Fool you can bet he'll fool you twice.


This conversation seems hard enough that I would want to have it in the presence of an experienced professional. There may be issues from their marriage that she hasn't acknowledged, and apologies she needs to make as well.

I'd start by asking him if he's in therapy to work through why he walked away and now wants back into their lives. If so, maybe his therapist would be a good person to listen as they talk it out.


@3 Dadddy, yeah, my question was, "What about child support?!?"

Start there. Maybe end there, but definitely start there.

And for your second point: Isn't Dan always saying, "No one owes you closure"? So "if he owns his shit we can actually try to repair our relationship" is actually about moving ahead - yeah, maybe (but probably not). If she's looking for some closure, "then at least (I'll know) he’s the narcissistic prick", she should find that within herself, possibly with the help of friends or a therapist.


I second @2. No one here knows what the dynamic in the relationship was, so placing all the blame on him is speculative at best, sexist at worst.


Good answer Dan. Talk with your children, LW, what do they feel about re connecting with their father? Be careful, if he is a narcissist, he might be up to something, ie: trying to prove he’s been seeing the kids so he can sue for custody.
I only faced what a deep narcissist my ex was, when he tried every legal trick, our youngest was thirteen at the time and didn’t want to see his father. When that didn’t work, he got money under the table so he didn’t have to pay maintenance.
And yes, it was a struggle first few years, now it’s wonderful and it’s great he’s living a long way away.
Trust your intuition and the kids here. If you do let him back in then it’s about him providing for his children first. Tell him your feelings then get pragmatic. What is he now offering and how do you know you or the children can trust him? Offering for the kids.. you and he resuming any sort of friendship keep away from what his attitude is to his children. Because if he’s just flying in between gfs, don’t let him break their hearts again.


@3 - Just because a non-custodial parent is legally obligated to pay child support doesn't mean that they are doing so.

My incomplete understanding is that if, say, a state's child support services office has either an adjudicated child support order (from legal separation or divorce proceedings) or a child support determination, from, say, a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families case supporting the custodial parent and children - AND the non-custodial parent doesn't proactively pay - the child support services puts a wage garnishment out against them.

From personal experience, the process goes something like this:
1. The garnishment is linked to - "flags" - the person's Social Security number
2. A newly employed person doesn't automatically get their wages garnished - it is only after the employer files its quarterly payroll tax returns w/its employees' SS numbers that the garnishing agency is informed where to send the paperwork
3. The garnishing agency sends the paperwork to the employer, with a 30 day window in which to confirm that the person is employed there & to get the garnishment into the payroll info.

this means the non-custodial parent wan work up to 4 months without having their pay garnished for child support.

My personal experience of accumulating tens of thousands of overdue child support (years old, for a now-adult child) The garnishee can then persuade their employer to lay them off or temporarily quit & get rehired - or find another job - and this then restarts the clock. Rinse & repeat.

This sort of child support avoidance - or by other methods - happens to a distressing amount of children & their custodial parents, to the point where it is termed an epidemic by some.

So, it is entirely believable to me that the LW's children may not be getting any financial support from their father.

An observation - informed by personal experience and observation as well - I have seen the type of non-custodial parent that doesn't pay child support tends to not provide any other kind of parental support as well (physical & emotional care).

This pisses me off - the kids are the ones most hurt by this, not the other parent. The LW has more to be angry about than her own personal hurt from betrayal and abandonment - their kids also are experiencing their own and this doesn't seem to have come up in the brief letter.


Dear Sugar offers a wise perspective on this terrible situation.


@5 Someone who abandons their kids still gets all the blame for that, regardless of their sex, and regardless of what happened in the relationship. You divorce your spouse, not your children.

And IMO, the kids are the only reason to attempt a civil relationship here. He's already proven he's a narcissistic prick- what on earth does she gain from trying to be friends? Surely she has other friends, friends who didn't divorce her and abandon their children.


@7 Jinxie. Getting pissed off after reading only one's side version about anything is a good way to be pissed off for the rest of your life.


This could be my ex. He also discarded me and our kids when a shiny new rando came along to stroke his ego. He also has paid nothing in child support. And he was suddenly, deeply apologetic and "never stopped loving" me after it was clear that I had moved on and wasn't pining for him.

It's just another version of the shitty, destructive headgames he played for years. Another way to get in my head, make me doubt myself and to keep me thinking of him.

