Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Financial Abuse Through Family Court

Enduring financial abuse is like watching someone steal your stack of wood so they can build a fabulous ship, decked out for a journey, captain of his own ship, while you are trying to gather the cast-off pieces from under the water to build your lifeboat.
Except that was not a "his stack, her stack" sort of situation. That stack of wood belonged to the children you had, too. And deliberately making one parent sink while the other parent sails is completely ignorant of the children's quality of life.
It is a parent's grown-up responsibility to provide for their children. It takes a person of average intelligence to see that if you set out to financially cripple a parent through costing them money or withholding resources, then you also cripple your own children. That is the crux of abuse...controlling the resources at someone else's expense, and punishing them through material means. It is abusive to forget this also punishes your own children.
If you dig deeper, and ask "why would someone work to financially undermine an ex?" The answers are found in psychological science and abuse. Remember, abuse of power is about having the ability to help and instead choosing to harm.

Family court and our "justice" system allows financial abuse to thrive over and over. The way the system is set up allows for such subjective interpretation of laws and policies that it also ensures a large margin of error. The problem is, these judicial errors create a quality of life for children that is sub-standard and burdens society.
It's "the Emperor's New Clothes". Over and over and over we hear stories of deadbeat dads who either agree to pay or through the charts are obligated to pay child support and then spend a disproportionate amount of money to get out of paying child support. The easiest way to do this is through 50/50 parenting.  The second easiest is to quit working, or hide income through cash work. Other ways, like moving out of state, not providing an address, and hiding assets, are just as acceptable. As we saw in the last post, 50/50 isn't fair or even. It often creates a burden for the children and a more reasonable ex by letting one disordered person run the show and narrate the story. Constantly.
When a man engages in constant court battles to financially strip his ex, where he could be engaging in good-faith discourse and civil conduct, he gains leverage to get his way, but COMPLETELY IGNORES HOW THIS AFFECTS THE CHILDREN.
When family courts support this charade, this pretending to have no money to pay even the smallest amount of child support while throwing tens of thousands of dollars at family court, they are throwing gasoline on an abuser's fire. They are enablers of abusing children.
Courts don't ask, "Where is he getting this money to hire expensive attorneys and all these motions?" or, "Why isn't he spending that money on making an awesome life for his children?" They ask, "How can we uphold his rights?"
The system is inherently flawed in that it sets up a bullying situation where one person can constantly attack and the other tries to gain footing and counter-attack. No one stops to consider that having warring parents is not good for the children. No one stops to consider that a man who will prioritize revenge over supporting his children should never be given 50/50. No one stops to consider that that man cannot see the big picture of his children's lives and that he should be working to give them a consistent quality of  life everywhere they live, and that no normal man would abide by his children going without the necessities of their life ANYWHERE. Able-bodied men then require the rest of society to take up their slack. Through step-fathers. Through welfare. Through a mother's family. Through watching his ex financially struggle and have multiple jobs while he is working? Hiding money? Someone has to clean up his mess.
And family court became part of making his mess by refusing to uphold its own child support policies, by refusing to consider the bigger picture of a child's life and holding their quality of life as a priority, by refusing to consider evidence, and by refusing to punish able-bodied men who deliberately refuse to work and who deliberately withhold child support. Instead, they punish children and those who are poor, women, and black.
Again, it's a social justice issue. You, the taxpayer, are used to your money going to make the rich richer. But this is one area where you don't have to pay for someone else's kid, someone who is perfectly capable of doing more.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Financial Abuse: The Relationship

