Letter To: The Child Support Team, Department of Justice Canada
Victoria Men's Victoria Centre
December 8th., 1999
To: The Child Support Team
I read and re-read the Feedback Booklet a few times and could not understand for quite some time how to respond. My responses to most of the questions are not very detailed. Your front page itself appears to discourage fundamental analysis when it states that it is a "Review of Technical Issues". Much of what I am about to say applies to the very last question "any other comments?" because they are comments of a fundamental nature. We question the very foundation upon which the "Guidelines" are built. We believe that they discourage shared parenting, financial responsibility of both parents, they do not reflect the views of the majority of Canadians and finally ignore the long term best interests of children.
By way of introduction, I am President of the Victoria Mens Centre Society, a registered non-profit society. In order to keep in touch with men and their families, I have attend regularly over the last five to six years a help group called "Fathers for Equality", the founder of which group, David Campbell, has also authorized this letter. My comments are therefore based upon first hand practical experience in meeting hundreds of fathers, their current partners, sisters, grandparents, children and even their babies! We have not been able to capture data formally. In 13 years of operations we have never been able to receive a dollar of government funding. However both David and myself have some training in statistics, he as a forester, myself as a business student.
We question first of all the fundamental assumption of the Guidelines, that Child Support is the foremost concern for the Divorce Act and that children's family income should not be affect by divorce. I respectfully suggest that this can only been achieved by marginalising one parent. I attach the submission for F.A.C.T. in Toronto which we fully endorse (Attachment 1). Overall costs go up in the creation of two homes where previously there was only one. Both parents should shoulder the challenge of the decrease in income, not just the person whom you term the "paying parent". This is supported by the Divorce Act.
We suggest the wellbeing of children has been subverted to financial issues. We take it as written that the best interests of children of divorce are served by disturbing as little as possible their relationship with their parents. Children have a right to an ongoing parenting relationship with both their parents. This is becoming increasingly difficult. For low and middle income non-custodial parents, close to impossible. A recent study has suggested that the most important factor supporting healthy children is good parenting, not money.
Childcare costs are incurred by both parents. They are very similar despite what the 40% rule suggest. I attach a recent judgement (Attachment 2) which in our opinion shows the absurd extreme that a judge went in his use of the 40% rule..note that in fact the father was probably incurring greater child care costs. The 40% rule was applied according to whom the school telephoned on a particular day. The major portion of childcare costs is for accommodation, which is, incurred even for a once a month visit. The 40% rule should be repealed and replaced by the cost sharing based on the assumption of shared parenting or some method that reflects the real costs of both parents.
You should get a sense from the letter I wrote to the justice Minister fairly recently (Attachment 3) that for low to middle income men (most of the non-custodial parents are men as you know) with no assets, legislation stemming from Bill C-41 has virtually eliminated their opportunities to parent. They can no longer afford accommodation and in many cases, even simple outings with their children. Bill C-41 has dramatically increased the tax burden on fathers. Both federal and provincial jurisdictions have profited from changes to the various taxation acts. But poor families on EI or welfare we suggest are worse off. The Province of BC has made significant changes to the child tax benefits and has even retained lawyers to roll over pre-C-41 orders into current legislation for their welfare clients. The bottom line is that the whole family is worse off while the Federal and Provincial consolidated revenue funds have received a bonanza. We fail to see how this has benefited children. The Divorce may recognize joint custody, but welfare policy does not. Likewise, it takes months to share child tax credits too.
Further, most men cannot afford lawyers to change orders and legal aid policy considers child support "income" and thereby disqualifies them. Also, the debt load of a divorce can trigger bankruptcy, which will likely prevent men from being able to retain legal services. We see this in increasing frequency.
We have talked to lawyers who have to hire accountants to understand fully the Guidelines. I suspect judges are no different. The Guidelines have become a bureaucratic nightmare. The task of actually changing an order once put in place is almost insurmountable. In British Columbia where many industries are seasonal or cyclical (tourism, fishing, forestry, mining) incomes may vary from year to year too. Many judges are suspicious of men trying to have maintenance orders lowered. There must be a simpler, quicker and cheaper way of varying the orders. Both "receivers" and "payers" of support should expect to bear the burden of poor economic circumstances. You should also bear in mind that now we have very powerful enforcement mechanisms available almost instantly, we have a dire need for almost instant adjustment mechanisms to those orders to reflect material changes in circumstances.
We note that you consider fairness to be an important ingredient for the Guidelines. I attach a letter from a correspondent in Kelowna (Attachment 4 file # available on request) documenting what we consider a modern and fair decision which reflects the interest of children. We would like to see this scenario linked to a change in the Divorce Act to "presumptive shared parenting". This would decrease the stress level. We have noticed a significant number of men being suffering from breakdowns. We also note from the California experience that the rate of compliance is significantly higher for joint custody situations. I believe that over 90% of California divorce orders are joint ones.
Overall we would like to see immediately the ability to override the Guidelines in a quick fair and understandable way to: - adjust for financial settlements made from final divorce settlements. For example where one spouse has run up some huge debts just before a divorce to be vindictive to the other spouse, this should be able to be deducted from the support; - to reflect disabilities and decreased income earning ability; - to reflect income fluctuation; - to require the receiving parent to substantiate that the child(ren) are in fact resident with that person and that the money is in fact spent on the children; - to deduct amount from support for provisions of orders not fulfilled by the receiving parent; - to adjust for other support commitments such as second families, invalid parents, etc; costs to exercise access; - to adjust for short term change of residence costs (ie summer)
We also request that a comprehensive review of the Guidelines be conducted immediately, as was recommended in the Recommendations of the Joint Senate Commons Committee on Custody and Access. A review far beyond the scope of your own document is most urgently required.
We request that the requirement to pay support beyond school age be removed. It is not required for intact families and we feel it is a violation of the rights of divorced parents to have it imposed on them.
We request that tax deductibility be re-introduced immediately or that the grid amounts be reduced by a corresponding amount. It seems that men who do pay support under the present rules are being taxed to compensate for those that do not.
I also attach the Feedback Booklet. You seem mostly to be concerned with high income individuals. I can assure you these are few. We have yet to see the full repercussions of the Guidelines. Many fathers are just clinging on accommodation for their children through the use of credit, which may never be able to be paid off. These matters are on the brink of becoming a crisis in Canadian Society. I urge you to take these concerns seriously. The U.S government has tardily recognized the value of fathers. Canada must do the same to stave off the devastating statistics surrounding fatherless children.
I would be please to discuss any of the issues raised in the letter and provide further supporting documentation.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate
Keith N. Harris, MA, MBA, President,
David Campbell, BSc Victoria Mens' Centre Society Founder,Fathers for Equality
E-mail; firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 250-652-3205