LW, you owe him nothing. However, if it would be in the best interests of you and your kids to clear the air between you and maintain a cordial relationship, do it. But you set the boundaries. I thought of my kids trying to figure out if they could invite both of us (and our partners) to their future graduation or wedding or whatever and I decided a speaking-terms relationship with my ex was worth it if it saved them that angst. My kids, my wellbeing, those are my priorities. Not him.


What's best for the kids? (This is a genuine question. I don't know whether it's better for the children for their father to be in their lives).

@3. Dadddy. When SPOUS said that she would have appreciated some 'support' from her ex, I think she meant financial, logistical, co-parenting support. She probably holds out no hope of getting 'emotional support' from him in her day-to-day life. I don't know whether this was what you meant.


What D @3? Not apologise for bailing on her and his children with her friend and push a reset button! No. This man failed his responsibilities, didn’t care if his family lived or died.
And he should apologise, as step no one. Otherwise how does the LW or their children know he knows he did wrong and won’t do it again.
My instincts around you keep getting proven. You just don’t get it, do you. This poor excuse for a father and husband deserves a slammed door in his face. He’s lucky this woman is trying to respond with thought and counsel.


Oh boy. As a formerly divorced person (my ex is deceased now, and amazingly not by my hand), I can say that I strongly disagree with Dan's advice. You need to make the Herculean effort to separate your relationship with your ex from your kids' relationship with their father. Their hurt is different from your hurt, and their hurt is hopefully (with time and effort from their dad) reparable, while yours is... irrelevant. Your job is to be courteous and foster a healthy and living relationship between your kids and their dad. Sometimes this means eating shit and staying silent about your feelings. You don't need to take abuse - in fact, drawing exceptional boundariesfor yourself, and showing your kids how to draw firm boundaries, is a must. But you do need to let go of the idea that your kids' relationship with their dad is in any way tied to yours.


I’m both in agreement and not with Chilifries @14. Yes to the strong boundaries, yes to making sure that the kids are #1 in this calculation, no on that LW’s feelings are irrelevant.

Like it or not, all of our life experiences as kids are somehow curated by adults. If LW is always on hostile terms with the ex, no matter how hard she tries to swallow it down, the kids will pick up on that damaging situation. Likewise, if dad makes more promises he doesn’t intend to keep, like child support or visits, that’s more damage. And as the primary caretaker, the kids’ experiences are curated by or through her. That means her hurt is very relevant.

I think LW needs two pros in her life right now: a good lawyer and a good therapist. The lawyer to protect her kids’ legal and financial well-being (aka child support and a reasonable, achievable, and humane custody or visitation agreement) and the therapist to help her deal with being mad as hell at the jerk who ran out on his shared responsibilities and children and left her with all the work. (Once more for the people in the back, if your spouse is a horrible human being, you STILL do not walk out on your school age children. You be an adult and divorce or separate, and you be their parent.)


I feel very strongly that she should reach out to him--through a lawyer, for back alimony and child support. The lawyer may also recommend the involvement of a sheriff or appropriate LEO, depending on the situation and the law where she resides.

How could this not be the first part of any answer involving this situation? (Assuming that he has not contributed any alimony or child support, which is implicit but not spelled out in the letter.)


@7 - Also add in multiple trips to the court (in the state/county where the divorce papers were signed, which in our case was nearly cross-country) to fight for that child support every time the arse in question stopped paying. We never did get the full amount that was owed to us.

@14 - Our mother did a remarkable job in keeping her feelings about our father to herself. She didn't talk shit about him, or share any details of the divorce. (We figured out the CPOS issue ourselves, especially since the mistress squirted out a kid before the ink had even dried on the papers.) It was entirely his fault that our relationship with him floundered. He just didn't care enough to call and/or write. I tried to re-establish some kind of contact when I was in high school, but the hurt was just too deep. Especially when he tried to foist the responsibility for the lack of contact onto my shoulders. Because a 9 yo child should take the lead on that, right?

Sorry. This has dragged up some shit, obviously. LW - proceed with caution. Chances are he is indeed the narcissistic prick you take him as, and he just wants something from you. If he shows a genuine desire to maintain a relationship with your kids, please do what you can to encourage it. But don't be surprised when he walks away again. Because I can almost guarantee that he will.


A quote from Harriet Lerner:

If you're going to open up a conversation with a family member who has harmed you, of course you want an honest apology, you want that person to really get it, to feel regret and remorse.