Financial abuse starts in the marriage. Restricting spending in a spouse while not restricting it in yourself, preventing your spouse from building credit, not allowing her to work or making her work more to support your perfectly capable self, refusing to put her name on property while requiring her to pay for it, restricting access to accounts, refusing to share money needed for basic expenses, spending more on yourself than on your family, hiding money while requiring everyone to struggle, refusing to work and fully contribute to the family, overspending and hiding debt, taking out credit cards in spouse's name to run up debt and ruin her credit (another variation of refusing to let her build credit or shaming her for debt), and any way fraud is committed.
Remember, the name of the abuse game is power and control. We all have the power to harm or help and when an intimate chooses to harm his own flesh and blood by physical or psychological injury it is absolutely abuse. Financial abuse causes both physical and psychological injury because it sets up a hierarchy. It says to the children, "the only life that counts is your life with me. Only what I want counts. You should, therefore, have to struggle at your mom's house unnecessarily and I will ensure that you experience poverty, hunger, and real need to prove my point."
A man who would deliberately create want, need, and poverty in a home where his children spend half their time is worse than a deadbeat. The selfishness in that is unfathomable. It is abusive to children, to ex-spouses, and it abuses a system. It abuses the good faith of bystanders. It takes advantage of every type of leverage possible to make sure the victim is blamed.
Come on, how long do we have to put up with this incredible lie? This story is getting so old and redundant it's ridiculous. Abuser sets up victim to fail then blames her. It's so perfect and so deplorable. So many people enable this utter crap. It goes beyond morals and into just plain humanity.
If one has the power to help or harm and they CHOOSE, DELIBERATELY, to make their OWN CHILDREN'S LIVES harder, WHY do we simply shrug it off and let welfare take care of it (and then complain about how many are on welfare).
We are talking about men who have the ABILITY to fully and completely provide for their children, but prioritize revenge over their children's needs. Even the "justice" system, who has it structured as a "rights" issue, has prioritized the rights of men to harm and hurt their families over the children's needs. The harm is irreparable. It isn't like anyone recovers financially from such abuse. It is a deliberate leveraging of resources AGAINST ONE'S OWN CHILDREN.
The abusive part is not just the financial leverage worked against one's own flesh and blood, but the lies and deceit used to get there. And then we have to hear how fathers have rights. Those fathers take away the rights of their children to enjoy stability, peace, healing from a broken home, and relative consistency in their socioeconomic circumstances. What does it benefit a child to go back and forth from rich dad to poor mom? What message does that give a child about his worth? If a child sees a parent doing that to their mother, they innately understand it happens to them too if they happen to piss off the parent in power.
I had a wave of recognition and also incredible sadness when I heard a sister's story of how her children's grandparents, millionaires many times over, turned a blind eye to her children's struggle and needs. Kinder, more aware people had to step in to help her children. She witnessed her ex renting huge homes, driving nice cars, living a "large" lifestyle while she was struggling with basic necessities, had no help with childcare expenses, and barely had food.
Stop calling them deadbeats. They're abusers.
I received so many stories of this type of abuse I'm going to post a few at a time. The names of the women remain anonymous.

Abuse during the relationship and financial recovery:

"My ex and I divorced when our kids were 3 and 5 and he started using money to try and punish and control me from the start. He was the breadwinner for our family and I was a stay at home mom finishing my bachelors degree. I was in no position to leave him, and I think he was counting on that to keep me there despite his addiction and emotionally abusive behavior. 

Before the divorce was final, he would give me a check each month to cover expenses for the household. He was spending too much money and it wasn't long before these checks would bounce, so I would take them to his bank on the day he got paid and cashed it right away so I could get the money before his account was empty. 

We had no real assets, as he had been so irresponsible with our money to support his addiction. We did own a nice car, which he usually drove, but both of our names were on the title. We owned it outright and he tried to trade it in to a dealership so he could upgrade to a big truck. He had snuck into the house while I was out to take the title from the safe, but because my name was also on it, he wasn't able to give the car to the dealership. I took the car back and sold it myself, using the money to pay closing costs on our house when we sold it. I knew that if I left it to him to sell the car, he would have kept the money and we wouldn't have been able to close on the sale of the house. 

We had a couple of home improvement loans for the house which we were ordered by to court to split the responsibility for, but he stopped paying so I had to take care of several thousand dollars worth of loans. He had opened a credit card account without my knowledge during the marriage and tried to stick me with thousands of dollars for that account when we divorced, but when I explained the situation to the judge, he did not hold me responsible for that. 

I had to move back in with my parents so my kids could have stability while I worked to improve our situation. He mocked me for that. I had primary physical custody, because that is what he asked for during the divorce. When he later realized that he wouldn't have to pay me as much in child support if we had 50/50 custody, he filed for a change in custody. The judge sided with me on this when I responded that a change in custody was not appropriate because there had not been a "significant change in circumstance," which is the requirement under the law for a change in custody. 

He lost his well-paying job with excellent insurance due to having committed some crimes and spent a few months in prison. When he got out, he had to take a lower-paying job and he kids were no longer covered under his insurance. I had them covered under my employer, but it was more expensive than his former insurance. He would not cover half of their out of pocket expenses, even when given an invoice. When he lost his good insurance coverage, he didn't notify me. I didn't find out until I started getting bills for their medical care. One of my children has autism, and his therapy can be expensive. 

