, he would choose his spiritual path and his romantic relationship with this couple over his children, if it came to that. He later retracted the latter but not the former). Furthermore, I'm concerned that he has stated he believes in severing all attachments, which is not something I personally find reassuring in a co-parent.

FWIW, I'm in Maryland. Referrals to specific resources are very much appreciated.
posted by justonegirl at 6:01 PM on November 9, 2012

Do not assume that you don't qualify for help through Legal Aid, etc. Ask for help, don't decide the answer is obviously no and decide not to bother asking.

Please read this page on divorce in Maryland, because that state is a headache when it comes to divorce. If you want out fast, it means proving some stuff - I think you may have a shot at filing for divorce on the grounds of "adultery" or "excessively vicious conduct," but you need to talk to a lawyer about that.

Lawyers do NOT cost a fortune. You may even get a free initial consultation (they're common here; I don't know about there.) Bring documentation & a VERY brief (one page) list of pertinent facts about his behavior toward you and the children. This preparation guide seems quite reasonable to me.

Oh, and look at this list of Maryland Family Law Self-Help Centers.

(I'm sorry, I have no idea how to negotiate with someone behaving as irrationally as your soon-to-be-ex-husband is acting. I'm tempted to send you guides to dealing with the seriously/untreated mentally ill.)
posted by SMPA at 6:25 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

> part of the reason I've let him walk on me is because I desperately need his help with the kids

Do you qualify for respite care?
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:36 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

I want to comment on something you kind of mentioned in passing: that he told this couple things you had shared with him in confidence. I want to reassure you that 1) the more time passes the less relevant and maybe even true that stuff he told them will be. In other words, although the facts of whatever it is you shared with him will still be true, your perspective on them will change and and you'll grow and he won't know you very well anymore. Think of it like replacing all the cells in your body. 2) that couple was going to speculate about you in a way that is self-serving for them anyway so he hasn't really given them more fuel for speculation.

Now, about him wanting to heal you. Ugh. Gross. You should only really laugh at the suggestion. Seriously. Laughing, if you can pull it off somewhat sincerely (and not bitterly) will be so dismissive. But I can think of a bunch of other responses, like "number one, I'm not nearly as damaged as you think I am, and number two, I feel pretty confident that whatever 'healing' I have yet to do will be in the arms of someone else and I'm really looking forward to it. Really, it's so cute that you think I would let you get anywhere near my healing."
posted by vitabellosi at 6:53 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

You wrote:

demonstrate to me over the long term whether there is any hope for me to trust him

There isn't, so you can stop waiting for that demonstration. It's troubling that you would write that. Your best recourse is full custody, all the money you can possibly get, and keeping your business solvent. Your best way to get those things is with a great lawyer when you can afford it, though start with legal aid tomorrow. You can explain your work situation w.r.t. the sliding scale.

You should be documenting every crazy thing he has ever said and done. Like that stuff about choosing his spiritual path over his kids? Write it down with a date and time. Keep emails, texts, and voicemails. Though your lawyer can maybe advise in more detail.

Unfortunately you're in a situation where the best things you can get are full custody and money. Others have probably said this, but being around a wacko who has abandoned their mom is not great for your kids. (As I'm sure you realize and struggle with.) You seem confused on this point, though. E.g., your husband does not have a "nontraditional living situation." Don't call it something acceptable, like you would call gay people living together. What he has done is unethical in 100 ways. If you are unsure, note that the guy has repeatedly told you large, relevant bald-faced lies. That's your litmus test. "But I waaaant what I'm doing to be ok!" does not make it ok. He cheated and abandoned his family. Full stop.

I think you'll be better off when your expectations are more in line with the reality. It's a time to rely big-time on friends. Whatever you "desperately needed" from your ex-husband, can you be desperately needy to your friends? Your family? Any communities you're a part of? If you're going to be desperately needy, as you should be during a tough time, be desperately needy with people who have a chance of stepping up to support you, and who you are going to want to repay when you're able. Your ex is neither.

