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Carolyn Hax: She’s keeping the kids from their dad and his ‘mistress’

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
5 min

Dear Carolyn: My husband of 20 years announced to me last year that he would start dating other women because I was “neglecting” our marriage. (I take care of kids and have part-time jobs — I’m busy!) I didn’t take him seriously and saw it as yet another attempt of his to get me to reestablish intimacy with him at a level I find unreasonable. He had a problem with sleeping in separate rooms, but it’s an arrangement that was better for my mental well-being.

We were raising several school-aged children together in relative harmony, although I’m in charge of finances and itineraries because I don’t trust him with money or planning; he is the primary earner. He helps the kids with after-school activities and bedtime routine when I’m at work.

Well, he met someone. Apparently a single mom who is fine with dating a married man with children. I sent her a message telling her to back off and that what she was doing was reprehensible, but I was ignored.

I kicked him out and said I wanted a divorce. Now he expects to have the kids stay over at his current home — the mistress’s house! It’s been several months and I’ve accepted that he’s gone, but I don’t think he should get to swoop in wanting shared placement when I’ve been the primary parent all these years, giving up my career to take care of kids. And to have them be around his mistress is simply inappropriate.

He refuses to agree to my proposed placement plan that is consistent and reasonable. I'm being forced to fight in court.

I’ve put the older children in therapy and I’m seeing a therapist myself. Obviously lawyers are involved. But I’m so angry he’s turned into such a walking midlife crisis who left his family to shack up with a morally questionable woman for what I’m sure is sex. He honestly disgusts me, and I’m glad to be free of him.

But his constant demands to uproot the kids out of the home they know and love are creating stress for everyone, including the kids. How can I make him see there are natural consequences to his actions? How do I shield the kids from his dubious choices?

— Refusing to Be a Victim

Refusing to Be a Victim: So you want everything but the blame.

Let's imagine the story from his side:

When we had kids, my wife made them her mission, even quitting her career. Great for them, lonely for me.

I tried many times to reestablish the intimacy of our marriage, but she told me I was being “unreasonable.”

I also tried to immerse myself in the kids — not only because I love them and I wanted to, but also to stay close to my wife. We could be all-in on our family together. But she boxed me out, saying she didn’t “trust” me on big stuff. I could “help” in her absence after school and at bedtime — and to pay for everyone. I felt like a wallet.

She moved into her own bedroom for her “mental well-being.” Mine was not considered.

In desperation after years of marital neglect, I told my wife I was going to date other women. Not my proudest moment, but I didn’t know how else to get through to her and didn’t want to leave her, the kids or our family. She brushed me off and accused me of trying to blackmail her.

Well, I met someone. Again, not my proudest moment, but I feel human and wanted again.

This time, she took me seriously — by divorcing me.

It’s probably for the best, since we had no marriage left. But she’s enraged and refuses to share custody of the kids. She treats my partner like a tramp and positions herself as my victim, despite my begging her for years to work with me on our marriage.

I’m worried she’ll poison the kids against me; I’m their father and I love them, but that doesn’t impress her. It’s all about what a saint she is and what scum I am. Tough on me, terrible for the kids.

Her refusal to let the kids stay with me and my partner has forced me to take her to court. That is emphatically not how I want this to go, but she won’t budge. Do you see any other options?

Me again. Per your letter, the facts support this imagined husband’s perspective. So please be open to its message, that your “refus[al] to be a victim” crusade comes across as the cherry on a decade-plus sundae of erasing your children’s dad.

You don’t have to like him, or his “mistress,” or what he did. You don’t have to resign as primary parent.

You just have to accept he’s their father, as much “the home they know and love” as any structure. At least run it by your therapist, please. And from there, consider that if the “mistress” is kind to or even just responsible with your kids, then cooperating will be less harmful than dragging their dad through the courts.