Five years ago he left the state and moved to the other side of the country. He did not tell me that he was moving and did not tell me where he went. He went from job to job and did not notify the child support collection agency for my state when he changed jobs. I usually find out where he is working through mutual friends or social media, and then I report his new employer to the child support office myself. At one point he was about $12k in arrears. The only reason he is close to being caught up is that the state has been garnishing his income tax refunds for years. He has filed several times to have his support amount reduced due to his wages being so low and his recent unemployment. 

I am now financially able to support myself and my kids. I count myself lucky that I was able to continue my education and find a field of work that paid well and allowed me to still spend a significant amount of time with my kids. 

The ex has had no contact in about a year, and made very little contact after moving away. I could take him back to court to try and recoup the cost of the kids' medical expenses, but I feel that that would open the door for him to begin harassing me again and I'm not sure that it's worth it. He has remarried and has three more children.  He claims that he is not employed at times, but I suspect that he is finding work under the table to support his family and avoid paying child support. "

A story of fraud and struggle:

"Narc discarded the kids and I in 2013 and left me with a house that was so far underwater I could see the ocean floor. He didn't pay a dime in child support until the divorce was final. He started to pay but turned around and filed to take the kids away from me so I would have to pay him child support.

Once he figured out that the kids would not be moving with him he stopped paying and then the fight began with enforcements after enforcements. The attorney general is "involved" but are as useless as they come. Have done nothing for me or the kids.

What makes this all the more complicated is that my ex frauded the VA into giving him 100% disability so he's making $3500 a month tax free. The court order is for $920 and after much hassle I got the VA to give me the kids portion of the VA money which is $199.20 for 2 elementary age kids. That doesn't even cover their after school care.

I'm appealing the VA decision because I have tons of evidence that he committed fraud not only in getting the 100% (he deployed to Iraq but his job was to play the piano and check ID's at the gym. I'm not kidding!) but in the form he filled out with expenses he lied to make it look like he had no extra income.

So I'm left to raise 2 kids on $199.20 a month from him where as he alone has $3300 a month to spend on himself.

He got remarried and she's 100% disabled vet and she also gets child support of about $500 a month for her kids about the same age as mine. So for 2 adults and 2 kids that one household has a tax free income of over $7k a month where I'm raising 2 kids on less than 1/2 of that. Plus his "wife" is in full support of my kids not getting any $ because the VA $ is not considered "income".

He has no other children. He is $45k behind. He hasn't seen the kids since Nov 2, 2014."

 "I have 3 kids, 6,12 and 15. I had 3 miscarriages between the second and third, the last ectopic, so I couldn't have any more kids the natural way. I had stayed home with the kids but at this point he pushed me into getting a job right away and then went on about how he was going to stay home doing nothing for two years like I had. Then he found out his employer health insurance funds most of the cost for IVF, so we had the third by IVF. As soon as he was born, my soon-to-be-ex bullied his co-workers into firing him and then stayed home for now 6 years without any real attempt to find work. He cooked the meals but I had to work from home, freelancing with editing and other occasional work, with the baby on lap or beside me. When the youngest was weaned and potty trained, he got increasingly verbally abusive and made it hard to work from home because he kept coming upstairs and picking fights. Then when I tried to move out, he started playing the perfect Dad and stay at home parent. He kept bullying me in increasingly sophisticated ways but will not agree to any child care arrangement, which is required for me to move out (otherwise he gets custody). So we are stuck here because he wants sole custody so he can live off the child support. He has said he has no interest in a personal relationship with the kids, he wanted them to pass on his DNA and as a legacy."

Stay tuned for more stories of abuse. I will be posting stories every day this week. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Financial Abuse Series-One


Many years ago I visited Atlantic City. I was helping a ministry group rehab a house and we visited the Boardwalk. I was struck by the experience of abject poverty in the neighborhoods surrounding the rich, glittering, spare-no-expense casinos. That something representing riches was set against a backdrop of poverty has stuck with me. The messages of exploitation, class, and entitlement were received loud and clear. This was the first time I had seen abuse of power so starkly illustrated: the rich ostentatiously flaunting indifference to the suffering of the poor. This was my first real education about how power and abuse work in the world. 