If you are waiting for a demonstration of trustworthiness as you wrote, your expectations are way off. I think you would benefit from setting your expectations more accurately as you move forward in the process. What you might accurately expect (god bless the USA), and work for, is his adherence to court mandated requirements, and the chance to keep your kids away from him as much as possible. You might also expect that you will get some material support (time, $, whatever) from your closest friends and family. Sorry to say so, it sucks. Best of luck.
posted by kellybird at 7:08 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm concerned that he has stated he believes in severing all attachments, which is not something I personally find reassuring in a co-parent.

Him severing all attachments sounds like it would be a blessing in the long run. Other than financial support why would you want this person in your children's lives? Turn to your friends and family for emotional support and childcare.
posted by shoesietart at 7:39 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

As long as you "need" him for anything, most of the advice given so far won't help you. You clearly don't trust him to honor your wishes; CPS / a lawyer / a restraining order / any legal device can only realistically deprive him of access to the kids, they can't stop him from saying / doing anything (at least, not without completely removing him from the picture).

Basically, before you worry about his side of the problem, you need to get your own affairs in order to the point that you no longer need him around. Then, and only then, you can start imposing enforceable limits without shooting yourself in the foot by doing so.

I don't mean this to defend him at all - He sounds like a seriously sick monkey. But you can't have it both ways - You don't get free baby-sitting completely detached from the person doing it.
posted by pla at 7:55 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Gah! What I wrote above seemed to be hating on polyamory, and that was totally not the intention. This is coming from an at-least-sometimes poly person (me). This guy's unethical behavior doesn't have to do with polyamory, but this stuff below, quoted from this question and the last one. I think both poly and mono people could agree on this list as pointing to someone who the poster should not count on for support.

-He withheld this from me (and actively lied, as I asked him about it directly) for about six weeks.

-Has not respected any boundaries I have tried to set ... First time he was out with my kids and one of them had to pee, he took them right to this couple's house and introduced them.

-He shared my personal thoughts and struggles with this couple even before he and I were separated, even after promising he wouldn't.

... and from the last question:

- He is leaving me and our two sons (ages 2 and 5) at the end of 2013. This is non-negotiable, and was solely his decision. (The "non-negotiable" part is a bit hard for me to see as being ok, at least in my moral world, when your wife has a 2 year old.)

- My options are very limited because of my husband's mishandling of our business finances.

Incidentally, poly/mono stuff is sort of the reason I mentioned that his outrageous lies are a "litmus test" for the poster. As someone who is at least sometimes poly, I know that you can get into a confusing headspace where you're behaving in ways that are unacceptable to 90% of people, so it can be easy to second guess yourself about right and wrong, caring and not caring, acceptable and not acceptable, supportive and not supportive. Sometimes there is grey area. This guy's behavior? No grey area. Giant flashing sign. Even by poly standards. Six weeks of an outrageous and emotionally relevant lie, in support of him chasing limerence, is not ethical or even ethically slutty. Nothing against nontraditional living relationships or someone pursuing spirituality at all. That lie is not the only indicator, either. This seems rather clear cut.
posted by kellybird at 8:11 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh my god. Why do you not have a lawyer yet? In your situation, with the kids and the business, you should have gone to a lawyer months ago and filed for divorce.

Honestly - I feel for you in your situation. But there's no way to "set boundaries" if you are helping set the stage for your husband to financially victimize you and the kids. Every day that you don't consult a lawyer, that is what you are doing. Every day that you kinda-sorta go along with his cockamamie plan, that is what you are doing. You need to move on from the marriage ASAP. Dating people, while still entangled in this mess of a marriage, is not the same as moving on. Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer. Do it for your kids.
posted by stowaway at 8:24 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

You can read the state court's page about divorce here and start filling out forms here. Filling out the paperwork will put you one step closer when you talk to a legal aid clinic or attorney. To get that in-person help, you could try the Community Legal Services of Prince George's County Family Law walk-in clinic. There is also a great deal of information at the online MD People's Law Library.