But the more serious the harm, the less likely that will happen.

In order to apologize for a serious harm, a person needs to have a big platform of self-worth to stand on. From this higher vantage point they can look out at their mistakes and see them as part of a larger, complex, ever-changing picture of who they are as a human being.

But people who do serious harm stand on a small rickety platform of self-worth. They can’t allow themselves to really experience the harm they’ve done because to do so would flip them into an identity of worthless and shame.

The worse the harm, the greater the shame, the more the wrongdoer will wrap himself tightly in a blanket of rationalization, minimization and denial.


Sorry to hear you and your family were so cruelly treated Sangu.
Interesting, Absent Minded Professor, because it sure baffles me that nine years on my ex still hasn’t seen how destructive to his relationships with his children his behaviour was or really seem to care. He tries to connect with our now adult children, via phone/ texts, as if nothing happened.


Here, if a guy doesn't pay child support, the legal system Will come and take his firniture. How is that not a thing Everywhere?


@20 it requires the person seeking child support to file for it and get the government to go after the other parent for it. wages can only be garnished if the person is working, earning a certain amount, and reporting it to the government as earned income.


Dan is definitely right that you should use your words, and some of those words should be "time to start forking over for child support". I'm assuming from the start of your letter that he hasn't been providing any support because, well, it says there wasn't any support. This isn't to be mean or get back at him, this is his legal obligation to his kids. It also gives him a way to apologize and back up that apology with some actions to remedy the harm he caused. If he accepts this and does his best to meet his responsibilities, it'd be a good foundation to work forward on. If he doesn't, and this makes you want to have nothing to do with him, well, maybe that's not a bad thing either.


I'm gonna disagree with chilifries @14. Your obligation as a parent is to put your children first - and pushing them to reconcile with a bad parent is just doing them more damage and setting them up to accept shitty behavior in their romantic partners as adults. She shouldn't actively sabotage their relationship, but she also should NOT be trying to justify his behavior to them, gaslighting them "no, your father really loves you... he just abandoned you because... because you can love your kids and abandon them for new booty," guilting them about not wanting to see him, etc.

Unless he's shown deep remorse for what he did to the kids and a serious commitment to repairing the damage he's done by abandoning them, she shouldn't let him back in their lives. It's just going to mess the kids up more.


This seems like his guilty conscience talking. If he can be friends with you, then what he did wasn't that bad. You're not obligated to give him that satisfaction. At minimum, as others have said, he needs to put his money where his mouth is. But even if he does, you don't owe him gratitude or friendship in return.


14 is right. This should be about coparenting and what’s good for the kids, not her rehashing her hurt at the divorce and punishing him. It is troubling that her first response to his outreach is to make it all about her and her relationship with him. Their marriage is over. Their job together now is to raise these children as coparents not in a romantic relationship.

He needs to get paying on child support. She needs to get some counseling to deal with her unresolved grief and anger and set whatever boundaries she needs with him unrelated to co-parenting but learn how to work constructively with him together for the children’s welfare. That is what these children need and will serve them the best in the long run.

His cheating on her bears little or no relevancy to his ability to be a good parent. These are separate issues. He has to own his parenting absence (and it sounds like he’s trying to rectify it) but she has to recognize that her hostility and her apparent viewing of the children as sharing her own wronged status might well have been contributing factors.


I agree with @14. chilifries in saying that she should do what's right for her kids. Normatively this will involve their having some relationship with their father--but, in many cases, a father's actions can jettison what would ordinarily be his right, and he doesn't deserve and his children don't need any contact with him.

This particular issue is clouded by the LW thinking more about her own feelings than about her kids' ongoing needs in respect of how she should act towards her ex. But this is understandable: he has just turned up again after disappearing; she is writing to Dan spontaneously and in shock, not necessarily expecting an answer, and Dan is more of a sex- and relationships- and feelings-counselor than a parenting guru (but he's also a parenting guru, right?). I'd feel that, in time, the lw will be able to take a step back and consider her children's needs separately from hers. As far as the rights and wrongs of the breakup go, people will have a tendency to superimpose some of the details of their own end-of-marriage stories onto the case, and to attach these to their sexual politics. We don't know what happened.... But--I will say--if there are two sides to every story on cheating and marital breakdown, there would seem to be only the facts on one partner just bailing, just abandoning.


