The problem with dads

As you already know, if you’ve found me and the Hofheimer Family Law website itself, I represent women only in family law cases in Virginia. I don’t – nor have I ever – represented husbands or dads, though I have a husband and a dad and I know that they are not all terrible.

At the risk of sounding one-sided, though, there is one thing that just really gets me all fired up when it comes to representing moms in custody cases.

I find that dads are willing to use whatever bargaining chip they have for their own benefit. Moms, on the other hand, focus on continuity and stability for the children.

An example? I’d love to give you one.

The parents, Mark and Sarah, have a daughter in private school. Mom’s #1 priority? Keeping their daughter in her school. Dad’s priority? Making sure that he limits how much support he pays – because, heaven forbid, he pay child support and put extra into the child’s education.
I hear what you’re saying. No one forced them to put their kid in private school, right? What a great first world problem to have, am I right? Except, of course, where the child is concerned.

Virginia is supposed to make custody, visitation, and child support determinations based on the best interests of the child. In fact, that’s why custody, visitation, and child support are modifiable based on a material change in circumstances. It’s because what’s in a child’s best interests isn’t something that is fixed at one point in time and never changes. It’s something that is dynamic and changing throughout the child’s life.

Already you have a child whose parents are divorcing. But you also have a dad who is willing to weaponize the decision the parties already made to send the child to private school in order to turn the situation to his advantage over the child’s mother’s advantage.

I don’t think it should be tit for tat, or her over him. But I do think that the parties should stand by their obligations to their children, and to focus on what is actually in a child’s best interests. Especially when that child is a child of divorce.

Look, I know all moms aren’t perfect. Not all moms make their kids their #1 priority. But, honestly, I can’t think of one I’ve represented who hasn’t. Sure, they have their own flaws, and make some mistakes – I’m not saying they’re not human. But I am saying that, in general, their intentions are good.

Many dads intentions may be good, too, but I’ve seen more than a few who are willing to sacrifice their kid’s continuity and stability in order to pay their ex-wife a little less each month.

Sometimes, I want to say to moms, “CALL HIS BLUFF!” But, as a mother myself, I know I wouldn’t – the risk to my kids would be too great. As a mom, you probably wouldn’t either. And what would dad do? Who knows!

This is only one example – and one that’s top of my mind right now – but there are lots in the practice of family law. Private school is a sort of gray area, anyway. I’ve seen courts that force husbands to pay private school tuition, especially if that’s where the children have always gone, and seen others where they award guideline support without any additional money to cover the school tuition. In this case, the amount that the mom was receiving was essentially guideline – but the child support reduced to reflect half of the child’s private school tuition.

Is it a disservice to her? Personally, I think so, even if the amount of the benefit she is receiving is technically ‘guideline’. Because of the parties’ choice to put the child in private school, and her determination to keep the child in a place of stability and continuity, she ultimately ends up with less support in her pocket. Less money to help support the child’s best interests.

Sure, they don’t HAVE to send the child to private school, but it seems like this is a decision made prior to the divorce that has a disproportionately heavy cost to the mother after the divorce. It’s one she’s willing to make, but the part that surprises me the most is that dad is not willing to sacrifice similarly – it’s all about reducing what he pays to her.

Meanwhile, of course, he posts all over social media about their kid and how he’s the best dad ever… It just gets under my skin.

In some of these things, there’s no hard and fast answer. You’re probably not going to call his bluff, so you’re essentially receiving a bargained-for benefit. Stability for the kids, but it costs you – financially, and in terms of stress and security. What wouldn’t we sacrifice for our children? Sometimes, the cost is just so high.

Having an attorney on your side can help mitigate the overall costs, especially if you can work in some clever protections to your agreement – but, ultimately, many cases come down to whether you’ll reach an agreement or litigate. Either way, there’s cost in terms of either what you gave up, or the attorney’s fees you have to pay to get through a hearing or trial (not to mention the loss of control of the outcome when you put it in the judge’s hands).

So, what do you do? Hire an attorney. Consider your options. Meet with a financial planner. Review your agreement – carefully! Weigh your choices. Make the best choice possible and, then, make the best of it.

For more information, or to request a copy of our custody book for Virginia moms, give us a call at 757-425-5200 or visit our website. You’re not alone in wanting to do the best you can by your children, and we can help.