I really feel for you. Something happened to me that was financially and legally quite overwhelming. I could even find you my anonymous AskMe about how I could absolutely NOT afford a lawyer. When I finally managed to pay one, he got the case dismissed on a technicality that I would have never found. This is a crazy situation, but the world is really still quite orderly. A lawyer can put the crazy in a box for you, and I hope you can get help from one soon. But I know that sometimes the money is just not there.

One thing I learned in that situation is to let people help me. Right now, you have much more on your plate than any human could handle, financially or emotionally. Could someone help with childcare, finances, divorce paperwork, or IT stuff? Your mom? Your friends? Other parents? Siblings or cousins? These months may be some of the most stressful of your life. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

If you can't think of people to ask for help, you might try calling the Parents Help Line: 1-855- 4A PARENT for help finding low-cost childcare. You could use Meetup groups to find groups of single parents near College Park and divorce support groups near College Park. (You can easily change your location or specific interest.) You might find other single parents with whom you can trade child care. You might also try contacting a Maryland Family Support Center Location near you. (They support parents of children 0-3 and specifically mention that they have some programs that don't do means testing.) I'm sorry that this is such an awful time, but hang in there.
posted by slidell at 10:07 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

There is lots of great practical advice up above, and I want to echo how badly you need to rely on friends and public services right now for you and your children, including childcare and legal services.

As a small business owner, I am appalled that you put 5 Grand on a credit card to cover payroll, and while public services seem "icky" applying for assistance may actually help you make your case during your divorce. Check with a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure about this. Really.


I'm writing because a dear friend just went through something very similar with her live-in boyfriend who initially nursed her through becoming cancer-free after being diagnosed. I'm pretty sure they hooked up when she was newly post-divorce, and in the initial stages of treatment. So while there were no children involved, she was as vulnerable as you, just in different ways.

She supported him entirely during the ending of their relationship, as you supported your ex.

Her ex did not want to depart respectfully, in the same vein of your ex's "I want to heal you" and remain "deep friends with you" statements.

It's really great that you are feeling manipulated and you are on to the game he is playing! It took my friend a few tries to get it through her head, like, the whole last year they were living together.

I know this is painful and confusing, and I want to affirm that you are doing GREAT.


I want to re-affirm that you should reach out to every public assistance program possible. Beyond the fact that it affirms he's not contributing, there is another very very important reason.

I don't want to freak you out, and YES down the road you will never care about personal info he has shared about you, but right now it seems he is getting support and advice from 2 VERY crafty manipulators. I'm also pro-poly - and this is not about that. This is about power, control, and possibly money.

Shield yourself immediately with support. I can not stress this enough.


And we haven't precisely gone here yet in this thread, but in for a penny...

As adults, believe me when I tell you that your children will NOT blame you from protecting them from a parent who does not put them first. Please go for full custody. I'm not advising you to cut him out of your children's lives. I am saying that if you make mature decisions about their care under the circumstances you have described, they won't be as surprised as my brother and I were, when as young adults, our father finally threw us (metaphorically) under a bus in favor of some bullshit that meant more to him than we did.

Deal in REAL reality, not the reality your ex and his handlers are trying to get you and your children to buy into.

I know you know that way lies madness and suffering.

Hope I re-affirmed your resolve and courage. You can handle this. Reach out for help.

(And yeah - stop dating for the moment!! This is not the time for that. Duh.)
posted by jbenben at 1:18 AM on November 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

There's been a lot of good practical and philosophical advice here. You say that everything on your wish-list "sounds simple," but honestly, from an outsider's perspective (specifically, an outsider with 15 years' experience of co-parenting with a flake, for loose values of "parenting") everything on your list sounds unrealistic.

