Cleaning up the massive mess the ex left
June 19, 2014 10:29 AM   Subscribe

So, the ex just went to prison for 2 years, non-parole period of 1 for a despicable crime, that like everything else, he lied about - and I wouldn't be bothered except he's left a mess behind for his kids, my kids, nice young adults on limited incomes.

He's hugely in debt. From going through his paperwork, he was thinking about bankruptcy. All his utilities are late, and he's broken arrangement after arrangement to pay them. Until 2pm Wednesday afternoon, he shared accommodation with my son, who has the same name.

I've had a friend's lawyer husband recommend me a lawyer, and contacted him but he hasn't yet got back to me. I have access to the ex's paperwork, so that we can get a proper picture of all the debt he's in. Thinking about getting power of attorney for son so he can get ball rolling on bankruptcy proceedings, so no more debt accumulates. Yes, I know I don't have to help my ex, but I do have to help my son.

My son's name is on not on the lease and rent is due tomorrow - I can take care of this.

I was thinking of telling all the utility /bank / debtors that ex is in prison, and then rather than transferring accounts to son (thereby settling him with debt that's not his -and yes, he's been supporting his father financially but where he thought bills were being paid, apparently money was going elsewhere, like lawyer costs).

But with the shock - the arrest was November 2.5 years ago, and he of course maintained his innocence, and the unlikelihood of him going to prison - I feel like I'm missing crucial things I need to do.

There's a car with 29 months of 60 month lease here - now unregistered. A motor bike. Another older car, that my son paid rego on, but ex did not do what was necessary to transfer title (get a roadworthy cert) and that can't be backdated.

The household items are not worth much, and truly, my sons entire savings and wages have gone to his father for so long, that I think I can make a case that they are his.

I think, but haven't run the numbers completely yet, that my son, once things are sorted, can afford to live here with room mate. It saves hassle (and cost)of sending ex's belongings to his mother, re homing the cats, actually finding good place for son to live.

Daughter is in first 6 months of PhD, and told her supervisor so is being supported that way. Her boyfriend has said he doesn't know what to say or do to help her (though she has been explicit about not needing to say anything, just to give her comfort).

Neither of the kids have asked for details of what the actual crime was - naive in life experience and assuming that the story he told was true. If they ask, I will tell them, but it's indecent dealings with a 6 year old, not public exposure like he said.

Okay, region is Queensland, Australia. Question is, what do I need to do urgently, what other things should I think about that I haven't been, what must I absolutely avoid doing? Lists, legalslities, links.

I did suggest to the kids that I pay for them to talk to a professional, each, so they can process this but they don't want to. They are very private people, introverts. I am trying very hard to be compassionate about their father in their company (I agree with them, that like them, I'm angry and shocked but I don't say what I'm thinking). When I get a chance, I plan to see someone myself. No, there is no one else who can help them out. Ex's father estranged himself from family over 10 years ago, ex's mother frail and broke and poor. Ex's brother sexually assaulted daughter when she was a child.

I found and emailed the correct people to get his location and contact ability for the kids.
posted by b33j to Law & Government (44 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, that's a lot and you're doing a lot to help your kids.

First thing I would do is call the utilities, explain that Ex has been incarcerated and to cancel those services and issue final bills. Then have son, with separate identity number (whatever is akin to our Social Security Number) apply for utilities in his own name. I worked at the phone company and this happened often.

Have your son go to the landlord and discuss having your Ex removed from the lease and having him be on the lease solely (or with you, if that's what you want.) Most landlords would MUCH rather write a new lease to someone who is already in the property, than deal with re-leasing.

As for the leased car, call the finance company and advise them that the owner has been incarcerated and will not be making any further payments. Tell them where the car is and that you'll be happy to surrender it at the dealer if that's what they'd like. The other vehicles, call your department of motor vehicles for the motor bike and the car that your son owns and ask what needs to be done to reissue a clean title in his name, explaining that he is taking them over from an incarcerated person. Have your son present any documentation that he has showing an intention of assuming title. If nothing can be done, call the police and advise them that the vehicles have been abandoned due to your Ex being in jail, and they'll be impounded and sold at auction.

As for the bills and bankruptcy, not your circus, not your monkey. I'd bundle all that paperwork up and forward it to your Ex in the joint. If any further correspondance comes for him, return it marked "no such person at this address." If you can do mail forwarding, forward it to him at his prison address. He can deal with that mess on his own. If anyone calls to dun him, tell them, "He's in prison, stop calling here."

As for the household items, let your son keep using them. Why not? He and his Dad can decide how to split it all up when he gets out.

Don't make any more of this your drama than you have to. Do the bare minimum to keep your son in the house where he'd like to live.

