Deadbeat suddenly wants to parent
October 22, 2014 6:47 PM   Subscribe

My ex has suddenly decided he wants to parent again. He got a bit screwed when it came to holidays and summer because based on his behavior during our marriage and the divorce he wouldn't be bothered. Anyways he says he has a lawyer and is going to send me papers to sign to lower his monthly child support payment and adjust holiday visits because he is making less money than when we got divorced. This is likely true he had the best job he has ever had aside from the military when we were getting divorced.

What makes no sense is why he didn't lower it over a year ago (wait no I'm not surprised because he never does much of anything). He is supposed to be paying $630 a month in child support (in Texas it is 25% of your net income for two kids) It looks like he is currently paying that at about $150 per week. He has paid two payments in the last six months. He owes $13.5k in back child support. He forgot my 6yo's birthday this year, not even a phone call. He tried to make up for it by sending a gift that wasn't age appropriate even though I said what we need is him to pay child support to help with school costs not more toys. I want to think that this is him growing up finally but this is more likely him just trying to manipulate me to benefit himself or his family is pressuring him (which would be a huge surprise because while we lived in the same state I can count on two hands the amount of times they asked to see the kids). My 4yo does not know his dad, not from picture, voice on the phone or video. Both kids refer to my current partner as their dad not that they were asked to or anything but because he has been more of a father figure than their bio-dad ever was even during our marriage. Now that he is wanting to be more present it is making me worry.

-4yo doesn't know him
-hasn't seen the kids in person since Nov 2012
-doesn't communicate with the kids on their birthdays
-is less than interested in them when he has called all 3 times this year
-I had to call CPS because he was leaving the kids outside alone on a third story balcony that my at the time youngest could fit through the bars. CPS just warned him he continued to do it.
-owes $13.5k child support

I cannot afford the best lawyer there is. We live in separate states, him and kids South Carolina.

What should I do?
What resources are available to me?
How do I explain this to my kids and protect them from being forced to visit a stranger and to be in a potentially dangerous situation.
posted by Noyra to Law & Government (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately you need to lawyer up. Sorry, but this is the case for getting the back cover letter support and most importantly right now sorting out visitation.
posted by k8t at 6:52 PM on October 22, 2014 [16 favorites]

At the very least you have to have a lawyer read the paperwork so you know what is actually in the agreement. It could be spot on our or it could be wildly different.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:55 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

As far as the child support issue, that is seperate from the visitation questions and will be handled that way by the court. Here is the website for the South Carolina child support enforcement agency. Especially in an interstate case like yours, they should be handling all court orders and representing you in the financial matters. It's pretty cut and dried, a formula that just plugs in the relevant numbers from each of you and comes up with a number.

Per the visitation, beg borrow and steal in order to get the best lawyer you can. If jurisdiction is in Texas rather than in SC where you are, see about having it moved to your location since that's where the kids live. A good lawyer right now will save you a lot more money and heartache down the road.
posted by hollygoheavy at 7:00 PM on October 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

The child support enforcement folks are more brutal than bounty hunters. If he is formally, legally supposed to be paying that amount, and is that far in arrears, he can absolutely be sent to jail for it. However, speaking as someone who tried to cheap out on divorce/custody matters: you seriously, 100% need to beg, borrow, steal, put on credit cards, turn tricks to finance, WHATEVER you must do to get a decent lawyer TOMORROW. NO LATER. You will be screwing yourself and your kids otherwise. However, based on my own experiences, custody courts VERY much want to keep kids in stable situations (they value keeping the kids' status quo) and look very, very harshly on deadbeats (both financial and emotional). Your ex most likely is all bluster and would be demolished in court. However, you MUST get a lawyer. It is nearly as important as putting food in everyone's mouths. It's about your futures.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:06 PM on October 22, 2014 [35 favorites]

And this goes without saying: don't sign anything, don't even discuss legal/custodial/financial matters with the ex. If he brings up anything outside of typical/frivolous stuff, just repeat, "I'll have to run that by my lawyer, sorry."
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:09 PM on October 22, 2014 [15 favorites]

He's doing this solely to reduce his payments. Lawyer, molto pronto.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:22 PM on October 22, 2014 [12 favorites]

They can attach his paycheck for the arrears if you go through channels. I know this because my wife had to have it done to her ex-husband. We are in Texas.

You do probably need to talk to an attorney about the holiday visits. Sounds unsafe for the kids & probably unhealthy psychologically to be forced to go stay with a stanger in another state.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:26 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

NTHING there is zero chance he wants to spend more time with the kids AND reduce his payment.

