Kamloops Daily News

September 8, 2001

Dads miss chance to fight unfair system by choosing wrong champion

Susan Duncan is the Editor of The Daily News.
Kamloops Daily News

So the father who refuses to pay child support because he believes he answers to a higher power than the courts will get out of jail before agreeing to follow the laws the rest of us must obey.

The judge blinked first apparently. But is his decision right or wrong? There are many ways of looking at it.

I confess I have purposely held off commenting on Jeffrey Unruh’s case. I wasn’t anxious to release the flood of e-mails and letters that will fly in from across Canada by a well-organized group of people who cannot tolerate any opposition to their viewpoint.

The last time I wrote about men who do not pay child support there was a letter-writing campaign like none other than I have experienced before. The letters and e-mails were insulting, nasty and intimidating. They purposely misconstrued what had actually been written to suit their own positions. They made personal comments, assuming they knew all about me and how I would handle a marital break-up and custodial issues.

They were wrong, but I knew then why these people had failed in their personal relationships and had not been able to work out custody agreements with their children. They believe to get their way, they must intimidate and be intolerant to compromise.

It’s an unfortunate attitude because they are right on one important count. The family law system is terribly flawed in how it copes with family breakdowns and custodial decisions. Fathers often lose out for no other reason than in the event of a tie, the decision goes to the mother.

Mothers who use their children to punish fathers who left them or who they consider nothing more than a bank are not dealt with properly by the courts. Time and time again, fathers complain to the courts about access problems and the judges scold the mother, but don’t follow through with the penalties needed. These are deadbeat moms who deserve to go to jail until they follow the law.

But then there are the fathers who don’t pay child support and who don’t show up to take their children on their scheduled days and who cause nothing but grief for the women who are doing their best to raise the children they had together. These are deadbeat dads who also deserve to go to jail until they follow the law.

Jeffrey Unruh is a deadbeat dad. Yet, he is the man that some men have chosen as their champion. In Kamloops, Parents of Broken Families are solidly behind Unruh. He’s a hero because he has not paid child support to the tune of $150,000 for his five children. His ex-wife has handled all the financial needs of those children.

Who does Jeffrey Unruh think he has punished? And as for his ridiculous contention that his Christian beliefs make it impossible for him to agree to pay child support, well that argument is so full of holes it would taken 10 columns to tear it apart.

For one thing, he is remarried. How did he reconcile that with his strong Christian beliefs? You would think if he couldn’t pay child support it would be because he believed he was still married in the eyes of God to his first wife.

Unruh is simply a stubborn man who believes he is above the law. He has been able to hide his income from the courts so a lien cannot be made against his personal worth. Jail was the only option for the courts. However, that is a costly proposition for taxpayers if Unruh was to spend the rest of his life in jail.

Still, the emotional reaction is to say let him stay there. The practical reaction may be what the judge did this week. He converted Unruh’s indefinite sentence to 30 days with an order that he re-appear in court in his home county of Prince George in December to review with a judge what his plans are for making good on his outstanding debt. Maybe he will end up in jail again.

Who cares. He’s no hero, he’s a man who has not treated his children fairly.

There are no easy answers in family breakups. Unless parents can work together to share custody, there will be winners and losers. How does a court decide who should get the kids, all things being equal?

Forced mediation is one option, but the likelihood of success is slim to none in many cases if the tension is high between the two parties. One of the most painful experiences a person goes through is a divorce and it’s made worse if there are feelings of betrayal involved.

It’s tough for a mother or father to see their children continue to love a person who has hurt them so badly, but it’s their right and they are right to love both parents.

It seems to be an impossible lesson for so many parents to learn, but rarely is denying them access to their mom or dad or financial assistance what’s best for them.