May 11, 2001 Halifax Herald

Justice needed in marriage breakups

Recently I read an article in the April 2001 issue of the Reader's Digest (originally published by the National Post) about marital vengeance that profoundly shocked me. In "Myth of the Deadbeat Dad" Donna Laframboise articulates in clear and precise terms the fact that many men are being unfairly and cruelly victimized after family breakups by disgruntled ex-spouses, who use the less-than-well-thought-out legal tools of a so-called "just society" for the purpose. The fact that society is permitting itself to be used in such a manner is reprehensible.

Let’s start by making a flat out statement that the overwhelming majority of divorced or separated fathers are not deadbeat, but make every effort, depending on their level of poverty, to provide support to dependents from broken marriages. The irresponsible among them, who use every means possible not to pay, would not pay anyway. Because of the sins of these deadbeats, all Fathers should not be negatively stereotyped and placed in a position where a revengeful ex can literally end their lives. These two quotes from Laframboise's article relate how and why a man can be driven to it:

"In July 1999, in a rundown part of Regina, a 39-year-old divorced father (at the request of his family, to protect the children, his name is withheld) tied a rope around his neck and hanged himself in his basement....

“He worked as a mechanic. In addition to his children, he left behind grieving parents and siblings. And a two page suicide note. "Since the separation, I tried my best to support my children and make a living. The end result was that it forced me into bankruptcy.... This is the only solution because I see absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel.'"

"In October 1995 Andrew Renouf of Markham Ont., left a similar suicide note. Describing how the Ontario government had seized all but 43 cents from his bank account on pay day three days earlier, he wrote: "I have no money for food or for gas for my car to enable me to work." He had tried to explain his situation to the child-support enforcement officer, he said. "Several times their answer was "We have a court order." I have tried talking to the welfare people in Markham, [but] since I earned over $520. in the last month, I am not eligible for assistance."

“Renouf said in his note that he had had no contact with his daughter in four years. "I do not even know if she is alive and well," it read. "There is no further point in continuing my life. It is my intention to drive to a secluded area, feed the gas exhaust into the car, take some sleeping pills and use the remaining gas in the car to end my life. I would have preferred to die with more dignity."

These are not unusual cases. I'll cite one more from Laframboise's article that underlines explicitly just how illogically stupid the present system is:

"Ignoring realities. The chief financial officer of a prominent corporation--we'll call him Michael--has his own tale to tell about the unresponsiveness of the child support system.

“In the fall of 1999, three Ontario Court of appeal judges rejected Michael's plea to reduce his family support payments. In their view, there was no reason why someone with a total income of more than $158,000 a year shouldn't continue paying $7,153 to his former wife each month-$4,153 in child support, plus $3,000 in alimony.

“The problem is that this represents 96 percent of Michael's monthly take home pay from his job. After making his court-ordered payments, Michael is left with $302. a month on which to live. In Toronto, even a single man on welfare is allotted more--$520 a month."

Who's the eventual winner here? The truth is no one. The children suffer the loss of a loved one when Dad kills himself or disappears, or security when he goes bankrupt. The vengeful ex-spouse winds up on welfare and lives in second- rate accommodations with the already distraught children. And, negatively for the taxpayer, the State has to pick up the tab for something that probably wouldn't have cost it anything if it had been handled correctly in the first place.

What created the present problem is that governments, as is the custom in this country, over-reacted to the protestations of special interest groups and formulated policy based on the propaganda that these outfits issue. That propaganda, if taken literally, would lead one to conclude that almost every man abuses his wife and kids. Such is utter folly. The injustice created is not defensible.

A new approach is badly needed. Except for an abusive parent, joint custody must be awarded when marriages fail. Neither parent should be left in a position where they call all the shots and the other waits in trepidation for the next financial assault. Child support payments need to be based upon the person's ability to pay, not some fantasy dreamed up by a judge or social worker.

Laframboise closes with this comment: "Father’ isn't just another word for cash-dispensing machine. It’s time our courts, our laws and our bureaucracies started treating divorced men like the full-fledged parents their children deserve."

Logic, humanity and common sense dictate that the present system be replaced with one based on compassion and fairness for all.

Daniel N. Paul


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