Fast forward to a college class: Political and Economic Power. In my class, I learned definitions of power: "the ability to achieve purpose" and "the ability to help or hurt." I learned about neoliberalism (or corporate libertarianism) and how it has worked by convincing the everyone that their interests align with corporate interests. I learned that the guiding principle behind neoliberalism is to maximize profit while minimizing accountability and responsibility. As a system, it externalizes blame so that profits are preserved and any costs are put on the people. It sets up classes, hierarchies, is economically exploitative, and because now, corporations are considered to be "people" with "rights", it uses government and politics to carry out its oppression of others.

I remember thinking, "I know a place where people are corporations and behave just like this: family court." I had a work group and we even did a research project on child support as an issue to take up using principles of non-violence. Our group included someone who had formerly worked at the child support enforcement office, so she'd seen everything. We could easily see the oppression acted out through economics and how there was a big need to enact social change around this issue.

Child support is a huge issue, with $112 BILLION and counting owed in back child support. It is also a racial and gender issue, for family court judges have little repercussions for enacting gender or racial bias. Their only real requirement is that they act nice during proceedings. It's in their decisions that punish women and minorities that biases are evident. It's an area where the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, for on paper, we have child support charts and public policy, but in practice, we have sweeping inconsistencies and a huge lack of accountability. Six-figured white men are routinely told to quit their jobs to get out of paying child support. Men walk into the child support office complaining about their unemployed status as they drive off in their new cars, or even drive beater cars and jet off to their exciting international vacations. They don't care about their children's lives when they are with the other parent. It's like they believe their parenting responsibilities get "switched off" during the time their children are somewhere else.Yet withholding child support is not the only way to financially abuse someone. 

When I first started writing this, my intention was to explore my own experience and the experiences of others. I have a circle of friends with whom I've gathered stories, and there was a common thread running through them. Most often, the personality they were dealing with, man or woman, was high-conflict and controlling. Whether or not they were diagnosed or professionals had suggested the possibility of a personality disorder, the stories were basically the same. I sought experiences of women through a national website with over 32,000 followers. This site is dedicated to educating family court about cluster B personality disorders and support women going through a divorce from one or already divorced. On asking, my inbox was flooded with responses. Financial abuse is an issue that has little platform, little attention, but has a huge impact. Women are primarily the targets, and although one can find counter-examples of men being financially abused, exceptions do not negate the structure within which abuse is allowed to thrive. 

It's the abuse that keeps on giving. It doesn't stop after divorce.

One aspect of abuse we don't talk about very much is an abuser's pleasure at watching another suffer. It isn't JUST about enacting continuous power over another, it is about TAKING AWAY something they want and that is a basic human right: agency over one's life.  With emotional abuse, the abuser may have gotten to see his partner grovel and beg for love. With physical abuse, there is obvious wounding. Somewhere, deep down, there is a sense that an abuser takes pride in acting out this demonstration of power over another person. It confirms their belief that they must be in charge and powerful. No where is this more evident than when someone uses their resources to take away the resources of another. There are no bruises, but you can easily see the ramifications of your abusive handiwork: making another work second and third jobs, imposing deep legal debt on them, watching them struggle with bankruptcy or lack of housing or poor housing or lack of food and transportation. Watching them live paycheck to paycheck, sacrificing visits to a dentist or doctor in order to buy food, or to make sure their child has their needs met. Watching your own bank accounts fatten so in some sick way you can think of yourself as the "winner" while watching a former intimate and your own children be put in precarious positions over and over. To an abuser, this is pleasure. It is somehow a victory if you are homeless and without food. It proves your inadequacy, even though it was their attacking that put you in that position.

Maximize profit, eliminate accountability.

But in interpersonal relationships, the accountability is ultimately to your own flesh and blood. Refusal to see the bigger picture of how financial abuse affects them is not just irresponsible, it is abusive to children.

The NNEDV defines financial abuse as:
"Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship.  The forms of financial abuse may be subtle or overt but in in general, include tactics to limit the partner’s access to assets or conceal information and accessibility to the family finances."

Abuse is leverage over another person's life. It is the privilege to affect another's life without consequence. It is the ABILITY to help or harm and choosing to harm. In this series, I will allow the stories of individuals illustrate how this abuse affects children on a visceral level, and how it affects parents who are targeted for this abuse, and how it affects society. I will look at enablers such as families, culture, and family court. I will explore how the larger paradigms of control are echoed in interpersonal financial abuse, and why it should be considered for radical change in public policy. My hope is to raise awareness for this very important issue and educate people on what it's like behind the scenes and how family court is kind of like socialism for abusers, especially if the judge isn't fluent in all the languages of abuse. Finally, I hope to let people who are in these situations know they are not alone.