I participated on a divorce support Usenet newsgroup for many, many years, and one of the most important pieces of advice (and one of the hardest to accept) is that if you couldn't control your spouse's behavior when you were still married and theoretically still committed to one another, how can you possibly hope to control it after you've split? The whole concept of "sphere of control" is very important here. You can only control yourself.

Yes, you can get certain things written into a divorce decree when it comes to that (e.g., you might be able to get language included that prohibits overnights with the kids if the parent's new partner is also spending overnights, but that's a sword that cuts both ways). But even then, your ex may violate the terms of the agreement, and then you've got a messy, expensive proposition of trying to prove that and enforce it.

The most successful post-divorce coparenting relationships I've seen are those where the parent swallows their pride/outrage/hurt and agrees to be flexible and non-interfering and lets a lot of things slide short of outright child endangerment.

And yeah, it gave me a twinge in my gut when you said you were dating. I know you may feel like you need to do that for your own sanity, but I would suggest finding a distraction that is not QUITE so distracting, if you know what I mean.

Finally, if you happen to be in MoCo, you might want to look into the the Jewish Social Services Agency and see if they have any offerings of use to you. They offer a lot of services for special needs ids/family and also have divorce support services, including support specifically for divorces involving special-needs kids. You don't have to be Jewish!
posted by drlith at 5:26 AM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hi - a lot of good info above for Legal services, which you absolutely need. For your special needs child, you may actually qualify for respite care from a licensed professional. I know on paper it looks like you have a lot of money, but most places understand that small business owners are not the same as those who work for a corporation, and can take that into account. The income limits are often MUCH higher than you'd expect - the reasoning is that it's a helluva lot cheaper to provide respite care NOW than deal with the repercussions of caregivers who lose their shit LATER. (and they're right - there's a lot of studies to prove this).


Ask. Ask for what you need from respite services. Ask for what you need from Legal Aid, and lawyers. Ask, because you never know what you can get unless you ask. If you're ashamed to ask for you, ask for your kids, because your kids need these things. It sucks that you have to be the one to do this - you can't expect your ex to suddenly become sane - but absolutely ask. Ask until you can't find anyone to ask anymore. If I were your friend, I would so want you to ask me - for help with the kids, for help making dinner, for anything you can think of.

Respite care links for Maryland - originally I was going to post a list, but I found a site that gives a good overview on how to apply for respite, how to apply for FREE respite, how to get into the respite system, etc. This is absolutely worth the time to get into the system.

Maryland DHA overview for Respite care:
posted by RogueTech at 8:58 AM on November 10, 2012

Lawyer. One thing you can and should do, is ask any and everyone you trust (church? family? close friends?) if they know any lawyers who would offer you a free consultation. Many lawyers will do an initial consultation for free or very low cost and some will even be willing to do this knowing you may not be able to go forward with paid service and need the best advice they give in a thirty minute session.

Look at all the advice about what you need to get an accurate understanding of listed above and make a list of questions to ask an actual lawyer in your state about. I had two different lawyers very kindly offer me a couple of free/low cost sessions to help me get prepared for how to conduct myself dealing with a difficult co-parenting situation.

The terrible truth is that unless you get full custody you have very limited scope of influence in protecting your children from their fathers behavior. I'm sorry.

I will say this, in my situation I was able to reason with my child's other parent and discuss the concerns I had about abusive behavior/addiction/risks to the child of his behavior and belief system and he in fact, shared my concerns (in that moment when presented with very articulated details of his concerning behavior) and agreed to extremely limited custody which actually serves him as well because he does not in fact like children at all despite occassionally wanting to exert control and presence as if he were a full time father.

I would urge you to capitalize on his hesitancy to be involved and take him at his word that he is not capable of being an involved committed father right now. GET THINGS IN WRITING. Save e-mails he writes about not wanting to be involved or reliable. Even if you don't use this in court you can try to have an honest discussion about what he REALLY wants his responsabilities to be.

