Considering divorce and other options … next steps

I hate that I’m writing this inquiry.  My husband and I have two kids, and ever since the first child was born five years ago, he has been completely checked out.  I think my husband, having not been around kids, was clueless what being a parent would mean (though I’ll say he said before marriage he very much wanted a large family).  Without getting into great details, ALL of the burden is on me - both with respect to raising the kids and the household.  I literally do it all - I do all the kids forms, sign up for all activities, plan our weekends, buy them clothes and toys, clean their rooms, do their laundry, buy groceries, make breakfast, lunch and dinner, pack their bags for school, drop them off, pick them up, drive them to activities.  And I work just as much as my husband, and I make more money than him.  Initially I did it all because I was on extended maternity leave (big mistake doing it all even while on leave), but then when I went back to work it just all continued to fall on me.  I very much enjoy being a mom - I plan fun activities, I love going to kids birthday parties, etc.  My husband hates it all, and is rarely in attendance.  Throughout the years, I always was alone in a lot of events and it really hurt me to see other husbands/fathers just really enjoying parenthood (as hard as it can be).  Being around someone who does absolutely nothing - I have asked him to go couples therapy on 3 occasions - we did it twice but he then quits saying it’s stupid.  

I’m trying to figure out next steps in my life.  I’m pretty miserable when I see him not doing anything and in particular him not being remotely appreciative of it.  

Is it better to just separate and not get divorced? Is that better or worse?  I make somewhat more (and always made more), but because I do everything I always paid all the expenses and he has a large savings account (we don’t have a joint account). I want the kids - but am open for him to see them whenever he wants.  I can’t imagine a world where he would want the kids, he hates being a father (though I do worry about a situation where he may meet someone, became a “whole new man” and then want to take the kids … as we see in movies).  

Is it better to get divorced?  What should my strategy be if I think it’s imminent? Is there anything I should be documenting now, lawyers I should be talking to now, etc? I always heard of the strategy of meeting with all the “top divorce lawyers first.” Do people really do that? 

My main concern is the kids.  They are my life, and I want to make sure they are with me, and my husband can come and go as he pleases.  

any advice would be appreciated.

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First I want to say you are not alone, so big hugs for all that you do and for shouldering this burden for so long.

I am in a similar situation but the non-engagement is primarily due to his alcoholism. After way too many years of empty promises and my naivety, I am finally moving forward with divorce. One thing I will say (because someone pointed it out to me) is that of course your husband won’t change because you are doing it all and allow him to do whatever he wants. Who wouldn’t want that, especially if you are the one paying for everything. Resentment and contempt build up exponentially when your supposed partner literally does nothing other than earn a paycheck.

Hang in there! 

I talked to a therapist for about 9 months before I filed, and for me it was worth it to have clarity about the situation.  A couple months before I filed, I started talking to a lawyer. 

I’m very sorry you’re in this position! My husband behaves somewhat like this (less severe though) and I have come to understand that it’s common and totally unfair and there’s probably not much you can do about it. It’s also quite common that once the wife files for divorce the husband suddenly wants to change, but it’s too late, so perhaps asking for separation first could help give him one last ditch chance to save the relationship. You sound like a great mom and deserve an equal partner. No legal advice, but his savings should be considered community property as long as they were acccumulated during the marriage

