National Post

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Friday, April 30, 1999

Father hit with huge bill in child-support mixup
Love, marriage, fighting, paying: Records weren't updated

Donna Laframboise
National Post

Bill Howe, National Post / Wayne Sagle, shown with son Craig, was told by collection agency he owes $51,000.

Wayne Sagle, a self-employed building contractor in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. received the sort of phone call this week he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy.

Even though none of his three children have lived with his former wife since 1990, Mr. Sagle was told he owes $51,000 in child support for the past 10 years. He says he was told that if he didn't pay up, he would lose his driver's licence, his credit rating, and his personal belongings would be seized.

When their 14-year marriage broke down in the mid 1980s, Mr. Sagle's former wife, Elisa Rantala, retained custody of the couple's three children -- Melisa, Craig, and Daniel.

Mr. Sagle's work being both seasonal and sporadic, his former wife says he sometimes fell behind in his support payments, set at $125 per child. Eventually, she sought help in collecting from the Ministry of the Attorney-General. "It must have been about 10 years ago that I put my name in," she says.

Ms. Rantala remembers receiving only one letter from the ministry, shortly after she lodged the complaint. "I thought that was all cancelled or something. I didn't even realize it was going on anymore," she said.

Ms. Rantala admits that, by 1990, none of the children remained under her roof. Melisa had gone off to college and Craig and Daniel spent their teen years with their father and his current wife.

Neither Mr. Sagle nor Ms. Rantala went to the trouble of changing custody legally. Ms. Rantala made no financial contribution to the care of the children during those years.

But Mr. Sagle says the man on the other end of the phone earlier this week didn't care about any of this. He says the man, identifying himself only as Mr. Burton, led him to believe that he was calling from the Family Responsibility Office of the Ministry of the Attorney-General.

Mr. Burton, who declined to discuss the case and claimed it is against the law for him to provide his first name to the National Post, is actually an employee of Collectcorp Inc., a Toronto collection agency. It is one of three collection agencies participating in an Ontario government pilot project aimed at collecting child-support payments that have been in arrears for three or more years.

According to Mr. Sagle, Mr. Burton advised him to pay up and then hire a lawyer to sort out the misunderstanding in court. Mr. Sagle says he was told that the onus was on him to secure written acknowledgement from his former wife that custody had indeed changed back in 1990.

Mr. Sagle, 48, who resides in a trailer park, says he isn't in a position to pay. "We raised my [current] wife's two boys, too. We had four teenage boys for the last eight years. We were going through a $1,000 a month in groceries. I'm broke."

Nicholas Wilson, president of Collectcorp, declined to return calls from the National Post. Citing confidentiality concerns, his assistant refused to answer questions about company policy with respect to the way its employees identify themselves.

Brian Harrison, spokesman for the Family Responsibility Office, says the contract the collection agencies have signed with the government clearly states "that they are not to, in any way, give an impression that they represent the Ministry of the Attorney-General."

He says the government must work with the information supplied to them, even if that information is 10 years old. "So if custody changed and we were not notified, then we would have nothing to go on than to continue accruing the arrears."

Mr. Sagle should, says Mr. Harrison, contact him directly. "We can resolve this. The matter's being looked after."

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