National Post

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Tuesday, March 28, 2000

How to end the war against divorced dads
Donna Laframboise
National Post

Over the past three days, the National Post has examined the myth of the "deadbeat dad." We've shown how divorced fathers doing everything in their power to live up to their financial obligations are treated disgracefully by the authorities.

How can a system so badly flawed be fixed? How can we stop the misconceived war against divorced dads that is driving good men toward bankruptcy, despair and suicide?

A small number of changes would go a long way. But they demand courage on the part of politicians who need to realize that the feminist activists and bureaucrats who have been directing public policy on such matters care little about fairness or the best interests of children. They are, instead, intent on holding on to as many advantages as possible for women.

Two out of three divorces are sought by women. Most of these divorces involve no violence, substance abuse or adultery but are pursued for vaguer reasons such as a feeling that the spouses have "grown apart." While men usually ask for joint custody, women usually ask for sole custody -- and women get their way two-thirds of the time.

When a marriage breaks down, children's well-being is the primary consideration. A mother's wish to have a conveniently arranged life, to not be bothered interacting with her ex-husband, ranks way down any sensible list of priorities. Governments that truly care about children declare both parents equally important by making joint custody automatic after marital breakdown. (Couples with compelling arguments against such an arrangement -- for example, in instances of abuse -- are required to convince a court of the merits of a different one.)

In Sweden, where 80% of divorces now end in joint custody, child-support problems are almost non-existent. This is because, after that country stopped designating one parent as the primary breadwinner and the other as the primary caregiver, the only money that changes hands are funds the parties negotiate between themselves. Courts and government stay out of such matters.

In U.S. states where joint custody has become the law, the divorce rate has fallen. This is apparently because, once women get the message that they won't be walking away with all the goodies (sole custody and a monthly support cheque), many try to work on their marriages rather than throwing them away like a tissue.

In addition to mandating joint custody, Parliament must ensure that divorced parents are treated no differently from married ones where the funding of post-secondary education is concerned. Most parents want to help their children attend university, but these should be private matters between parents and their children. No court should force a divorced parent to pay a bill that a married parent would never be compelled to pay.

Provincially, it should be the law that all parents are entitled to their children's school records as well as medical information. If a divorced parent poses a risk to his children, such information could be restricted. Currently, most non-custodial parents are being denied this information by schools and doctors because a small minority of divorced parents happen to be psychopaths.

In instances in which one parent pays the other child support, calculations of amounts owing should be based on the payor's net income rather than on the gross income now relied on by the federal child support guidelines. At the high end of the income ladder, these amounts need to bear some relationship to the actual costs of raising children.

Just as we worry about welfare recipients becoming dependent on monthly cheques, we need to be aware that large child support payments (not to mention spousal support) can discourage women from becoming self-supporting members of society. Moreover, just as a small percentage of people receiving social assistance scam the system, a small number of custodial mothers cash support cheques to which they are no longer entitled. The government should warn people that this is fraud -- and should prosecute offenders.

Finally, communication between child support collection agencies and other parts of government has to become a two-way street. Right now, the support collection agency talks to the transportation ministry so drivers' licences can be suspended. It talks to lottery officials so winnings can be seized. It talks to Revenue Canada and the passport office.

There's no reason on Earth, therefore, why the Employment Insurance office can't send a notice to the child support collection agency informing them a support payor has lost his job and therefore needs his support adjusted downward for a while. Nor is there any reason why it can't send another notice when the man gets back on his feet and stops receiving assistance.

"Father" isn't just another word for a 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.




RELATED SITES:

(Each link opens a new window)



FATHER FRIENDLY ORGANIZATIONS

  • American Coalition for Fathers and Children

    A well funded, well organized American lobby group.

  • Children's Rights Council
    "Works to assure children meaningful and continuing contact with both their parents."

  • Dads Can

    An organization devoted to encouraging involved fatherhood.

  • Dads Canada

    Strategies for men going through divorce.

  • Equitable Child Maintenance and Access Society

    Devoted to the well being of children from separated and divorced families.

  • Fathers Are Capable Too

    This site promotes the philosophy that = the best parent is both parents.

  • Fathers For Justice (no longer on-line)

    Attempts to assist non-custodial parents with divorce-related problems.

  • Men's Educational Support Association

    Devoted to educating and supporting fathers

  • The Second Wives Club

    A U.S.-based online community for step moms and second wives.

  • Shared Parenting

    A site dedicated to issues affecting non-custodial parents.

    FATHER FRIENDLY RESOURCES

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution Resources

    An American site geared to solving problems outside the courtroom, via mediation.

  • Balance: The Inclusive Vision of Gender Equality

    Alberta-based on-line magazine.

  • The Child Support Guideline Problem

    A great research paper that critiques the guideline approach to child support.

  • Divorce for Men

    Run by Carey Linde, a Vancouver family law lawyer.

  • Everyman: A Men's Journal

    An online magazine devoted to men's issues.

  • Family Law Centre (updated link)

    Resources put together by Gene Colman, a Toronto family law lawyer.

  • The Liberator (updated)

    An American men's movement magazine.

  • Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology

    Run by child support expert Roger Gay.

  • Razberry.com (no longer on-line)

    The personal web site of National Post journalist Donna Laframboise

    OTHER RESOURCES

  • Child Support Canada

    A division of the Department of Justice, with links to Child Support guidelines and legislation.

  • Ontario Family Responsibility Office (changed ministries and websites)

    The provincial body that administers and enforces support agreements in Ontario. The site lists many of the means by which agencies chase support payers who are in arrears.

  • National Child Support Enforcement Association

    An American advocacy group for child support professionals.

  • Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (United States)

    At the bottom of this page is a series of useful studies on child support, including a pair on using private agencies to collect payments.


  • Selected Statistics on Canadian Families and Family Law

    November 1997 study compiled by the Department of Justice.

  • Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access (updates, contains report)

    Contains minutes of all meetings.

  • Status of Women Canada

    Federal government agency mandated to promote gender equality.

  • Joel Miller's Family Law Centre

    A large Canadian-based site with comprehensive links to family law guidelines and legislation.


  • The Children's Voice

    Advocates the dismantling of the adversarial system in Canadian family law.


  • Women's Justice Network (offline, now an Ontario-funded group)

    This page put together by a Canadian coalition of women's organizations discusses reactions to the Special Joint Committee on Custody and Access. Links to the dissenting reports of the Reform, NDP and Bloc Quebecois parties.

  • Spousal Support Under Canada's Divorce Act

    A brief look at the issue of spousal support and how the law treats it.


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