(hint: he really doesn't want to see the kids more.)

You need a lawyer, like, yesterday! Go get one!!

Hells yes! You better go after that back child support!!
posted by jbenben at 7:30 PM on October 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

My son's new wife just went to court today over back child support. Her ex had to pay her legal fees per court order, since he was so far in arrears. YMMV, but I'm just saying that you might not even need to scrape up the payment. Also, the joke in our family is that the best thing that happened to her was that HE had to get a a lawyer, as she no longer had to beat her head against that wall of making him understand how few options he really had. So. Welcome the opportunity to get this crap straightened out. I promise you hold all the cards here. While you probably won't be able to completely do away with visitation, you can certainly set the terms. And while he might be able to lower his current payments based on lower income, he will still have to pay what he owes you. And will have to set up a payment schedule through the court to pay it through payroll deductions, in addition to the percentage of his current income he'll be paying. Seriously, the best thing to happen here is for him to get a lawyer and go to court. I know it's hard when your kids are involved, but I promise you can relax and enjoy the show. Because this is going to work in your favor.
posted by raisingsand at 7:56 PM on October 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you know anyone locally who has used a good divorce/custody lawyer, see if you can get recommendations. My sister had an ineffective one and her deadbeat ex got partial custody despite his drug record until my parents financed getting her a better one to get them back. Not trying to scare you, just reinforcing that you can't depend on the courts recognizing that someone is clearly unfit every time. You have to prepare.

Hopefully, by doing so you will scare him off and he'll drop it. Especially if you get the venue moved to SC.

Though this part: he says he has a lawyer and is going to send me papers to sign to lower his monthly child support payment and adjust holiday visits makes me wonder if he's bluffing anyway. If that's what he wanted to do and he had a real lawyer, seems like he'd have sent the papers already. Sign nothing, agree to nothing.

Also: I'm sorry you are going through this. It has to be painful. It would kill me to be that worried about my kiddo's safety. Trust your instincts and do whatever you need to to protect them. Let us know what happens.
posted by emjaybee at 7:59 PM on October 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Check your memail.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:20 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does your work offer an EAP (Employee Assistance Program)? If so, give them a call. They can often help you find a lawyer.
posted by jillithd at 7:01 AM on October 23, 2014

If your CSEA anything like the one I have, it will take at least 6 months for them to set up a hearing once he has submitted the paperwork to the agency. And if your ex is anything like mine, he is making empty threats, especially about the visitation. My ex has threatened me for many years that he has a lawyer and is going to change the visitation agreement. I wouldn't worry too much just yet because once the paper work has started, it could take many months in which time you can then find a lawyer. Reducing the child support payment will not affect the back payment owed, he is required to pay that no matter what a new agreement states. And this is very important, call the CSEA every time a payment does not arrive on time. I called once a month for 3 months and then the CSEA set up a hearing. They admitted that they would have not done so had I not contacted them every month because of backlog. Making payments that are less than required is like not paying at all, so keep calling. And finally, as much as I dislike my ex and his pursuit to never pay child support, my daughter enjoys her visitation with him. I wouldn't try too hard to stand in the way of visitation unless you think he is dangerous or negligent. Your kids will benefit from having time with him, even if they don't know him at this time. If he is not fit to have more visitation, make your case to the court, request that he get a psychological evaluation based on what you know. The psychology report is a big factor in how visitation is set up.
posted by waving at 9:42 AM on October 23, 2014

Legal Services. Call first thing in the morning, let someone else handle his BS. They'll jump all over his sudden desire to pay less child support when he hasn't even paid what he owes.
posted by mibo at 4:37 AM on October 24, 2014

Response by poster: I'm not sure if you guys read the comments or if I can edit the post. Child support Im not worried about it will be what it is. I'm more worried about letting my kids go into a potentially dangerous situation with a stranger that happens to be their bio dad.
posted by Noyra at 7:14 AM on October 24, 2014

Best answer: "I'm more worried about letting my kids go into a potentially dangerous situation with a stranger that happens to be their bio dad."

The only - literally, THE ONLY! - thing you can do to address that concern is to get a lawyer. Here is why. (IANAL, but My Household Has Spent the Equivalent of a New Subaru Outback on Custody Lawyer Fees.)

- If your ex is entitled to a certain amount of time with the kids, and you attempt to unilaterally deny him this time (yes, even if he's been a stranger), the family court system will get pissed off at you and it will be bad for you and the kids. Fact. Unfair, but a fact.