Really, it's pretty simple.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

Oh I am so sorry b33j. It sounds like you are in MamaBear mode. Keep in mind you kids are adults and let them take the lead on what they need. Take time for yourself to get stabilised so you can be a rock for them. I know it seems counterintuitive bit you have to put your own mask on first. Get the lease, utilies etc transfer to either your name or your sons (I am anticipating problems with the shared name there) and leave the debts to your ex. Again, I am so sorry.
posted by saucysault at 10:46 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry that you and your family are dealing with this.

You sound totally overwhelmed, which is understandable, but I think it's important to remember that you don't have to figure everything out right now. You are going to be dealing with this for a very long time, and you can process it a little bit before you figure out your next steps. Your kids don't want to talk to a therapist or counselor right now. That's fine. Maybe they will want to in a month or a year. If you do want to talk to a counselor now, that's great, and I would make it a priority to get that set up. It's ok if you want to wait, too.

I wouldn't do anything with the utilities until you talk to the lawyer, unless you're concerned about stuff getting turned off right now. The lawyer should be able to help your son figure out his options and how to protect himself financially.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:50 AM on June 19, 2014

Your son needs to move and possibly change a portion of his name so that all debts and databases do not link him to his father.

Uh. It seems you are shielding your ex from the consequences of his actions.

Move your son out of the shared living space, rehome any pets, and legally set up barriers to keep creditors and others from confusing your son with his father.

You're not thinking clearly, I think. You are engaging with drama instead of moving away from it. That's not a healthy reaction, y'know?

Distance yourself from your ex. There is NOTHING for you to clean up on behalf of your ex.
posted by jbenben at 11:00 AM on June 19, 2014 [20 favorites]

My son's name is on not on the lease and rent is due tomorrow - I can take care of this.

Move your son out today. Don't pay the rent on your ex's place. Your son has no ability to pay - and no responsibility to pay if he isn't on the lease. If you want to be friendly and helpful, cancel the utilities as well, but again, unless they're in your/your son's name, not your responsibility.

There's a car with 29 months of 60 month lease here - now unregistered. A motor bike. Another older car, that my son paid rego on, but ex did not do what was necessary to transfer title (get a roadworthy cert) and that can't be backdated.

If the lease isn't in your/your son's name, it is not your problem. Motorbike and older car are owned by your ex, right, not you? Again, not your problem. It is very unfortunate that the car that your son has been using (I'm presuming he's been using it) is in his deadbeat Dad's name, but it is not his car and he should keep it simple and not drive it.

The household items are not worth much, and truly, my sons entire savings and wages have gone to his father for so long, that I think I can make a case that they are his.

I would be super cautious about doing this. You're the ex and you're basically saying that because your son has supported his Dad that your ex's belongings are now your son's? Stay away from this with a 10 foot pole. Tell your son to only take what is explicitly HIS when he moves out.

If you really must get involved - contact your ex's lawyer, ask him to communicate with your incarcerated ex, offer to do return the leased car to the dealership, cancel the utilities, inform the landlord that he's been incarcerated, and mail the boxes of his documents to his Mom/lawyer/college buddy/whoever, if he signs over the belongings and the older car and motorbike to the kids. Do NOT agree to store anything for him. Sorry this is happening to you.
posted by arnicae at 11:03 AM on June 19, 2014 [17 favorites]

Paying the rent might obligate you to the landlord. I agree you should not pay that rent!!

Please help you son pack his belongings and walk away from his dad's mess.

Use that rent money to set your son up in a new lease in a new apartment or house.
posted by jbenben at 11:07 AM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Okay, deep breath..... first off, I think you need to tell yourself "screw Ex, he got himself into this mess and he can deal with it his own self" --- in other words, don't worry about Ex and his debts and problems, just take care of your son.

Your ex's bank loans and debts are his
, not your son's, so ignore those. If this results in more trouble for ex, who cares? He sure didn't! And I'm pretty sure that, if he wants, even in jail he can file and declare bankruptcy. Maybe call the car leaseholder to tell them there won't be any more payments since their customer is in jail, and they might want to come get their car(s), but that's about it.

I'd really suggest your son move as soon as he can: not to avoid his debts, but to avoid his father's debtors. But if he does want to stay in that home, then immediately get the lease transferred to son's name only.

As for the utilities: yikes. If you can pay them off without killing yourself, okay, but otherwise again, your son is not responsible for bills not in his name. Close those accounts one way or the other, then open new ones --- maybe in your name? if not, then specifiy 'John Smith Jr.' not 'John Smith'.

And finally: make sure your son knows better than to ever tie himself up with his father like this again! Whenever your ex gets out, he is not going to be permitted to move back in with your son.
posted by easily confused at 11:10 AM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Unless son is on official paperwork as a co-signer, he can walk away. His father's problems are not his to take on and if he does start mixing himself into the situation, he could end up linked to it in a way that won't be good for him. Move him out today. Leave anything that son hasn't bought or that obviously isn't his.
posted by quince at 11:11 AM on June 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

Is your son 17 or 27? I honestly feel like you might not get the right responses without giving more information.
posted by jjmoney at 11:17 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're in panic mode and not thinking so clearly. Can I suggest you take a step back and look at the big picture?

