April 5, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
My last post was about Canadian Jeramey A. whose relationship with his children, his financial well-being and eventually his life, were all destroyed by a vindictive ex-wife and a family court that did her bidding. Now we learn that exactly that outcome (albeit not in any specific case) was predicted by a Canadian family lawyer way back in the late 1990s (Huffington Post Canada, 3/30/17). Here’s what attorney Karen Selick says now:
I practised family law from 1985 to 2009 and was never so relieved in my life as when I finally stopped. At last, my adrenal glands could cease to work overtime; the perpetual knot in my stomach could relax. Truly, it's a horrible occupation.
But from that vantage point, there were things that I was easily able to predict. One of them was that some men would be driven to suicide by the burdens the law thrust upon them.
Is hers just a case of 20/20 hindsight? No, it turns out Selick told the committee holding hearings on making changes to child support guidelines the exact same thing she now writes in HuffPo.
I raised this issue in April 1998 before the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, when they were examining the effects of the then new Child Support Guidelines.
This was part of her testimony then:
"With increasing frequency, we hear news stories about people who kill their spouses, their children and themselves, often in situations where they are recently separated. I believe these guidelines will contribute towards that tragic trend. I think they will push more people to murder and suicide. Other people will be driven to leave the country, or to vanish into the underground economy.
We may never see the statistics to support these predictions I'm making, because the reasons why people do these things are hard to capture in a database, but I know how my clients are reacting to the news I give them when they ask me what their rights and obligations are. I worry about them."
When speaking to Christie Blatchford, Jeramey A.’s wife called him an “emasculated man.” The guidelines Selick refers to took more money from him than he could possibly pay and, when he didn’t, took his occupational licenses, driver’s license, passport and other things necessary to earn a living. And, just for good measure, the family court judge turned a blind eye to his ex’s alienation of his children. That all drove him to take his own life. Selick tells us that outcome was not only predictable, but predicted. I’d go her one better; I’d say the guidelines were designed, if not to kill, then at least to financially ruin non-custodial fathers and the rare non-custodial mother. The obvious point of the guidelines is to transfer wealth from fathers to mothers. (Alimony laws are more of the same.)
We know this because child support laws bear little relation to what’s needed to support children. Four years ago, this blog was pleased to publish an article by Lucien Khodeir, perhaps the single most knowledgeable person about Canada’s child support laws. Back in 1998, Karen Selick was far from alone in warning authorities of the dangers of the new guidelines.
Here’s how Khodeir described the assumptions made by the guidelines back in March, 2013:
According to the report, the Formula assumes that the child-support recipient (Recipient)
- earns whatever income the child-support payer (Payer) earns,
- spends all her time and the Payer spends no time with the child,
- incurs all child-related expenses and the Payer incurs no child-related expenses,
- spends a prescribed percentage of her income in child-related expenses, and
- resides only with the child and the Payer resides alone.
Now, any adult can see that those assumptions are most likely untrue in the great majority of cases. Plus, none of them needs to be assumed; any judge can ascertain the facts about who spends what amount of time with the child, who spends how much money on the child, etc. So there’s no need to assume those facts and doing so absolutely guarantees that most cases will be wrongly decided.
Most importantly, those assumptions all tend to do one thing – increase the amount of child support paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. Of course, since about 90% of non-custodial parents in Canada are fathers, it’s apparent that the guidelines have more to do with transferring wealth from fathers to mothers than with supporting children.
Khodeir made the same point in more detail in his piece for this blog.
One year later, the non-partisan think tank, the Fraser Institute, concluded much the same as had Khodeir.
"The guidelines in Canada focus solely on the income of the non-custodial parent and explicitly ignore circumstances that intact families get to consider, such as government child benefits, age of the child, decisions on extraordinary expenses, and family financial constraints," said Christopher Sarlo, economics professor at Nipissing University and Fraser Institute senior fellow.
"The guidelines also ignore all non-custodial parenting costs, any new partners of the parents, and most importantly, the fact that children are not just costs. Consequently, the formula overcompensates most custodial parents for child-rearing costs."
Finally, the Fraser Institute pointed out that the guidelines have no empirical economic basis.
Remarkably, as the Fraser Institute study says, those guidelines were not when they were promulgated, and still aren’t based on any economic research or data.
"With a divorce rate close to 40 per cent and 70,000 divorces every year, these issues should cause political leaders and policy-makers substantial concern. We have a mandatory set of rules impacting hundreds of thousands of Canadian families that are not based on any economic studies on the cost of raising children," Sarlo said.
All of this was perfectly clear back in 1998 when the guidelines were being studied and Karen Selick made her appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. So how did the members respond? Here’s Senator Marjorie LeBreton:
"What upsets me is the tone, and raising the spectre of murder, suicide and fleeing the country. While you may hear of incidents like that, I would not want to see that become the overriding event. I believe these incidents are few and far between, and I hate to see that kind of language used in hearings such as this where we are attempting to deal with reasonable people coming to a reasonable solution in the interests of children."
Well, we certainly don’t want to use language that might upset a member of the committee, now would we. Fathers committing suicide? That’s not as important. Neither is the fact that the guidelines are specifically designed to do financial injustice to fathers. Neither is the fact that they’re based on no empirical evidence whatsoever. No, what’s important are the tender ears of adults on the committee.
And that’s why I wrote on Monday that Jeramey A.’s suicide and his note accompanying his body were both in vain. When we have ideologues like LeBreton deciding who pays what in child support, I suspect that nothing much matters except the flow of money from fathers to mothers. Indeed, I suspect that that is the whole point of the guidelines. Why else would they be designed as they are?
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Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
#childsupport, #suicide, #LucienKhodeir, #KarenSelick