@25. alanmt. 'His cheating ... bears little or no relevancy to his ability to be a good parent'. Yes and no. He could be a narcissistic prick in the sense of being disposed to cheat whenever someone else has a more ego-flattering view of him, and also a narcissist in only being able to sustain a relationship with his kids while he has their admiration. Or not. There's not enough backstory in the letter to know. I noticed the same thing as you about the letter making things about their (over, exhausted) romantic relationship--but think this is a first reaction, and am not troubled in the same way.


For me the conversation starts with "Pay child support for three months and then we can talk." Let him know that this is the only way that he can prove he's worth the conversation about his role going forward. Your anger should be diminished a bit if he follows through and then you can have the talk more calmly while still expressing how much you were hurt.


@25. alanmt. 'His cheating ... bears little or no relevancy to his ability to be a good parent'.

Maybe, but the fact that he abandoned his children sure as shit does.


First thought: Lawyer! Lawyer! See a lawyer! That's becoming my favorite go-to default comment these days.

Second thought: Xina got it right straight off the bat. Then Lava followed with the idea that something might be up, like the ex jumped on the lawyer idea and is working on something that will work to his advantage, not yours.

Then I followed along as we all tried to figure out what would be best for the kids and decided that we don't know. I can attest that the children will be naturally disposed towards thinking the best of their father and may have to learn the hard way that he's a horror show. I like Larrystone's idea of letting him prove himself first but see problems with that too. The problem with short achievable goals is that the horrorshow tends to see them as only short term: "Hey, I paid child support for 3 months. What more do you want? Now you owe me friendship and a great relationship."


I'm concerned about exposing her kids to being abandoned again by him, particularly if he can't apologize. So fuck the reset button.

I like Step 1 being back alimony and child support. With these, I hope he doesn't automatically get more access to the kids than is in their best interests.


Courts in my state don't allow custodial parents to condition visitation on payment of child support, so she should definitely consult a lawyer before adopting any advice like that. Custodial interference is serious stuff.

@27 Harriet It certainly is a common human reaction and many parents do get over it and learn to deal.

@29 Traffic Agreed. And he needs to be responsible for that. But as I noted, these situations are sometimes more complicated and the fault not completely one-sided. His efforts to reconnect should be encouraged, even though whether they will continue long-term is not yet clear.

And she is under no obligation to be friends with him if it is emotionally uncomfortable for her. Co-parenting can be done effectively by text and email. There is no reason to go to lunch if she doesn't want to. Social engagements like joint attendance at birthday parties and weddings can be cordial and respectful without requiring undesired interaction.


I am just now cluing in that they may have no legal arrangement at all regarding custody and child support. If that's true, I would keep it that way. Don't press for child support if you can afford not to -- you don't want to get into a custody battle with a guy who doesn't want his kids in the first place, but will use them as leverage.


Yes, this man is not to be trusted, that’s my take. Now he wants to corroborate about the children? I’d be asking why is he suddenly interested in his children when for the last x years he didn’t give a toss about them. Did the gf dump him or is she still in the picture and this is something they have cooked up together. Be careful LW. He’s already shown you who he is.


It sounds to me like this is maybe a separation or divorce without thoroughly negotiated child support or custody. Perhaps they did the divorce without lawyers somehow. Or perhaps they never even got legally divorced or separated in the first place -- the ex could have moved out without any legal filings. If this is the case, I agree that the LW's first step should certainly be seeing an attorney. Who knows what the ex is going to do in the future. Even if he's not planning anything, it's a good idea to have a lawyer inform you of your options. Certainly, avoid a custody battle if you can, but be informed.


@33 Yikes, this is not good advice. Without a custody arrangement, he could just pick up the kids one day, take them out of state, and she'd have little recourse. A custody arrangement protects both her and the kids. And the support money is rightfully theirs; telling her not to press for it if she can afford not to just reinforces the idea that it's somehow punishing the father ("putting him on child support") as opposed to, you know, asking him to fulfill the bare minimum of his parental obligations.


Lawyer up.


I'm with everyone saying "lawyer;" there's not nearly enough here for anyone to offer informed legal opinions even if we're otherwise qualified.

What I can say is that there's nothing INHERENT to a relationship with someone's male progenitor that's necessary or beneficial; remove any worries about "denying the kids a relationship with their father" because doing so is not inherently bad (if their father is a giant POS, protecting them from him is all the better). That's a common myth that abusive assholes exploit (not just in this context - abusive grandparents LOVE using that myth to try to gain access to their children or grandchildren in order to abuse them further). You need a legal custody arrangement that 1) protects the kids' interests, 2) protects your interests/feelings, and 3) protects his feelings/interests, in that order.