Your ex's choices are his own - he had 2.5 years to deal with all of this stuff before he was incarcerated. He chose not to. By making all of his shit your problem, you're just enabling him and stressing yourself out. Don't make his problem your problem.

The only things you need to do are to help get your son out of the apartment, help your son deal with things in his name and help make sure the cats are taken care of. Notice I said HELP - your son is an adult and swooping in and dealing with all this just infantalizes him and removes his own agency in what is undoubtedly a heartbreaking and stressful process for him. (I am assuming here he is 18+ and not a minor).

Everything else - if it doesn't have your son's name on it, not your problem. Leased car in your ex's name? Not your problem. Apartment your ex didn't deal with? Not your problem. Ex's stuff? Not your problem. If his mom really wants to she can pay people to box it up and send it to her or deal with it herself.

And seriously, do not force your son to do legal work on behalf of his father. Bankruptcy proceedings are a massive stressful headache - it's really unfair and stress-inducing to try to dump this on your son.
posted by zug at 11:18 AM on June 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

I know you're going to get a lot of well-intended advice here but I think:

don't do anything until you talk to a lawyer.

And then please, consider talking to someone to make sense of things.

(I've been in MamaBear mode and in hindsight, I should have taken better care of myself at the time.) Please, take time to talk to someone, to eat right, to get some fresh air and exercise. Everything else can wait; no fires need to be put out immediately. Remain healthy. Trust me.)
posted by kinetic at 11:20 AM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Son is 23. My preference would be for everyone to walk away, but I love my son and he loves his dad and he has no experience in this stuff, and needs my help. My initial plan was to move him out ASAP, take one of the cats myself (long time family pets) and have the other go to shelter - but this was not all good. Daughter loves those cats.

Finding new place for son, there's not much out there. Browsing today, either not close to his work or no car park for his work fan.

Ok, maybe son getting power of attorney not good idea (but I'm not making anyone do anything). I promised him I would help take care of his dad, but I didn't want to spend any money on ex.

Thank you for all the advice and ideas.
posted by b33j at 11:30 AM on June 19, 2014

Response by poster: I don't know if I'm being clear - as far as I'm concerned ex can drop dead, and yay! But my son is a good person and wants to look out for his father's interests. I am proud of him for that. I'm not going to say to my son," well, because your father is an arsehole, you shouldn't love him or treat him like he's family" and I'm certainly not going to abandon him when he has no money because he was taking care of someone.

Son also made it clear he wanted to stay here, look after his fathers belongings etc. so yeah, agency. But this is a minefield for any aged adult, so I don't think I'm treating him like a child to help him work out how big it all is.
posted by b33j at 11:36 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would keep in mind that a lot of the responses here seem to assume that you're from the United States, but you're obviously not, as you indicated. I would really encourage you to review everything with an attorney, which it sounds like you're already planning to do. Just because debt is treated one way in the US does not mean it is the same in Australia, though it could be.
posted by dfriedman at 11:37 AM on June 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

As the daughter of divorced parents, I totally understand that your son doesn't feel he can just walk away and I respect that you're trying to help your son rather than leave him on his own. I think that's ultimately the right choice, even if it means (indirectly) helping your ex when you might prefer not to.

I don't have advice on the steps you need to take legally or financially, but I can say that I think it would be enormously helpful to your son to be a (somewhat) detached person who can talk him through what sorts of help are reasonable to provide to his father, and what things he really needs to focus on protecting himself instead. At 23, I am sure that he is freaked out and thinking that he has to take care of everything now his dad is gone. If you can be a voice that says "yes, it's reasonable to do X and Y to make sure your dad's stuff is okay and creditors don't come after him unnecessarily, but honey, if you do Z then you might not be able to rent an apartment in your own name for years, I think we need to figure out an alternative there," you have the potential to help shield your son from the worst of the fallout.

On preview: yeah, I don't find it surprising that your son wants to just hunker down in place and keep on taking care of his father's belongings. Keep in mind that this is his initial reaction to shocking news; I wouldn't press the point now, but a week or two down the road you might have more luck encouraging him to get a new place in his own name, and packing up his father's stuff to store. I bet involving him in a meeting with an attorney to talk about what needs to be done to protect his own credit / finances would be helpful, but again, I'd give your son a week or two to deal with the shock and just stay where he is before you do that.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:51 AM on June 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

Have your son call the landlord today and ask if he can change the lease over. If that works then have your son change all of the utilities into his own name. Do you have storage lockers for rent there like in the US? If so your son can rent one to put his father's stuff into so there is room for a roommate. Paying for it will be another issue.

