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Apr 19, 2024, 02:38:53 AM

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Protecting Your Income

I had a conversation recently with a noncustodial father whose high conflict custody case is relatively young. He has a good paying job in a highly competitive field, but, he told me, he is finding it difficult to concentrate on his work. All he thinks of during the workday is his children. When coworkers speak of their children or grandchildren, that just increases his of sadness about his separation from his own children.

He is concerned, that, when his supervisors learn of his low productivity level, he will lose his job. In fact, he said, he isn't able to concentrate on anything other than his children. He finds himself just living from weekend to weekend, when his children were with him for parenting time (visitation) and doesn't even do anything around his home when they aren't there.

This is not unusual. It is, in fact, very common in parents who are separated from their children. You don't realize what your rights as a parent are until you lose those rights. A psychologist or psychiatrist might describe this father's feelings as an "adjustment disorder". A mental health professional more familiar with the anxiety of fathers who have been reduced to a visitor and a paycheck to their own children by an uncaring Family Court would probably call it "post traumatic stress disorder". Regardless of what it's called, this father is describing symptoms of depression.

But this father has a more pressing financial problem. While the whole family was living together, his income was sufficient to support the family in one household. Now he is court-ordered to stretch that income to support two households - his, and his soon-to-be x-wife's. If he loses his job, the financial support he is ordered to pay will probably not be reduced. If he applies for a reduction, mom's lawyer will characterize him to the court as a lazy bum who intentionally lost his employment by his poor job performance.

The court will probably not modify support because his unemployment is temporary, or because he has an earning capacity higher than his unemployment benefits. When the support, based on his income when employed, is garnished from his unemployment benefits, he won't have enough cash flow left over to support himself. He may even find himself at risk of becoming homeless. If this happens, he will be further separated from his children because he won't have a place to take them for parenting time, and he will sink deeper into depression.
This father told me that he had used the services of his employer's "employee assistance program". He went to the counselor to whom they referred him, and discussed his feelings of uncertainty, inadequacy, and powerlessness brought upon him by Family Court.

Employee assistance programs may be helpful for some problems, but not those associated with divorce and custody. If, for example, you have a drug addiction problem, they might refer you to a rehabilitation program. Employers know that job related stress might temporarily lead a good employee to substance abuse, and that it can be treated in a relatively short time. But the stress of divorce and custody dispute can not be so easily treated. The "cure" is not in the employee's mind; it is in the judge's mind where it is uncontrollable.

Notifying an employer of these problems waves a red flag at them, and alerts them that the employee may not return to "normal" for a very long time.

What should this father do?

  • The father is describing symptoms of depression (1). He should find a psychiatrist with whom to discuss this problem.

  • The psychiatrist should NOT be one he is referred to by the employee assistance program, nor should the psychiatrist be on the list of providers approved by his employers health insurance program.

  • He should pay the psychiatrist himself, and NOT tell anyone he is receiving treatment.

  • He should save the paid bills, but SHOULD NOT immediately submit them to his employer's health insurance for reimbursement.

If the psychiatrist quickly diagnoses his symptoms as depression or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), continue going to him. If not, find another psychiatrist.

The father is in very real jeopardy of losing his job. Competitive high-tech companies can't afford to keep an unproductive employee, especially a highly paid one, on the payroll for long. When the proverbial sh*t hits the fan he will probably be given two weeks termination notice. (2) When this happens, he should immediately apply for disability from his employer. He can support his disability claim with a report from his psychiatrist, and at this time submit the psychiatrist's bills to his employers health insurance for reimbursement.

To collect unemployment, you must be "ready and able to work full time and seeking full time work". This father is ineligible because he is not "able" to work, and may even be psychologically unable to seek work. His disability is depression, and he will be financially better off collecting tax-exempt disability payments from his employer than taxable unemployment benefits from the State. When the disability benefits expire, if he is still not working and he is no longer disabled, he will then be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Apply for a modification of support only after your disability claim has been approved. "Disability" means that you are unable to work. Your chances of getting a reduction are far better if a psychiatrist has already certified that you are disabled, and an insurance company has accepted and is paying the disability claim. Your support should then be based upon your disability income.

In summary, if you find that your divorce and custody dispute is having a negative impact on your job performance,

  • DON'T discuss the reason with your employer - not even through an "employee assistance program".

  • DO enter into treatment with a private psychiatrist who understands what is happening to you and who recognizes your depression.

  • DON'T submit the psychiatrist's bills to your employer's health insurance (yet); pay the psychiatrist yourself.

  • DO apply for disability (and submit your psychiatrist's bills to your employer's health insurance) if you are terminated.

  • DON'T apply for a support modification until AFTER you begin collecting disability.

1. Typical or "core " symptoms of depression include (but aren't limited to): lowered mood, loss of energy and interest, a feeling of physical illness or of being rundown, poor concentration, altered appetite and sleep patterns, and a slowing down of physical and mental functions. In addition, many genuine physical problems, such as heartburn, indigestion, constipation, headaches or altered periods often go hand-in-hand with depression.

2. Many companies no longer give an employee any notice of termination because of the employer's fear of the potential for sabotage or retaliation by the employee. Most companies will now remove a terminated employee from the building and premises immediately without any prior notification. -Editor

This article is based on (but is not identical to) an article titled "Protect Your Income" by Jeff Golden, originally featured in Vol. 6, #2 of AboutFace, the Fathers' And Childrens' Equality quarterly magazine.

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