I was married for five years and had a son. We divorced a year ago, but started dating — again. She ended up pregnant — again. I asked for a DNA test before paying child support. They tested both kids and neither is mine.
I’m done with their mother and no longer want anything to do with either of these children, but I’m feeling a little guilty, especially because I’m the only father my oldest has ever known. What’s good ex-etiquette?
If you’re looking for me to say since the kids aren’t biologically yours, you’re off the hook, not only will I not say it, but legally, I can’t. Check this one to make sure, because laws are different from state to state, but my understanding is if you are married when a child is born, that child is legally yours. Not only that, but in some states if you are unmarried and hold the child out as yours for a period of time — in California, for example, the length of time is two years — then that child is also legally yours. Different circumstances may change this so — again — check with an attorney.
That covers the legality of your question. Now, let’s address good ex-etiquette.
Don’t let your anger over their mother’s betrayal color the love you have for two other human beings who look to you for love and support. You even said it yourself: “I’m the only father my oldest has ever known.”
You didn’t say, “the oldest,” you said, “my oldest.” This tells me that you think of this child as your child, so why would you ever bail on him just because his mother is a cheater? I do understand that staying in his life will mean that you will have to interact with his mother, and you may have to pay child support, but you also hopefully will be there to help mold a young man, teach him right from wrong and be the role model he will need as he grows up.
Notice I’m not talking about the youngest one. I don’t know if his father will be in the picture. It sounds like this is very early in the process, so you may not be financially responsible. However, if he is not, even if you don’t have to help support him financially, be aware that he will look to his brother’s father as a role model. You will impact his life whether you want to or not.
From an ex-etiquette standpoint, no matter what your ex has done, “good behavior after divorce or separation” means put the children first and don’t badmouth their mother (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule Nos. 1 and 3). She must live with herself and what she tried to pull.
If you do decide to go forward with staying in the child/children’s life, you may want to look into parallel parenting where you make the decisions on your own and don’t interact with the child’s other parent. I’m not a fan of this approach. It gets confusing for children when they go back and forth between parents who maintain their animosity for one another and have substantially different rules, but it is better than witnessing constant arguing. Do your best to “lead with love.” That’s good ex-etiquette.