Send your ex a letter telling him that he needs to tell your kids what he's been convicted of, it's unfair to you otherwise. You're being awesome but they must sense that you think their father is despicable and that's probably a bit confusing.
posted by mareli at 11:53 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know what to do about the legal and financial stuff. But the discussion above about your son changing his name slightly or more significantly is a good one.

This makes me think that your son should consider a campaign to put his own name and photos all over the place and create even multiple versions of his name and identity. Resumes, social media accounts, etc. I'm not sure about the legality, but it might help if this name became very generic and was being used all over the place, in multiple states, countries, cities.

It may also help your son to move, so that his address and his father's name are not confused by the public, employers, etc. I'm a little worried the press will run a story saying, "John Doe of _____ Street in Neighbourhoud, City, Queensland".

Your son might not be up to talking to a counsellor. But maybe an attorney or identity consultant could help him look at how to safeguard his own person, career and identity. Perhaps he'd build a little bit of a relationship with one of those advisors and they'd suggest counselling. Maybe you could set up a family meeting with someone to help you all talk about the process of building legal distance - that person could be a counsellor, but you could pitch it a little differently.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:57 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Son does not want to change his name but does have my maiden on his birth certificate as a second middle, and on license. Relatively common name - have met three other men not related with same.
posted by b33j at 12:01 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

In that case, then lawyer lawyer lawyer, and take your son with when you go: maybe a detached voice of authority like a lawyer will help it sink in how bad this mess is. And yeah, I still think your son should move , just maybe stuff all his father's stuff in a public rental locker.

As for your daughter: I know you mentioned she's pregnant, but she's either got to step up or step out: she won't hear of one of the cats going to the shelter because she loves them? Then she can jolly well take that cat home herself! She doesn't get to stand back and merely order you and her brother around: either she helps straighten out her father's mess or she sits back doing nothing while also not complaining about what other people are doing.
posted by easily confused at 12:04 PM on June 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

Okay, you need to sit down with your son and say:

I love you for wanting to help your father, it shows that you have a great heart. I'm going to tell you something about being an adult and I really hope that you take it to heart. As much as you love someone, they are responsible for the situations THEY put themselves in. Your father created his indebtedness, he created his legal problems and worse, he's involved you in this situation. My interest now is you, and wanting to help you move forward, without being dragged down with your Dad.

Your Dad has time to deal with his finances now, so let's let him do that. We will send him all the paperwork he needs to sort it out. This isn't yours to deal with. Ditto the lease on the car. I'll take care of that.

If you want to stay in the apartment and you can swing it with a roommate, I'll help with that. The first thing we need to do is get the utilities put in a different name, and talk to the landlord. I'll help with that. I appreciate your keeping the cats.

Per my response, if your son can be separated from his Dad, then do it, and he can move on with as little upheaval in the rest of his life as possible. If you don't mind helping, (I wouldn't) that's fine.

What your son shouldn't do is become enmired in the bankruptcy portion of the proceedings. That's for his father to handle.

As a precaution, have your son start signing with all four names, have utilities put in all four names: John Quincy b33j Smith. That should be enough legal differentiation to prevent casual issues with his credit. He should stay vigilent about it though. Sign up for credit monitoring and stuff like that, sharing a name and an address with a deadbeat is an invitation to hassles.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:07 PM on June 19, 2014 [16 favorites]

You are not protecting your children by helping a child molester hide his story. You are not protecting your son by allowing him to burden himself with his father's mess.

Look your son in the eye and tell him that you love him enough to let him make his own mistakes and learn from him. You will love him no matter what he decides to do in life and you value him enough to not clean up after his mistakes because learning from one's failures is part of being an adult. And then tell him that you hope he loves his father as much as you love him because, his father needs to clean up his own mistakes and learn from his own failures. And then invite your son to stay with you until he finds his own place.

All of dad's stuff is not his problem. It's a burning house, your son needs to get out of it alive. Leave the cars, leave the cats, leave the crap and let the landlord and utility companies sue the dad.

If you son isn't strong enough to do this, ask him how he is going to feel 15 years from now when he has to tell his wife and kids that they can't have nice things because his dad, who isn't even allowed to be near his kids, is still leaching off of him. And then explain to him why his dad should never be allowed around his children.
posted by myselfasme at 12:12 PM on June 19, 2014 [14 favorites]

Response by poster: Daughter not pregnant OMG phd but her small apartment paid for by her scholarship doesn't allow cat.

Very helpful advice here thanks, I will lawyer up, continue detachment, provide access to professionals and information and allow kids to make own decisions
posted by b33j at 12:15 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

As you continue to locate professionals and information, I'd suggest making that process transparent to your kids. Especially your son, who seems to want to take on more than he can currently handle. It might expand his capacity to handle this sort of stuff in the future, and/or help him confront the magnitude of what he's currently asking to take on. I mean, maybe you don't want to introduce them to Metafilter specifically, but as you're contacting family friends and googling and such, let them see how you look for information, let them be present and watching how you phrase the emails to the authorities, etc.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:22 PM on June 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Your son NEEDS to go to the lawyer with you and get direct advice.