I would highly recommend reading more about CA divorce law before making any decisions. Unless your husband has demonstrated abusive behaviors or other illegal behaviors he will by default have 50% custody in CA. He can chose to relinquish custody, but may have a different perspective on how much he wants to be a part of his kids' lives than you currently perceive. While you earn more it is unlikely that spousal support will be an issue, but any money earned while you were/are married is considered joint as well as any assets. It doesn't matter how you placed them into separate accounts. The difference in salary will influence child support payments if he choses to pursue that, but most couples decide on some method of splitting child related costs rather than inter-parent payments. Having recently gone through the process with young children I can tell you that the relief of not having to reside in an unhappy marriage is liberating (even though I wasn't the person who initiated the divorce and the driving factors behind separating differed from yours). However, the children experience a complete collapse of their world and it is crushing as a parent (in my case a father) to see the impact on one's kids. In my opinion divorce when one has kids should be a last resort utilized when you simply can't be the person you want to be and live the life to which you aspire within the framework of your marriage. If necessary consider going into it informed about CA divorce law, having talked to a few lawyers and deciding on which you would chose for representation if needed, and with the infrastructure in place to support the inevitable impacts on your children's emotional health. Also keep in mind that until your kids turns 18 you will still have to make all major parenting decisions in concert with their father so many of the issues of imbalance that you experience now will likely remain unchanged. I have chosen to remain anonymous in posting, but I wish you the best in this period and possible transition. Just know that many parents have gone through this and ultimately if you establish a stable, loving, and supportive household your kids will turn out okay (and you may find yourself a happier person and parent). Also, if your husband undergoes the transformation you described, consider how that may be good for your kids to have a stronger relationship with a more involved father over time.  

If you get divorced, there's no way that your husband could take your kids from you.  At worst, you would get a 50/50 time arrangement.  However, if he's that disengaged he probably wouldn't want that anyway and would be ok with the traditional Wednesday night / every other weekend / two weeks in the summer situation.  As for whether you should get divorced, there's lots to consider so I recommend talking to a therapist if you aren't already.  My husband was a disengaged parent, although for him it was because he let his career take over his entire life, and like you I did absolutely everything even though I also worked.  If I got divorced I would have had to leave the bay area because I couldn't afford it on one income alone, and I loved my job and friends here so I stuck with it and just tried to accept the situation.  Now my kids are almost grown and I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to be really present throughout their childhood and we have a close relationship, whereas their relationship with their dad is strained.  He feels a lot of guilt for not being around more when they were little and missing out on so much. 

You are brave to consider this early in your children's lives. I admire you for addressing the situation so calmly and thoughtfully. I say this as someone who is in the midst of bringing my divorce process to resolution.

My situation was similar in that I was a professional in a leadership position when I had my children. My spouse was the one who wanted a family and we discussed him being the lead parent. That went out the window with the birth of the first. My spouse traveled a lot, and when he was home was absorbed in work or checked out. He'd play with the children when it was fun for him. I could not rely on any help from him in regard to home or family responsibilities, and he was highly critical of any outside support I found. He started making enough money for us to manage on one salary, so I unintentionally, and somewhat resentfully, became a stay-at-home parent. Complicating matters, our two children were very challenging to raise for reasons I won't get into.

We separated shortly after our older child turned 18. We began the divorce process two years later, shortly after our younger child turned 18. Both expected it and have questioned me why we didn't divorce much sooner. I didn't begin to understand the impact of our relationship problems on the children until I heard this.

I encourage you to educate yourself on divorce before making decision. Many high-quality, free, professional resources are available. Here are two to start with: Second Saturday and Collaborative Divorce California.

There are many ways to divorce now. It's no longer a simple choice between battling it out in court or mediating. And, should you decide to move forward with divorce, you can take steps to protect your and your children's interests before initiating the process with your spouse. I wouldn't wish divorce on anyone. Even if both parties have best intentions for an efficient, amicable process, it's a painful, expensive process at best. Choose the process that best fits your circumstances and personal needs.

I wish you well, and a happy future.

You don’t need to document anything, just ask him in advance if you can completely leave money and custody out of the divorce agreement. That is, that you will take full custody with flexible visitation and no one asks for any child support or alimony from the other. That worked for me and my ex and now 20 years later we all still get along pretty well, even though the judge was skeptical at the time.

This sounds awful, yes you should consider divorce. I see not benefits to a separation without divorce for you... only benefits for him (access to your assets, etc.)

One thing you should consider is discussing this with him. Seek input from a therapist as a starting point. Then you need to tell him, if X doesn't happen I will need to leave you. It does not sound like you are co-parenting. It sounds like you are the parent and he is your roommate. That said, many men have a tendency to exaggerate their contributions to parenting so he may feel that he is doing enough. Also you are definitely enabling him by doing everything. Perhaps you need to help him feel comfortable stepping up and it may be possible that you're doing it all gave him the impression that you don't think he's capable and this is a viscous cycle. Again, speaking with a therapist is where I would start.

