Kamloops Daily News

August 4, 2001

Children suffered, ex-wife says

by Robert Koopmans
Kamloops Daily News

The children of a Dawson Creek man jailed indefinitely for not paying child support “suffered horribly” because their father stubbornly refused to obey the courts, the man’s ex-wife said Friday.

Reached by The Daily News in Fort McMurray, Alta., Susan (Parker) Lore said she has no desire to see Jeffrey Unruh in jail for not paying almost $150,000 in court-ordered child support. But she’s glad the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program and the courts are dealing with him seriously.

“We were left with no other option,” she said. “My children have the right to financial support and he’s denied them that.”

Unruh, 42, was cited with contempt of court and jailed indefinitely Wednesday because he refuses to pay. He was ordered in 1996 to pay $300 a month for each of his five children, plus $500 a month in spousal support.

Unruh claims his Christian beliefs do not allow him to abide by the court order, as he believes only God governs marriages and families.

Lore separated from Unruh in 1995, after 13 years of marriage. She said among other things, Unruh’s fervent religious beliefs were difficult to live with.

She asked him to leave the family house in Tumbler Ridge, which he did. Lore said at first, she wanted to share custody of the children with Unruh on a rotating four-day cycle. As well, she said she didn’t want child support from him.

But when Unruh failed to return the children to her on one occasion as previously agreed, she got nervous. After several days of being apart from her kids, she applied to a provincial court and was granted interim custody.

Unruh was given visitation rights, she said. But from the start, Unruh showed no desire to abide by the terms of the court order and frequently breached the access provisions, Lore said.

As a result, she was granted sole permanent custody in 1996, although the judge told Unruh he could apply for visitation. As well, Unruh was ordered to financially support his children.

Lore said Unruh made no effort to co-operate and she received no financial support from him. In fact, Unruh stymied an effort to renegotiate the mortgage on the family home to make it more affordable, by refusing to sign necessary documents, she claimed.

As a result, Lore said the bank foreclosed on the mortgage and she and the children were forced out of the house. She said Unruh moved back to his family’s home at Mile 17 of the Alaska Highway and left her with unpaid utility and credit card bills, as well a $25,000 debt related to the foreclosure.

Lore said at times, she was forced to depend on social assistance and food banks to support her family. At one point, she was working three jobs.

“Even $5 (from Unruh) would have helped out in those days,” she said. “

Lore said she met and married her new husband in Tumbler Ridge and the couple moved with her five children to Fort McMurray after Lore’s new husband lost his job.

Lore and her husband struggled to make ends meet, she said. As a result, the children were deprived of many extras and at times, came dangerously close to lacking the necessities as well.

“It was everything we could do to support our family. We were forced to depend on food banks sometimes. I am so grateful they were there for us,” she said.

Three tough years passed before the family’s finances improved. Now, her new husband has a management job and she is successfully selling real estate.

But that doesn’t mean she’s prepared to let Unruh off the financial hook. Lore said the outstanding debt — if ever collected — could finance her children’s future post-secondary educations.

Unruh also refused to abide by the court orders in other ways, Lore said. He has continually tried to visit the children without first trying to gain legal access via the courts. He’s been arrested several times as a result.

Lore said the constant fighting has proven emotionally tough on the children. And Lore’s oldest daughter has since moved from Fort McMurray to live with Unruh and refuses to speak with Lore, the after effect of the bitter family dispute.

“The whole situation is not healthy,” Lore said. “Jeff doesn’t want to deal with the courts or with me. He doesn’t want to share — this is about power. All of this could have been resolved long ago with compromise, but Jeff will not compromise.

“I think he will choose to rot in jail before he will pay.”

Meanwhile, Unruh will stay locked in a Kamloops prison until he agrees to deal with his debt. He will be brought before a B.C. Supreme Court judge once a week to see if he has changed his mind.

Aside from his religious conviction, Unruh also says he won’t pay because the family justice system is unnecessarily adversarial and pits parents against each other, to the detriment of children. He says he harbours no animosity to his ex-wife and is willing to support his children whenever they live with him.

A local men’s advocacy group has promised to support Unruh in his fight. Mickey Mac Millan, the president of Parents of Broken Families, said his group will mount a letter-writing campaign, a petition drive and possibly courthouse protests.