Your 23 year old son is misguided at best, manipulated or brainwashed by his father at worst.

He can not get far enough away from this mess, and he wholly doesn't see it.
posted by jbenben at 12:42 PM on June 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think you need to spend some time and think about where to draw the line in terms of boundaries. Do get with a lawyer who can help you with this because the legal piece will significantly impact this.

I totally get that because you care about son and he does not want to abandon his dad, to some extent, you are on the hook to indirectly help the ex in some sense. But, honestly, he is 23 and you have the right to say "Here is my line in the sand. I don't want to abandon you but I will not get dragged into x, y, or z and if you choose to go there, it is on you. I am so sorry but you are an adult."

Some hard choices made very judiciously now will be far, far easier on everybody than letting this get worse. Figure out how to damage control first and foremost. Talk to a lawyer about that. What do you need to do to cover your ass and limit liability?

I am not a pet person. The family pets would be a pretty low priority for me personally in the face of what is a really huge mess. If keeping all the pets in the family can be done, that is a nice to have bonus but I would not make it a high priority. I just would not and I would tell son that I am not and if he makes major decisions with serious, serious consequences primarily to keep a cat, that is on him.

I will suggest you get a copy of How to get out of debt, stay out of debt and live prosperously -- possibly a copy for you and another copy for your son. It makes some really excellent points about taking care of yourself in a healthy fashion, being realistic etc. It also suggests that there are times when you should make a big sacrifice ("keel the bool" -- from a story about someone deciding to kill a beloved bull in order to solve a whole host of problems).

I understand not wanting to abandon your son. I really do. And I am not advocating that you abandon him. But please, please make sure you do not become his victim in the process of trying to help him. It won't do anyone any good.
posted by Michele in California at 12:46 PM on June 19, 2014

I am so sorry you are going through this and I applaud how much you are stepping up to help your son.
A couple of things that have been touched upon but I think need to be emphasized.

-Both your son and daughter are old enough to hear what their father has been convicted of.
Tell them and let them decide their next steps based on that.

-I don't know how easily the names of convicted child molesters become public knowledge in Australia, but someone who has(essentially) the same name and address as someone who HAS been convicted of this crime would be better off moving and start using the variation of his name that differentiates him.

-If your daughter can't take the cat, maybe her boyfriend can, as he's offered to help.
Let her figure out how to deal with the cats.

-Everything else is your ex's problem, walk away-cars, lease ,everything. Just go.

-Standby you son and ultimately the decision is his, but strongly encourage your son to move and not help rescue his father (this may work out once he finds out what he's convicted of)

Good luck and I hope the lawyer is in touch with you shortly (make sure your son is in on the call or meeting).
posted by Snazzy67 at 12:51 PM on June 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

Neither of the kids have asked for details of what the actual crime was - naive in life experience and assuming that the story he told was true. If they ask, I will tell them, but it's indecent dealings with a 6 year old, not public exposure like he said.

I understand that economics and family pets arethe first priority. It also seems like you want to protect your children's image of their father. I do respect you for that and understand your motivations, but when the dust has settled (ie, rent for your son next month/cats in a home), I would let your kids know. Maybe use the sheet with the conviction, or a neutral artile if available. Let the son know what happened economically.

This action would not happen to damage their rapport with their father, but to protect them and their loved ones. What if they have kids or friends with young children? What if in the future your son economically supports his father again? They are old enough to know the truth and decide what to do. It might be to stay loyal to their father, and not lend him money in the future and leave kids unattended with him.

As young adults, they either have already been exposed to stuff like this, or will in the future. Just letthem know what thy are dealing with.
posted by Wolfster at 1:24 PM on June 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

I do agree that after dealing with the immediate issues, that you may want to sit down with the kids and give them the straight facts about why their father is in prison. I would even frame it as concern for them, "the crime of which he was convicted is very serious, it's XXXXX."

I'd worry that he may have molested one of them, or one of their friends, but that's another kettle of fish, for another day. If, that isn't the case, as they get older and have families, they'll certainly want to make note of this for when there are grandchildren.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:36 PM on June 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Eh, I say if your adult children refuse to find out what their Dad did to go to jail, it isn't your responsibility to correct their impressions of him. This would be very different if we were talking about teenagers or younger, but these are adults capable of making their own life choices.

To wit, we're also talking about a 23 y/o adult here. I would lovingly listen to him whenever he wants to talk, offer to pay for an hour consultation with a lawyer, offer to help him move and get him started with his first month's rent (or whatever) at his new place, offer pizza and beer for the move.