- If your ex has been up to no good (being a deadbeat, being absent, etc.), and you somehow wind up in court because HE hauls YOU there, and you bring up the fact that you have concerns with his parenting, the court WILL wish to know, "Noyra, why didn't you bring up your concerns with [Deadbeat Ex]'s parenting before NOW?" Fact. Extremely unfair, but a fact.

- Your ex can spin his behavior in any one of a number of unethical ways ("She wouldn't LET me see the kids, your honor!"), and while you know and WE know you're in the right, if HE files court papers first, the courts may view things as more of a "he said/she said" type of deal. It is almost ALWAYS better to file first in these situations (assuming your grievances with the other party are legit) - it shows that you are a concerned, proactive parent who is on top of your kids' needs.

- Situations can change, rapidly. Courts move sloooooooooowly. Mr. Julthumbscrew's ex-wife moved TO A DIFFERENT TIME ZONE, OVERNIGHT, and it still took us months to get his custody agreement modified. What are you going to do if your ex shows up on your doorstep and starts demanding constant access to the kids? It's WAY better to make a preemptive strike and make sure you and the kids are protected.

Lawyer. Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer. And absolutely MeMail me if you need. I know I've sounded a little harsh, but it's because I know how badly these situations suck, and how scary they are, and I know that lawyering up is the ONLY way through it.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:18 AM on October 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ok, let's address this part....Let me say again that YOU get to determine the conditions of the visitation. Especially with the call to CPS. Since you really don't want to hire a lawyer, you can just wait until it looks like you really need one and approach this in a practical manner. He's using the threat of increased visitation to blackmail you into lowering his child support. This is a totally empty threat, because YOU don't set the amount anyway, the court does. He cannot lower his back payments, he will always be on the hook for what he owes now and that's your best negotiating point. He wants to go to court? Fine, he'll have to make arrangements to pay the total amount.

Let's approach this practically....Call his bluff. You get a letter from his lawyer asking you to agree to lower his child support. No problem, he's not paying now and already owes you 13 grand, so that point is irrelevant. He will NEVER be allowed to get out from under that back payment anyway, so you have the upper hand here. And worse case, the papers include a long list of requirements for increasing his visitation. First, ask yourself how this would work in real life. Is he going to take a week off and get on an airplane to come get them? Ask you to put them on a plane to Texas? Drive to SC and take them to a hotel? That's when you get to negotiate. No overnights, no trips to Texas. If he wants to come all the way to SC to take them out for pizza, he can. But you know in your heart that he's not going to make that effort and this is all a big bluff. He doesn't get to say "I shouldn't have to pay back support because she didn't let me see them last Thanksgiving when it was my turn." The system just does not work that way.

Just take a deep breath and wait him out. I really don't think he has a lawyer yet, because any competent legal adviser would have explained all this to him already.
posted by raisingsand at 8:56 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: He seems to think I can magically make the 13k he owes disappear. He is asking me to sign papers to do that.
posted by Noyra at 8:11 AM on October 26, 2014

After thinking about this last night, I think you really do need to find a lawyer asap. For these reasons:

1. Mainly, you need to move the jurisdiction out of Texas and in to SC. You do not want to be in a position of having to appear in court in Texas to dispute whatever he files. When you look at it, a lawyer's fee will probably be less than whatever it would cost you if he files in Texas and you have to go there. And you would need a lawyer anyway, in Texas.

2. You need to officially re-do the visitation, based on his past disinterest, his lack of payment of child support, and the call to CPS. You need to set the conditions, as we noted above. No overnights, no leaving the state, etc. This would probably end his threats, as we're pretty sure he won't be coming all the way to your state just for a few hours.

3. And while you're at it, you need to get a payment plan in place that chips away at that back support. From what I've read, the final say-so in cancelling back child support lies with the court, and it's a complicated procedure. Just because you sign those papers doesn't mean it gets cancelled, a judge decides that.

Basically, you need to hire a lawyer to protect your little family from any future interference. If you don't get the location changed and the visitation set up the way you want it, you're leaving yourself in a very vulnerable position. Pay for some peace of mind here. In your next conversation with him, I would tell him to go ahead and send you whatever he has and you will "look it over." Which really means you will take it to a lawyer and start the process of getting all this done.
posted by raisingsand at 9:41 AM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll stop repeating myself after this, but I have to reiterate: do not sign anything, do not contemplate signing anything, do not DISCUSS anything, do not even THINK ABOUT ANYTHING without the guidance of a lawyer. Your kids' future is at stake. Nothing is worth more than that.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:33 AM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

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