Who decided to incentivise parents to steal time from each other?
When I broke up from my children’s mother 8 years ago, I was determined to do what was best for my two girls, who were 4 and 6 at the time. I’m not the kind of father who ever wanted to be the weekend Dad, so I made a concerted effort to share care and do as much parenting as I could. I have always lived by that I believe, hope so anyway.
Maybe it’s because I was an only child growing up on remote farm with a father who was a pensioner by the time I reached ten years old that I have an ingrained mission to be an active father. My father was the best I could have asked for. His age made him so wise and experienced, and he was calm, collected and kind in everything he did with me. He gave me a lot of his time. We went on long walks, bird spotting, sailing, walking the dog, teaching me to shoot (a shotgun, cans off fences, nothing sinister!) or doing stuff together on the farm.
So although I was extremely saddened my marriage did not work out, I did not see that as a reason to not continue to be an active father. The divorce was painful but then most are. The settlement was financially crippling for me but I imagine most are. However, I had enough to scrape together a small family home for us in 2012. A home I enjoyed making the three of us home for. We had almost three years there, which were dark for me at times when not with the girls as I was living alone for the first time in my life. But when they were there, it was great and I think we were happy, I was when they were there. We would walk to feed the ducks, go on bike rides, trip to the park all the time.
For the other half of their life, my two girls moved straight from our marital home into the home of my ex-wife’s partner. A man I had never met. This was not the understanding we reached in mediation when I agreed to give her 60% equity in the family home and in my mother’s house I inherited a few years before. That money was meant to set her up to have a home with the girls like I had.
The injustice hurt me, but I could do nothing, and although it ate me up inside, with time I came to live with it. She bought a large car, a flat as an investment, and a caravan. In the meantime I was just about able to pay a mortgage and her maintenance as well, despite our shared care arrangement.
As the girls got nearer senior school age I began to think I needed to be in the same town as their mother so they could attend senior school. Plus they needed more space, and make it easier going from my house to their mothers (it was 20 minutes in the car otherwise).
So in July 2015 I moved so we could settle in before the school term started in Sept. We had a great summer enjoying our new surroundings and the convenience of being closer to their mum, their grandmother and come September, school.
During this whole time I had always paid child maintenance, plus I always made sure if I could afford to, I paid for drama lessons, dance lessons, ice skating lessons, school trips, dinner money, school clothes, whatever they needed. I also made sure we got in holidays together going to France or in the UK.
In October of last year, my ex asked me to home both children full time as her relationship broke down with her partner that she moved in with straight from our martial home 7 years prior. She said he was abusive, alcoholic, and the environment in the house had been toxic. My eldest had become my ex-wife’s sounding board for all her woes and was burdened with carrying around this toxicity without anyone to talk to about it. Equally troublesome was that the younger daughter had been excluded from what was going on to the degree that she was left there the night the bust up happened, alone with her 4 year old sister. I was livid, but of course my home is their home so being with me was no problem.
So how come from today, 10th April 2019, I will now only have them with me four nights a month? How on earth did we get here? Why?
Let me tell you…. Because we have a Child Maintenance system that acts as a financial incentive to a parent to take nights and time away from the other parent . Pure and simple.
As soon as my ex-wife stopped getting child maintenance in November when she asked me to take my two girls full time, she reversed her decision and moved back in with the abusive alcoholic partner and his toxic home.
Thinking I was acting in my children’s best interest, and because I have always firmly believed they should be equally with both parents, I reluctantly agreed we should go back to the shared care arrangement we had had for 7 years. But I did not want this to be about money, so upon advice from my solicitor, I was not paying maintenance anymore, as a shared care arrangement doesn’t warrant it.
By January, She had started proceedings with the Child Maintenance service to argue she was the primary carer, and that in fact the two girls spent more time with her than me. So it clearly was about money.
The CMS did not want to hear my version of events. The sole barometer for them is Child Benefit, who gets it is automatically considered primary carer and that’s it. In 2012, we decided she should apply and get the money for child benefit because she did not have an income at that time. In the eyes of the CMS that makes her primary carer, and therefore the beneficiary of child maintenance. This is despite the fact she lives in a double income household, and I in a single one, and despite the 50/50 shared care.
Smelling blood, from March this has led her to place my girls in the middle, by saying that I am refusing to pay for the children’s drama, ice skating, horse riding, dinner money and school trips. That’s because I can’t and shouldn’t anymore, I’m paying maintenance.
The strain this has put on our relationship has been palpable, but when I got a letter this week from the ex wife’s solicitor saying that both girls wished to cut back time with me to 4 days a month (from 14) I was disgusted, as I know this is financially driven. Worse still, a letter was enclosed from my eldest daughter accusing me of not fulfilling my responsibilities and commitment to them because I am no longer paying for horses, drama and school trips.
Finally, I’ve been beaten by the system. In a drive to get more money from me to the point of financial ruin, my ex has managed to spoil my relationship with my girls and turn it into a financial transaction.
The system is not biased to either a mother or father, and I understand it does need to protect single parents from those that would seek to avoid their commitments. But I am not one of those, but my ex has made my children think I am, whilst taking the money too.
It is sickening. The Children’s Act needs to change and parents need to be protected from parents who would use their children, and the CMS in this despicable way.
I am left with no option but to suck this up. A court order will break me financially and I don’t really want to put my kids through that, and my ex refuses mediation. I will be forced to sell our family home, the girls lose their second home and their two pet cats.
I will probably be a weekend Dad who invites them for a day out and has dinner in McDonalds before the drop off. That has never been what I am about, and I know my two girls will be poorer for having less time with their father.
I'm really sorry to hear all of this, The CMS is designed to be fair to parents who play fair, it doesn't cope well with a parent with care who is driven more by money than the welfare of the children, and it's difficult to see how any system could do that without individual monitoring of the parents, which is not possible.
You can fight this and represent yourself, which means that the only cost is mediation (which if she refuses, will hopefully only be a matter of the mediator agreeing and signing off to say so) and then the court fee of £215
Hi .. Thanks for your reply
It seems that all the tables are turned against me. My solicitor advises that I should not discuss anything around the things I used to pay for before the CMS decision and before I lost the 50/50 arrangement.
That leaves me unable to express to the girls my concerns, and they think I am no longer meeting my commitments. This is turning them further away from me and I cant even seem to reply and rectify this wrong impression they now have of me
So if I did launch a court application, at this point in time I think both children would carry the mothers line, and I would get nowhere
It is interesting to hear you say I could represnet myself to limit the cost, but I would be up against her with a solicitor as she can now afford one !
By all means, wait until after easter, but if nothing improves, then you almost at the point of having nothing to lose by trying going to court, and the courts do take account of the fact that one side isn't represented so will be less strict on protocol to assist you. I believe that, if you ex has a solicitor, then (s)he will be the one expected to prepare bundles etc, though you'd need confirmation of this