I would take at least one more crack at helping him understand that assuming all of these burdens could very, very significantly impact his life. Not just his credit score but his life. And once he adds himself to all of these accounts, they won't magically "forget" him just because he changed his mind. He could be on the hook for these and future costs associated with the Dad who is so irresponsible that he didn't even set up the car registration so his son could drive the car before he went to prison.

But then - you need to protect yourself. Nothing gets stored at your house. No one (other than your son) gets to live at your house, temporarily or otherwise. You don't pay for anything that makes this situation more complicated/entangled (so if Dad's name is on it, you don't pay for it or give any money toward it).

Also, your daughter has options. She can beg the landlord to let her have a cat (increased deposit, whatever, use a cute little renter's resume, etc.) pleading family circumstances or she can move to a place that allows cats. I ADORE cats and have two but you do not need to take in cats you don't want just because your daughter who is in graduate school doesn't feel that she can take them.

Please protect your heart, your kids and your sanity (not necessarily in that order). This is going to be a tough time, treat it like a marathon, making sure you have water and rest breaks (actual and metaphorical) daily.
posted by arnicae at 2:00 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If he cannot pay the rent at his father's apartment on which his name is not on the lease, this may bring things to a head quite nicely without giving him the time to get further enmired with his Dad's finances.

Definitely don't pay this month's rent. #1, your son is an adult capable of paying his own rent. And #2, by not paying the rent tomorrow you may help prevent this from turning into a total financial and legal catastrophe for your son.
posted by arnicae at 2:03 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would not take either of the cats to an animal shelter. The cats are innocent by-standers in this case. Shelters are always over-filled with cats, and euthanasia rates are high. Please help your daughter to take the remaining cat.
posted by alex1965 at 2:06 PM on June 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

Yes, please take in both cats at least until the dust settles. Don't make them casualties of your ex's disaster, and be kind to your daughter by saving her another loss or putting more pressure on her to move or otherwise immediately finagle a solution.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 2:41 PM on June 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

As far as telling them exactly what their father was convicted of, your son (more than your daughter) needs to know for his own safety. I understand your not wanting to tell them: this is, after all, their father, and you don't want to hurt your kids by being the one to reveal what he has done. He may be a world-class jerk, but he's still their father.

However: I don't know if Australia has any kind of sex-offender registry like here in the US, but picture this: John Smith Jr. decides to stay at the address he has been sharing with his father, John Smith. Some self-styled vigilante sees an article about John Smith the convicted criminal who lives at 123 Main Street, and decides its up to him to confront John Smith about his crimes. He goes to 123 Main Street, knocks on the door; your son answers; "yes, I'm John Smith".....

Please convince your son to move.
posted by easily confused at 2:46 PM on June 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think all of us here on Ask are freaking out right along with you, given that you've gotten some conflicting advice. I'll try to be brief:

1. Adult children need to know the whole truth. They are going to find out anyway. How will they feel when they realized you kept it from them? Plus if you tell them now they have time to process it before dad gets out, which they are going to need.

2. Once you've done that, I agree with the others that whatever steps (including lawyer) that you need to take should be taken to move the son out/get another place. Surely there is some other place in the entire town he could stay. He should also check his credit in case dear old Dad also tried out some identity fraud with his conveniently-similarly named son. If lawyer agrees, I would second the advice on dumping the vehicles and money issues back in the ex's lap/let them be repo'd. Your son needs a fresh start with a clean credit history; clearly he's capable of paying bills and working already, so he just needs the opportunity.

Best of luck to you all; so sorry you are going through all this.
posted by emjaybee at 2:55 PM on June 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

-I don't know how easily the names of convicted child molesters become public knowledge in Australia, but someone who has(essentially) the same name and address as someone who HAS been convicted of this crime would be better off moving and start using the variation of his name that differentiates him.

However: I don't know if Australia has any kind of sex-offender registry like here in the US, but picture this: John Smith Jr. decides to stay at the address he has been sharing with his father, John Smith. Some self-styled vigilante sees an article about John Smith the convicted criminal who lives at 123 Main Street, and decides its up to him to confront John Smith about his crimes. He goes to 123 Main Street, knocks on the door; your son answers; "yes, I'm John Smith".....

Oh god, this. I logged in to say exactly this. And it could just be idle googling that gets him blocked from job/schooling/dating opportunities, or it could be official "background checks"--there are horror stories of guys who share names with men who are on the registry in other states who weren't even aware until they ran background checks on themselves that this is why job searches were deadending.

And also--some day your ex will no longer be in jail, even if it's as an elderly man, and someday your son may have children.

Tell him what his father actually did. He's 23.