FWIW I argue with my co-parent daily about similar issues but it's nothing to the extent of what is described here. I don't think I could tolerate this.

I went through something similar and the one thing I want to point out is that if there’s any chance you will end up getting divorced, it’s worth talking to a lawyer sooner rather than later. This is because in your situation (likely you will owe spousal support), if your marriage has lasted fewer than ten years, it will mean much less alimony you’d end up paying him. This is more practical advice, rather than trying to assess the overall question about whether you should consider separation or divorce. I consulted someone at 9.5 years, and the attorney didn’t tell me this. I ended up making the decision to divorce after 11 years, and then found out this unfortunate piece of information. It ended up costing me years of alimony as our marriage was then considered a “long term marriage “. 

My heart goes out to you.

Please consider this in the spirit of brainstorming rather than as wisdom, as I have had a much better experience than you describe, and have never been divorced.

Your husband may be missing in action as a parent, but what would life be like for your kids if you initiate a separation? 

When they are with you, they know you care about them and will enjoy the things that are fun for them.  If you do a legal divorce, governmental mediation will default to a split custody arrangement, unless this guy is willing to relinquish parental rights. How likely is that?

If the kids are being shuttled back and forth between your house and his, it will be stressful for them. What if someone remarries or moves out of state?  I have watched my divorced friends spend miserable years driving long distances because their ex moved four hours' drive out the Bay Area,

If you are split up you will have no control over what goes on when they are with their father.

Would it be possible for you to continue to live with your husband,  but hire a nanny or assistant to do some of the work you are now handling?  The cooking, perhaps? If you could focus on earning money and doing the fun stuff with your kids, would that take enough pressure off?

Divorce could be very expensive for you personally. Divorce has been shown to be detrimental to children, affecting them as adults.

Unless your spouse is abusive, perhaps there are ways to make it work without splitting up.  And there are cases where fathers who can't relate to younger kids get more enthusiastic as they are in the golden years of elementary school and beyond,

Wishing you all the best.

If you are done with the marriage, and it sounds like you are, I think you should be looking at divorce, not separation. But you need to educate yourself about divorce in California. The default in California is joint physical and legal custody, and from what I understand it is very difficult to get another outcome unless there is abuse, or substance abuse, or some other health/safety issue. Of course, that assumes your husbands WANTS it. My ex was not very engaged on the day-to-day activities and planning and decision-making, but he loves our daughter. When we split, he struggled with being a single dad 50% of the time. He stepped up; your husband might be happy to cede time to you.

On the financial side, California is a community property state, with no-fault divorce. Because you make more money than he does, you might have to pay spousal support, and if he did want/get 50% custody, child support as well. It wasn't clear how MUCH more you make than he does. But all that savings he built up because you were paying the kid expenses? That's 50% yours, because it's community property.

Do talk to a lawyer, who can guide you on what to expect under California law. Do document your assets. Maybe he's not sleazy enough to try to hide assets, maybe he is. Maybe talk to a financial planner specializing in divorce to assess your financial impacts and get your ducks in a row for the financial split. Do your best to make the process amicable rather than contentious, because a contentious divorce is bad for you, bad for the kids, and enriching to the lawyers. My ex and I used a mediator; I don't know if that's realistic for you. Having a lawyer and using a mediator aren't mutually exclusive; a mediator for the primary negotiations to keep things on an even keel as long as everyone is acting in good faith; the lawyer is helpful for reviewing documents and making sure that your husband IS acting in good faith.

I am working with Hello Divorce and have had a really great experience so far (beginning stages). You can sign up for a free phone consult on their website.

I would also suggest finding others in a similar boat to get support from—following #divorce and #narcissist on TikTok has been therapeutic, inspiring, and eye-opening for me. 

PS your kiddos are very fortunate to have such an awesome, engaging, kick-ass role model mama! 