Then sell minimal involvement as a benefit to him. Let him know you will NOT stop him from having visits, he will NOT be barred from giving love to his kids and that agreeing to minimal involvement does NOT mean you're going to teach the kids he's a terrible person or to hate him. Some people are not good with kids, and do have love to give but not much in terms of reliable consistant parenting. Yes it might mean he's more of a weird uncle to his kids than a dad, but minimizing visitation time means he can use the small amount of time he has to REALLY pamper and dote on his kids and can turn out to be a great thing for all involved.

Biggest advice-- stop seeing him as an actual contributing coparent. He's the zany uncle you want him to have visits because after all (sigh) they are still related and all. And it IS good for them, so long as he's not dangerous, to know he loves them. Be an ally to him in helping him maximize his contribution to their lives.

This is going to really really suck, probably for a long while. Keep getting support every avenue you can. What's more, I recognize abuse counseling might not seem appropriate-- but often free counseling for people dealing with abuse situations might be available to you to help you with identifying what of his beahvior is actually dangerous and what is simply unpleasant. That kind of counseling is also GREAT at helping you set boundaries and protect your children. (And often free?) What's more often they can give you referals to other community resources such as special needs parenting support. Much love! I'm so sorry these situations can suck so much!

I will tell you what a lawyer told me immediately--- PLEASE do not have a live in partner right now-- that looks really bad in court and could be an asset you have that he doesn't. Exposing kids to new lovers is often frowned on court situations (so I've been told) and your ex's free spirited lifestyle that prioritizes "spiritual" romance over stability for kids will not impress many judges. You focus on being the most reliable parent you can be, build yourself up, get support (counseling, therapy, friends, massages, yoga?). If nothing else, remember that all your concerns for the kids are really for them. So focus on their well being through this. Remember to, any time you feel able, play games with them, laugh, go to play dates. These things can be hard to do when the situation hurts. But as hard as it is for you, their world is very unstable right now. Create the space where they know they have your love, can talk about their feelings, and that you will continue to do what you can to create a safe stable family environment for them. And remember to help them continue enjoying life. After all, suffering will happen, but there is still yet beauty, is there not?

I can gaurantee you that you will make your whole world a lot better if you manage to get full custody OR EVEN a finalized shared custody agreement, and can begin the process of making your children's lives as healthy and happy as possible within the known circumstances. Things are topsy turvy right now and that makes it all the more difficult to cope. Also, it's ok that you feel like you can barely do this and need help and may have made unpleasant compramises with your childrens father to get support you need. We all do what we can to hang on. It's ok. But the sooner you can build up a REAL support system that fills those needs, the better you and your children's lives will be. I also suggest maximizing your financial assets in addition to relying on family and friends for needed support. Can you hire a cleaning person? Pay a friend to clean/do laundry etc once a week? Find healthy food take out places and let yourself rely a little bit more on services available to busy families to help you prioritize the time you do have for fitting in relaxation and quality time with the kids? Write out what needs this guy fills in terms of providing to the kids and brainstorm how you can maximize your finances-- and seek out charity and community resources-- to fill in the gaps with more reliable support.

I suspect the deepest whole he fills is deep within you. That place where most of us wish our children's father's could really love with us- and there for us and the kids. As a family. It's a beautiful dream and it will be hard to let your heart cope with the reaily he was never really able to love you in the way you needed. He doesn't know how. It's not there. And he's not the man you wanted for your kids. It's ok to be sad about this and to wish he HE, your child's father who created them, could step up and really be the person needed right now.

But it's not going to be him. It's not going to be two people making child rearing and life itself easier. It has to be only you. And yes that's sad. What's more it's not healthy for you because the weight of child rearing all alone is a terrible strain on both your emotions and physical health. But it's what you're faced with. You need all the resources and support from the outside you can connect with to replenish your health and strength. At some point you might even look back and see that he didn't mean for this suffering to befall you or the children either and is as much a leaf in the wind as we all are. Of course, to truly be a shelter in the storm, one must send down roots, take anchor and grow, to cultivate the life you want within the rugged and merciless conditions of this reality. I think many of us hope we will find this in a partner. But if we hope to find this in a partner, in makes it all the more pressing to consider why we don't first become this- so that some other partner can find it in us? Or so that we could find an equal and become an even stronger united force? And so that we can show our children how it's done?