Also, if details of the crime are at all public record, there will eventually be someone in his personal life who will find out and bring it up to him at some point, even if he's decided to turn away and cover his ears.
posted by blue suede stockings at 3:04 PM on June 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

just another voice adding to the chorus that, as a guy about your sons age, i would want to know exactly what my dad was in jail for before i made ANY moves on this. A decision is only truly a decision if it's an informed decision.

By which i mean, you should tell him before you do(or expect him to decide on doing) anything.

If he wants to stay and get a roommate and switch the lease, that's up to him. Moving is a huge hassle and often a bummer, and as you said the rental market sucks right now. Ditto on figuring out getting a proper title and registration for the car. Getting a car is a pain in the ass too, especially when you have one right there that's a known quantity and paid for.

Everything else though? fuck it. Help him make sure nothing is in his name and just fuck off on everything else.

The one comment i'll make is that at least in the US, it can be extremely hard and annoying to get utilities at the same address that had massive unpaid utility bills previously. I've seen this be a huge hassle with it going as far as requiring signed paperwork saying you're not the previous person, including the same from the landlord or property owner. I don't know how this works in australia, but if it's at all like that you could put that hassle in the column of "reasons to move".

There's absolutely a non-specious argument to be made for unilaterally walking away from like everything besides the cats. The house itself could bring many kinds of drama, including dad storming back in when he gets out of jail and flipping out that you/your son didn't deal with XYZ but are still in the house. Shit, i could see that being dangerous. I would understand if he didn't want to move though, or at least not immediately.

Personally, i wouldn't think it was totally stupid to plan on staying at that house just for a couple months while stuff was figured out and then moving. There's a lot less of an argument for having to leave zomg right this second than there is for generally leaving.

Also generally, i think you need to sit down and write a list of things like the car, the bills, things that may be in your sons name, etc to rattle through with a lawyer. Basically just stuff that you need to ask "is this being made my responsibility against my will at all?" or "How can i deal with this?". That would be move #1 for me. #2 would be figuring out if it was actually plausible to get an inspection and then a real title for the car without wasting an inordinate amount of time, money, or possibly having to visit the prison to get paperwork signed by dad.(which i think, is up to your son whether or not it's worth it AFTER he's been told why dad is there).

#3 is moving. Another good argument for staying for a month or two while stuff settles down is that the cats definitely have a place to stay though.

I'm not at all for the "don't pay the rent, that's convenient as it makes him move right now" idea. That seems like it just makes an already shocking, shitty situation even harder to deal with. Problems like this are easiest to handle when you can split them in to chunks and handle them at a reasonable pace. The shittiest moments of my life have been times when something Big like this happened, and i was forced to handle all the different second order effects of it in a week, or two days, or an afternoon, or whatever. I've weathered some pretty shitty things by having actual time, don't take that away from your son.
posted by emptythought at 3:11 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do NOT let your son put any of his Dad's debt in his name. Your son has lost his previous income by supporting his father, but right now he is not on the hook for any of the debt that is solely in his father's name. Your ex can file for bankruptcy and get all of that debt cleared. The only things that will actually get taken away from him as part of the bankruptcy process are things that have unpaid leins on them like the car. (This is not legal advice, consult with a real lawyer.) But basically a bankruptcy court is only interested if you have more assets than are covered under the bankruptcy exemptions. When you file you total up the things you own and things that are exempt you get to keep. They don't come into your house and take your furniture or anything. So get a basic book on bankruptcy or have your lawyer friend talk to your son and explain that NOT covering his dad's debt is the best way to help his dad. His dad could file for bankruptcy and come out of prison debt-free, instead of dragging your son into bankruptcy with him by trying to continue paying debt that's in your ex's name.

And this part is up to you, of course, but I would tell your kids exactly what their dad was convicted of. With your daughter already a victim of a relative's similar crime I think she and her brother both need to know.
posted by MsMolly at 3:11 PM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just for clarity's sake, because it feels to me like this got kind of a lot of pushback, I was not suggesting that you should be callous about the cats. I was saying that because I am not a pet person, that would not be a high priority for me personally. And my point was to give an example of something you could draw the line on or a priority to set. I don't expect that to be your personal priority.

My actual advice boils down to this:

1) Get with a lawyer.
2) With the help of that lawyer, figure out some clear boundaries of where you personally need to draw the line on some things so that standing by your son does not get you inadvertently dragged into this far deeper than you want.
3) Get a copy of the book I recommended, possibly two, one for you and one for son.
4) As much as possible, trade short term pain for long term gain. Make those hard decisions sooner rather than later. Again: as much as possible. Some things will take time. They just will. But making judicious, tough decisions earlier rather than later will pay dividends with such a huge, very messy situation.

((HUGS)) if you want them.
posted by Michele in California at 3:23 PM on June 19, 2014

Yeah, I have no idea why no one has told them what their father has been convicted of.