I agree with the suggestion about talking to a therapist.  Also, is couples' therapy an option?  While you consider your next steps, I would suggest doing what you can to have him contribute to household expenses.

I'm not divorced myself, but I'm married to a divorced dad and work in a profession where I work with a variety of families daily, so I may have a different perspective to offer. First, from my experience, California courts tend to start from an assumption of 50/50 custody. They'll deviate from that if both parties agree or there are extenuating circumstances (for example, a parent moves too far for this to be practical), but unless a parent is abusive, it's generally best for the kids to have strong, ongoing, equal relationships with both parents. Second, I've known MANY uninvolved dads pre-divorce who will fight tooth and nail for their kids. For most, divorce (and the thought of losing their kids) gives them the kick in the pants that they needed to step up; granted, for some, it's a desire to win it take something from their ex. So his desire for his kids may surprise you one way or another. Your idea of dad just coming and going when he pleases is neither realistic in most cases nor best for the kids. 

This isn't exactly advice either way, but I suggest you strongly consider the likelihood that if you divorce, your kids will spend half of their lives with their dad. You cannot make sure they are with you if you get divorced. If your only concern was having your kids all the time, the solution is the status quo. Of course that's not your only concern, so you weigh your current misery against your desire to have your kids with you. Is your misery really *only* him not being involved with the kids, otherwise he's a great husband? If that's the case, either you'll get your way and have your kids all the time, with him still not being involved- so no change; or they spend a significant amount of time with him without you-a change it sounds like you don't want. I'm guessing there's more to it than that, hence the need to weigh your happiness against your desire for having your kids full time.

My one piece of advice is, if at all possible, to divorce amicably, even avoiding court (coming to an agreement together then having a lawyer or a lawyer for each of you help write up the documents). Divorce will have an impact on your relationship with your husband, your bank account, your life, and most importantly your children's mental health; conflict and court battles make all of that worse.

Start seeing a therapist for you!  Not couples therapy.  And if you don’t gel with the person move on and look for another person. They will help bring clarity to you for your needs.  

I hear your frustration and exhaustion. I am in a very similar situation. I make double my spouse's salary and work day and night and on weekends. I parent twice as much as my spouse. I am the master of the family calendar, appointments, plan all activities and meals, laundry, dishes, clean, and procure all necessities. Does anyone else pay attention to how we're running out of toilet paper? Nope! Just me! I am trying to get my kid, who is older now, to help more and the kid is old enough to start pointing out that my spouse doesn't do as much. When child said, "it's not fair. daddy didn't clean up, why do I have to?" I saw guilt and dread on husband's face. I took that opportunity and had a heart to heart conversation about how spouse needs to step up and be a role model for the child. My husband has depression and he's introverted. What I have realized (after many therapy sessions) is that he does love and care deeply about our child and wants to be a good father. However, his way of parenting and spending time with the kid is different from me. I like to take the kid to the park, the zoo, beach, hiking, biking, walks around the neighborhood, do gardening, craft projects, set up playdates, etc. Husband likes to watch movies, play video games, read books, do puzzles and play board games at home. I have observed that when I throw my hands up and ask him for help, he will help. But, it needs to be very clear that I am absolutely incapable of doing the task. When we were teaching our child to swim, I took the child to classes but kid was not progressing. I took kid to recreational swimming but that wasn't doing it either. I resented my husband for seeming not to care about the child's swimming which is such an important life skill. After the child nearly drowned, I told my husband that I cannot teach my child to swim but as parents, we have to make sure that the child doesn't die from drowning. He stepped up and asked for my help in finding a place for him to take the child to swim. I applauded him for identifying the area where he needed help (logistics of finding a venue and time) and for stepping up to do what he's good at doing (teaching our kid a new skill). He felt very accomplished and was very happy that he was able to do this. I acknowledge that I enable my husband's natural tendency of not doing anything, because I'm a Doer. My therapist has been working with me to help me figure out how to get my husband to pick up bits and pieces and "train" him to do more. We also tried a couple's therapy but it didn't work. I think my husband needs to work out his own issues before he can come to the couple's therapy but he won't do his own therapy. Because I identified that the first priority is for the child to have both parents in the house, I have redefined our marriage as a co-parenting and house-sharing friendship. Romance is long gone. Neither expects or requests any physical aspect of marriage. I wonder what our marriage will be when the child has left the nest. i strongly recommend a therapy for yourself and a couple's therapy, if you can get your spouse to join. After talking with your therapist, if you are sure about a divorce, start talking with a divorce attorney and start planning. 