@14: As a child of parents who divorced late in my childhood (and noting that my perspective is biased, though on average, chdren whose parents divorced tend to have similar views when the topic comes up in web fora), touching on points several others have noted…

"Their hurt is different from your hurt"

I'm with you so far.

"and their hurt is hopefully (with time and effort from their dad) reparable"

That depends very much on the context; if their dad is a bad person in any significant way, I'd say the hurt is hopefully NOT reparable, as his influence is likely to also lead the kids toward being bad people in similar ways or harmed by his bad behavior.

"while yours is... irrelevant."

I disagree completely. The hurting partner's (or partners' - more than one party can be hurt by a breakup) pain is relevant to them and also people who care about them, which usually includes one's offspring. This is one case where adults pervasively underestimate how observant children are: if you're unhappy, your kids probably notice, even if you're trying to pretend otherwise.

I agree with the intent to prioritize the kids' well-beings, but the way many people actually try to do that often winds up being counterproductive (because humans are always somewhat solipsistic, and most of our cultural myths about how human brains - thus emotions - work are wrong in significant ways).

"Your job is to be courteous and foster a healthy and living relationship between your kids and their dad."

No, that's their dad's job.

"Sometimes this means eating shit and staying silent about your feelings."

Maybe. You SHOULDN'T lie about or hide Dad's BEHAVIOR (neither to make him look better nor worse), and if your kids ask how feel about it, I think it's probably a good idea to tell them a developmentally-appropriate version of the truth. On the other hand, if you're upset about something that's not so much harmful (wouldn't be considered such by most other people) as it is disappointing your personal expectations/desires, your kids aren't the appropriate audience for talking about that (a therapist or friends are). THAT said, you shouldn't hide malicious behavior nor your feelings about it, even if it might not bother other people (e.g. intentionally doing something you hate but most other people wouldn't), because it's important for children to understand that their parent is a malicious POS when that's actually the case so that they don't grow up thinking malicious behavior is normal/acceptable.

For example, if the kids are begging for dad to take them on some kind of outing, but he can't be trusted to not get, say, irresponsibly drunk or not abuse them (he lacks unsupervised custodial access), they should know why, else they might idolize him (being shielded from seeing his problem behaviors) and vilify the person actually looking out for them, which only increases the odds they'll run away to seek him out or go along with him if he abducts them. I have no idea if this particular situation poses that sort of risk, but I've seen it enough (and heard about it far too much) to make my general advice that which errs on the side of caution.

"You don't need to take abuse - in fact, drawing exceptional boundaries for yourself, and showing your kids how to draw firm boundaries, is a must. But you do need to let go of the idea that your kids' relationship with their dad is in any way tied to yours."

I'm back with you, and I think that last sentence contradicts several of the preceding sentences.


@38 John Horstman
Great Comment, JH!

"...where adults pervasively underestimate how observant children are: if you're unhappy, your kids probably notice, even if you're trying to pretend otherwise."

Yes, and well-stated.

I'm guessing it's easy for people who aren't that self-aware (which is a lot of people) to underestimate how aware other humans are.


The letter writer should avoid any communication with her ex that isn't just logistics about the kids. He abandoned them and she's finally getting better. He's back now because he realizes she's okay without him and isn't going to keep chasing after him. He gets off on the triangulation and attention. Perhaps things didn't work out with his new fling. Or perhaps they're still together and want to play happy family, using the kids as props to show what great people they are. That's messed up in its own right, but it doesn't necessitate the letter writer's participation. Whether the ex knows or admits it, he is trying to reopen her wound to feel central and important again. He does not care about the kids, which is why he was able to abandon them in the first place. He is using them to pull the letter writer back in, to manipulate her. Naturally, she doesn't want her kids to feel the sting of abandonment, nor does she want to appear bitter by limiting his access to them. But she should be prepared for his interest in them to taper back off whenever he's gotten what he's currently after, and for it to be traumatizing for them.

Yes, I'm reading into the situation and generalizing. I don't know the guy. There could be all kinds of untold factors in play. But this is how it goes the vast majority of the time, and the letter writer should consider that before ceding the progress she's made.

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