I think many men, and women, really have no idea what a resource they could be for their children and spouses if they focused on being stable, reliable, available, and aware parents. It's very difficult to cultivate in the self and very enjoyable to be around others who have done such work. But we can't control whether others makethe choice to do that or not. Just cultivate all you can in yourself and seek out others who do the same. But this might help you-- his "spiritual" nonsense is indeed, to my eyes, as self absorbed, selfish, and harmful as you see. I know it helps to know others can see it too. His excuses may sound profound, but his actions are harming the family he helped create. Which is neither noble, nor enlightened.
posted by xarnop at 9:02 AM on November 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

(I'd like to add that most of us have behaved in ways that are unenlightened so I don't mean to say that to trash him, but to acknowledge that he does seem to be in denial about how to treat others well, which tends to be part of spirituality for most of us. Sprituality that is all about emotional ecstasy without regard for others well being can be very harmful. It's understandable he was sucked in, but that doesn't negate the harm this lifestyle can cause to others.)
posted by xarnop at 9:15 AM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

First of all, I want to tell you that while you have found him to be untrustworthy in his actions towards you as a partner, that does not make him an untrustworthy father. I mean, he may well not be, but nothing you've said indicates that.

Does he turn up the days he says he will? Does he return them as agreed? Does he take good care with their safety and supervision? Then you're doing well.

The boundaries I would like to communicate are: the kids do not go to his home; the kids are not exposed to his partners or any members of their "spiritual family"; he does not discuss spirituality with our kids; he does not discuss our private communications with his partners;

Those are not boundaries, those are rules, and they are rules he's entirely free to ignore without a court-mandated agreement. I am pretty sure Katie Holmes would prefer Tom Cruise not discuss his spirituality with their daughter but I don't think it's possible to stop that.

he sets a regular schedule for visitation and sticks with it, so that I can enjoy some time for myself and get more work done; he does the work he's agreed to do for our (still, for now) shared business.

These are things it's entirely reasonable to negotiate.

The best way to regain power in your life, by the way, is to be dis-interested in his. Leave all of the emotional stuff out of your conversations with him and deal with the practical: schedules, support, visitation.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:59 AM on November 10, 2012

Nthing get a lawyer and that it doesn't have to cost that much. I broke down and got one after putting it off because not that much money was involved. I can't describe the relief when I started describing the situation and the lawyer said something to the effect of how common the problem was (and how bullshitty the other side was acting). It felt a little like seeing a therapist but much faster and entirely on the practical side. Just cut through so much emotional angst I had about the situation and made me see that I could approach it in clearly defined steps.
posted by BibiRose at 9:59 AM on November 10, 2012

Get a free consultation with a divorce lawyer now. Explain your circumstances. You may find more help than you know is out there and it cannot hurt to try.

As for your husband, you cannot make people, especially crazy ones, act as you, or common decency would want.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:23 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

As far as his living situation, do you actually think you can keep all of that from your kids permanently and still allow them to have any contact with him? Because unfortunately I don't think that is realist. Even if he was 100% committed to keeping this from them (and he isn't...) things would slip out. Your kids would have a lot of questions and you would have no good answers.

I wouldn't want them to know either, I mean Jesus Christ I get it, but unfortunately whether they know is not really up to you. The only thing that might be up to you is how they find out and how it's presented to them. So I would choose your battles because othere than your children having almost zero contact with their father they will find out one way or another. So I would concentrate on figuring out how to tell them about it and move on to fighting the battles you might win.

Again you have my total sympathy, and I don't think you are being unreasonable, just unrealistic given the very surreal cards you've been dealt.
posted by whoaali at 7:57 PM on November 11, 2012

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