What a painful situation.  I wanted to share some thoughts if you are not sure of separating yet - please don't interpret this like I am blaming you for the very difficult situation, because this is coming from a place of wanting to help YOU and your family, and I am sharing in case this might be helpful in some small ways.  Reading between the lines of your post, I wonder if your husband feels a bit pushed out by your love of parenthood.  It sounds like you do so much and do it very well.  I wonder if there may be some "maternal gatekeeping" involved.  Maybe your husband doesn't hate parenting, but has different expectations of it or a different style than you.  For example, I consider myself a loving, involved mom but I don't enjoy other kids' birthday parties.  I wonder what his idea of a good weekend would look like?  Maybe he hasn't felt like he's had room to figure that out because many activities were already planned.  I can't even imagine how resentful you must feel from doing it ALL.  What would happen if you stopped?  For example, if you sat down and told your husband that you can't keep going like this, and told him from now on he has to do x, y, and z.  And then you did not step in.  Would he step up?  I'm sure there would be big bumps in the road, but if you didn't intervene, would he figure it out?  If you left for the weekend, would you come back to the kids happy & healthy?  I realize I don't know most of the details here - like how you know he "hates" (a very strong word) being a father.  But I do wonder if maybe a horrible dynamic has become entrenched where you are super mom and he feels like whatever he does is inadequate so he's given up.  You also mentioned that your kids are your life - I wonder if maybe there is some resentment from him that once the kids were born, they became everything to you and there wasn't a place for him anymore.  I wonder if you could pursue therapy yourself, since it sounds like he is not interested. I am sharing these ideas because from your post it wasn't clear that you were 100% sure about separating.  In addition to being a parent myself (and we have in common that I make more money than my husband), I have also observed the family dynamics in well over 100 families that I provided childcare to over many years as a babysitter / au pair / nanny.  Anyway, I hope there is something in here that might be helpful.  Best wishes to you and your family.  

Do not jump into divorce. Ever. Unless you want to burn money and raise hell. As an attorney I can tell you they will take your money without a full assessment of what’s best for you. 

Sounds like your husband has not truly been held accountable and confronted by you or he’s a total monster and you’ve been there too long already. If he feels entitled to end therapy or not try to improve as you describe he must not appreciate the consequences. You need to make sure he understands before leaping to separation or divorce. 

Husband, father and attorney here, more like you than your husband in my relationship. I feel I contribute more and resent her. But I’m messy and like inappropriate Instagram photos :) My wife is the dominant angry one and we see therapy for her anger. I’m not assertive enough because arguing with her always results in attack. 

First try to confront him to the point he admits the situation is bad. Next consider just staying with friends/fam or short term rentals. Dip your toes in separation.

For your own sanity and to just be able to move on with life, I would suggest moving forward with divorce. It sounds like there's not much hope - you say you are miserable and that he will not participate in therapy. You did not say to what extent you have made him aware of your discontent with doing it all and his lack of engagement with the family and related responsibilities, but I assume you have let him know. If not and you really want to give it one more try, you could get into individual therapy to see if there are ways you could communicate your needs better. Does he know you are thinking of separation/divorce? Unless he is violent, I would suggest you start to discuss it now, in case there's an end game scenario where he can wake up and realize the err of his ways.

Barring all that, he will most likely be entitled to 50% custody, although I wouldn't worry about it too much at this point as it sounds like he won't want that. And if he ever does want that, he would likely need to do a step-up plan in which his time with the kids would increase gradually since they would need to get used to it if you have more custody initially.  Men who are not into parenting usually only try to get more custody time in order to avoid paying child support, but if you make more money you can likely take that concern off the table for him. 