These are adults here. Why is it Mom's (or anyone's, really) responsibility to inform them what her ex-husband has been convicted of? If we're talking about an adult 23 y/o who is LIVING with the convicted father, this doesn't just seem like avoiding talking about the crime, it is more like covering your eyes and ears and shouting "I can't hear anything you're saying!"

Also, if they wanted to know what their Dad was charged with, they could find out from the court system. I guarantee you less than 30 seconds would pass between me finding out a family member was convicted of ... something ... and me starting the process of digging up exactly what they were convicted of.

I have friends who have been vilified as the "mean parent" as children pick sides after a divorce, feeling like they have to defend one parent from the other. If your kids want to be oblivious to the details of their father's transgressions, that is really up to them. Don't put yourself in the position of being the bad guy by insisting on telling them what he has been incarcerated for.
posted by arnicae at 4:04 PM on June 19, 2014

How about this? Tell the kids that you don't think their Dad has been forthright with them about what he was actually convicted of, and suggest that they look it up in the public record. Tell them you're happy to tell them what you know if they'd like. Or, how about a trusted third party - like one of your ex's family that you're still in contact with.

But, honestly, they either know already and are just not telling/wanting to talk about it with their Mom (or not to recognize the reality of what is happening), or they have gigantic blinders on that you're not going to be able to rip off.

The only thing you can do vis a vie the "what Dad is in prison for" fiasco is tip over the edge into being perceived as the mean parent, in which instance the kids share even less with you and assume anything you say is biased/wrong.
posted by arnicae at 6:46 PM on June 19, 2014

How awful, I am so sorry you are going through this.

Here's my thoughts:

If the lawyer still hasn't gotten back to you, ring up and say it's urgent - if they don't call within a couple of hours, then I'd try to make an urgent appt with someone local. I think speed is of the essence here, since some of those debts are falling due. Until you have advice from the lawyer, I wouldn't pay any bills or remove anything except your son's own property - I wonder if doing so might have ramifications for creditors and whether you or your son are held responsible for any of these debts. If possible, I'd avoid giving any of the agencies your details as forwarding address or your name as any kind of responsible party.

If it were me, I'd make a list of the bills/debts and when they are due so there are no surprises - this might give you an idea of how soon debt collectors might be knocking on the door if your son is staying at the property.

Do you have a friend who can foster the cats short term? This would at least take one source of stress away for the time being - the cats are still part of the family, and will be able to rejoin you down the track, but buys a little time to sort them out until other more urgent matters are resolved - and they won't be as affected by the anxiety and distress of everyone trying to work through this.

I think you are doing the right thing respecting your kids' wishes about not wanting clarification of the offence right now- they feel bad enough as it is. They may come to this in time, anyway (unless some busybody tells them first).

Good luck.
posted by k_tron at 8:16 PM on June 19, 2014

Save the cats. Walk away from everything else, and encourage your son to do the same.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:17 PM on June 20, 2014

Response by poster: So this is where we're at. I spoke to a couple of lawyers and I'm not bothering to look at the debt. I spoke to the power company, and they said son was not liable for bill, and he should ask to have it on his name. He's chosen to wait on that until after we find out whether real estate will give us lease. I tactfully pointed out and they agreed son not liable for back pay, but I offered to cover the entire period if his application was successful. They asked me to list as a co-tenant. I agreed and also pointed out the ex has 3 vehicles that none of us can drive (more mess for them to deal with). I e pect to hear from them soon.

Ex sent son letter from prison telling him to sell anything he wants to cover back rent etc, but son reluctant to do so, will let it all come out in wash when creditors start chasing his father. He asked for son & daughters phone numbers. Daughter doesn't want to talk to dad, I said that's perfectly fine.

Cats are happy. Daughter is considering counselling.

In terms of public information about fathers crime, it's not been published yet.

My biggest mistake in the initial shock was thinking I had to fix things. Once I prioritised sons accommodation (he's just inexperienced), other things fell into place.

However, for the sake of anyone else who comes across this, the shock, the impact, is incredible - literally unbelievable. People who care about you but are removed from the situation don't get what a fucking big deal it is, as an emotional impact. You're angry, and frustrated and raging and hurting for your kids and for the fuck up you made ever trusting this ratbastard and doubt your ability to trust and your ability to judge people. It's like being hit with an invisible sledgehammer. Everyone thinks you should just get up and go in like nothing has happened.

And then some people stop talking to you. Not because they don't know what to say, but because - eww - you were married to a pedophile who's gone to prison? Ew.and you want to reach out to the family he hurt, but you don't, because what can you say? Sorry? And won't a letter from you make it ll worse?

And your face is ashen at work, and people ask you what's wrong, and you just don't want to say.
posted by b33j at 5:04 PM on June 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh by the way, good advice, thank you, not ll applicable or in line with my values, but I really appreciate the support here.
posted by b33j at 5:05 PM on June 29, 2014

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