Dan and Jill went their separate ways. Shortly after moving to Colorado Hannah had her baby and the couple decided that Dan would stay home with the kids as he had before. He stopped looking for work and casually pursued an online graduate degree. After delivery, Hannah also decided she would pursue a graduate degree full-time. The couple moved into Dan’s parent’s house.
About this time Jill also got remarried to Adam. She had been dating Adam for 2 years and the couple had decided it was time to settle down. Both Jill and Adam worked full-time to have a decent place in a neighborhood with ward members and friends for the kids when they were there over the summer.
Jill resented this sequence of events. Dan and Hannah were living solely off Jill’s child support, supporting Hannah in school, and the new baby, while Jill’s kids seemed to not be getting their needs met. Dan wasn’t working and was only casually doing graduate studies at an online university. Jill felt Dan was doing this solely so he didn’t have to work. In the summer the children arrived at Jill’s in worn out shoes and tattered clothes despite Jill’s substantial child support. The kids would complain that dad wouldn’t take them to buy new clothes.
Sadly, an unfortunate dynamic began to develop. Dan had all the power in the system. He wouldn’t keep Jill informed about the kids’ performance in school, or doctor’s visits, or vacations, etc. Dan would often not tell Jill when the kids wouldn’t be home for a Skype call, and wouldn’t help them get online to chat. When they did chat, the computer was in the family room where all could hear the conversation thereby offering no privacy. Jill complained to Dan about this but got little cooperation. Dan was completely uninterested in supporting the kids’ relationship with Jill. By this point Jill was playing a sort of adult version of “mother may I” where the kids seemed to be considered Dan’s and he was sharing them with Jill. Jill felt like she had to beg for everything and that Dan tried to obstruct her relationship with them.
Unfortunately, Jill learned a valuable lesson in the custody battle that a higher income earner will be penalized by paying for both lawyers in many cases. This meant every complaint and possible motion filed could be reduced to a brutal tradeoff between possibly getting relief and having to pay exorbitant lawyer fees. As a result, Jill was finding other ways to express her displeasure and was getting increasingly combative. She would send snarky texts, and was obstinate and uncooperative in return. She rarely missed an opportunity to insult Dan.
But over the course of several years, Jill learned an even more valuable lesson. The hate, vitriol, and fighting were taking a horrible toll on her. Jill started capitulating on every issue that arose believing it was the only way to get peace. Tensions began to ease somewhat. Dan, still having ultimate power, took advantage of Jill’s capitulation and exerted that power regularly. It was only partly Dan’s fault though…the system had set it up this way. As an example, one summer Dan offered to let the kids skip the family reunion and the 28 hours of driving if that’s what the kids wanted. The kids agreed. Then, at the last moment, Dan decided it was more important to “stick to what the court ordered” and he would indeed take the kids at the prescribed time. Jill and Adam’s thoughts on the matter were unsolicited. In another instance, Jill tried to give the kids freedom and agency, something Dan rarely sincerely did. One summer when the oldest child didn’t want to make the drive out to Jill and Adam’s house, Jill told him he could choose. Dan used this opportunity to take Jill back to court and have child support recalculated considering the time their son did not spend with Jill and Adam. This increased Jill’s child support obligation by 15%. The situation is rife with similar examples.
Dan and Hannah have another baby on the way. Hannah finished her Master’s degree but has not obtained employment citing physical and mental health issues. Dan stays home with the kids and teaches English to foreigners in a volunteer capacity. He irregularly pursues a graduate degree at an online school. They still live in Dan’s parent’s house.
Jill and Adam both work at the university as professors. They work hard at their job and restoring a Victorian home they purchased. Between Jill’s child support, loans that paid for Dan’s school, and Adam’s student loans, money is tight.
There is virtually no co-parenting, and no balance of power. The family is as lopsided as it could be. Jill provides all the financial support for Dan and Hannah and their family, and Dan controls the nature of the kids’ relationship with Jill and Adam.
As anyone who has ever had anything to do with divorce knows, the kids are the ultimate victims. In this story, while impossible to know the effects on the kids, it appears it has not been insignificant. Dan tends to be overprotective in parenting. The kids don’t go outside and play. They don’t have any friends outside of their cousins with whom they interact with regularly. They have no extracurricular activities. They stay at home and play video games. Jill is the opposite. Jill regularly reminds the kids they can choose whether to come visit, when to go ride their bike (as long as they ask first), and when to go play with friends. She encourages them to have friends at her house, and to try new things like cooking, and sewing, making things, etc.
To the kids, the two households could not be more disparate, making it confusing, scary, and the transitions particularly hard. Of course real co-parenting would be ideal, but despite Jill’s suggestion they do co-parenting counseling, Dan seems to take offense at the suggestion that he isn’t doing it right already. After all, Dan loves the kids and they know they’re loved. Dan sees his job as a parent as making sure the kids know they’re loved and are surrounded by extended family. This and his overprotective parenting style played well for Dan in the custody battle. Jill sees her job as a parent as teaching the kids to be successful adults by providing a loving, authoritative environment while maximizing learning and freedom. This came across as “aloof” to the court during the custody battle. Dan regularly reminds the kids, prior to their summer with Jill, of the “dangerous world,” that “someone could kidnap them,” and otherwise undermining Jill’s parenting strategy. To the kids this creates fear and further enmeshes them with Dan who is perceived as the more safe choice.
The oldest child struggles with anxiety and perpetually seeks to balance the emotions of both Dan and Jill. This child doesn’t want to choose, doesn’t want to offend, and takes it upon himself to balance the emotions of both parents. This child rarely does what HE wants, deciding instead to do whatever will offend his father the least.
The middle child struggles with depression. She has a strong will and opinion about what she wants but feels confined. She would like to go to dad’s or mom’s house when she chooses. But this isn’t possible in the current uncooperative climate between Dan and Jill.
The youngest child struggles with ADHD. He was very young during the divorce and seems to be about 3 years behind emotionally and socially. While intelligent, he appears absent, disconnected, and often resorts to bad behavior out of frustration. Dan and Jill’s marriage was starting to break apart when he was born, and Jill, due to work and later school, never really developed a strong attachment to him. As a result, usually this child wants to be at dad’s house.