In terms of assets and his savings account, California is a community property state so most everything is generally considered to be joint assets - meaning his savings account is half yours (unless he came into the marriage with certain assets or has inherited money since you got together). Be aware that if your income is significantly higher, you may need to pay him child support (if he decides to do 50% custody) and if you've been married over 10 years you may need to pay him spousal support if he requests that. You would be wise to speak to an attorney sooner than later - it doesn't have to be the "best" attorney, but schedule consultations with a few to find someone who you have a good rapport with and who you can trust to make this process as smooth as possible. 

Finally, if this is not a high conflict divorce, you can use a mediator (and still consult with your own attorney). Again, just try to find someone good as the process will go along much better if you get someone who is skilled at it. 

Good luck. The kids will be fine and probably better that they see you happier. Even if he takes the kids a couple nights a week, it'll give you a chance to recharge your batteries and you'll not be carrying his dead weight. Single parenting might actually be easier and less stressful for you than the situation you're in with your marriage. 

I'm so sorry you're going through this.  I'd recommend you speak to a lawyer before talking to your husband.  They may advise you to take some time over the months preceding a separation so that you put yourself in a better position to have your husband begin to pay his fair share of the family expenses post separation and to begin to set a record or get his admission or agreement in writing that he has not been paying his fair share.  He may make a play for custody just to get you to fold on the economic front so he doesn't have to give you your fair share of his savings / pay child support, etc. so you want to put yourself in the best position before you make mention of your plans to him.  Good luck to you and your kids and good for you for taking a step to improve your wellbeing. 

I think you have plenty to lose and little to gain in divorce. He would likely get halftime custody, so you would see the kids less. And since you make more, you would probably owe him money every month. If you want to make sure that the kids are with you, stay married. 

You pay all the expenses? That seems wrong. If you don't contribute 50/50 to the household, you should both at least be contributing in proportion to your incomes. Set a time, sit own together, and discuss finances. I think if he contributes more financially, you will feel a little better. 

Then you need to work on yourself. You say you are miserable seeing him doing nothing. He is still going to do nothing if you divorce. Just imagine, He will be be watching tv or playing video games during his time with the kids. That is the likely scenario. So see a therapist, or make an attitude adjustment. You can't force him to help, so you need to become philosophical about him. 

And just enjoy the kids. 

First, I just want you to know that you are not alone and that you have a community rooting for you.

I'm a lawyer, but not a family lawyer, so please take my perspective with that in mind. 

I think your first step is finding out whether your husband would want 50/50 custody if you were to divorce. You sound miserable, but so does he. It's possible that there is a workable outcome for you both, where you get nearly all of the custody and as a result, make minimal spousal support payments (if any). Unfortunately, the only way to find out this information is to have a conversation with him. A facilitated conversation with a therapist might be your safest bet. I know he doesn't want to go to therapy, but he may agree if its for the purpose of arranging a mutually-agreeable path forward.

I disagree with those who say that divorce should be avoided for the emotional toll it takes on the kids. All of my friends with divorced parents say that they wish their parents had done it sooner and that it was the fighting that harmed them, not the separation. The best case scenario for your kids is that they grow up with happy parents who are living fulfilling lives, even if those lives are separate. It would be ideal if their father would be a loving and involved parent, but that is outside your sphere of control. 

The money he made during the marriage is half yours. If you have been paying all of the bills and he has not been contributing, he may owe you quite a bit of money in a divorce.

Making sure you have a good marital settlement agreement is key to preventing him from changing his mind later in life. There is always a possibility he convinces a court to revisit your agreement and award 50/50 custody. But the longer the kids are doing well in your care, the less likely a court will be to modify the agreement. 

As far as meeting with all the top divorce lawyers, the Bay Area is too big to do that. No one has the time or money to meet with that many lawyers. And it sets the stage for a highly contentious divorce. A high-conflict divorce is a nightmare for all involved. 

Best of luck to you.