Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles

Four fathers' child-support case will go to top court

Ruling on retroactive payment could affect hundreds of thousands of divided families

The Globe and Mail, By DAWN WALTON, Friday, August 19, 2005 Page A4

CALGARY -- The Supreme Court of Canada agreed yesterday to hear the appeal of four Alberta fathers, some of whom were ordered to pay massive amounts of retroactive child support, in a case that has implications for hundreds of thousands of divorced and separated families across the country.

"The overall message to Canadians is go on and sort out your ongoing child-support issues, but if you have a big retroactive claim you better put it on your backburner until the Supreme Court of Canada makes a decision," said Deidre Smith, whose Toronto-based law firm MacDonald & Partners is representing the Alberta men.

The fathers are appealing an Alberta Court of Appeal decision in January that required parents with child-support payments based on old court orders and separation agreements to pay thousands more retroactive support to better reflect their higher incomes.

For one of the divorced fathers, that meant paying a lump sum of $100,000 or half of his current annual income because the court looked back eight years at his take-home pay. Another father was ordered to pay an additional $10,000 even though his annual income has hovered around $21,000 over the years and he incurs great expense to visit his children who live far from him with their mother.

"These are not deadbeat dads," Ms. Smith said. "None of these guys couldn't be found, didn't make payments, had to be chased after. The common thread amongst all of them is they all paid the support they were supposed to be paying pursuant to agreement or order."

The Alberta cases sent chills across the country -- mostly to men, who tend to be payers of child support and who feared their former spouses, the custodial parents, would take them to court to demand huge increases in retroactive child support.

The debate centres around child-support guidelines introduced by Ottawa in 1997, which were supposed to devise a formula to calculate payments based on tax returns and create a notification system to custodial parents. Those rules have never been implemented because the provinces and territories did not sign on.

Generally, estranged couples have been heading to court for payment orders or have come to an agreement with their lawyers.

Under the child-support guidelines, the custodial parent could ask in writing about changes in income and then ask to vary child support, but the payer is not forced to advise of income changes or automatically raise the amount of support.

However, the Alberta court found that payers should provide financial disclosure and increase support when their income rises -- even if the custodial parent doesn't demand it.

The court also looked back numerous years to vary payment schemes, thereby shirking the general rule of thumb that claims date to when the application is made or can be retroactively increased but generally only by one year, Ms. Smith explained.

While some judges have ruled with the Alberta cases or at least agreed with some portions of the ruling, appeal courts in Ontario and Saskatchewan have taken a different view.

"I would have been surprised if the court had not granted leave," said Nicholas Bala, a family law professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., "It's an important issue in terms of the number of people affected. It's important in terms of the interests of children. And it's important because we now have conflicting appeal court decisions."

While the ruling ultimately could affect tens if not hundreds of thousands of people, Prof. Bala said, most people don't bother varying their child-support agreements because they don't want to relive the emotional stress or sink any more money into legal costs.

"Most people, no matter what the Supreme Court says, will live with what they have," Prof. Bala said.

The Supreme Court will likely not hear the case until early next year and a decision might not come until nine months after that.

And even if the men now headed to Canada's highest court win, they don't expect that they'll get back the money they have been paying as ordered by the Alberta appeal court.

Meanwhile, there are publication bans on the names in two of the cases, but none of the men are keen to talk to the press about their personal plights -- one of whom says his relationship with his children has been destroyed through all the legal wrangling. Instead, according to their lawyer, they are hoping the Supreme Court finally settles this area of the law to the benefit of all families.

"One of the fellows said to me he doesn't want any other father to go through what he's gone through," Ms. Smith said.

National Post

Ontario's child financial support collection agency has big problems

Ontario's Family Responsibility Office has many problems

Quote from Ontario Government Ombudsman -"an equal opportunity error-prone program,."'

Support recipients not getting their money.

Men who've been meeting their court-ordered obligations have trouble getting the FRO to stop taking payments when it's supposed to.   Read More ..

National Post logo

Pilloried, broke, alone

March 25, 2000

Divorced fathers get a bad rap for not supporting their children. The truth is, many can't. And, tragically, some are driven to desperate measures, including suicide.

In his suicide note, Jim, the father of four children, protests that "not all fathers are deadbeats." Jim hanged himself because he couldn't see any alternative. Even now, his children are unaware of the circumstances of their father's death. Meeno Meijer, National Post George Roulier is fighting to regain money wrongfully taken from his wages by the Ontario child-support collection agency. Chris Bolin, National Post Alan Heinz, a Toronto firefighter, has gone bankrupt fighting for the return of his daughter, 3, from Germany. No one will help him, but German authorities are trying to collect child support from him.

Whenever fathers and divorce are discussed, one image dominates: the 'deadbeat dad,' the schmuck who'd rather drive a sports car than support his kids. Because I write about family matters, I'm regularly inundated with phone calls, faxes, letters and e-mail from divorced men. It's not news that divorced individuals have little good to say about their ex-spouses. What I'm interested in is whether the system assists people during this difficult time in their lives, or compounds their misery. From the aircraft engineer in British Columbia, to the postal worker on the prairies, to the fire fighter in Toronto, divorced fathers' stories are of a piece: Though society stereotypes these men relentlessly, most divorced dads pay their child support. Among those who don't, a small percentage wilfully refuse to (the villains you always hear about).

What you haven't been told is that the other men in arrears are too impoverished to pay, have been ordered to pay unreasonable amounts, have been paying for unreasonable lengths of time, or are the victims of bureaucratic foul-ups. Read More ..

Calgary Sun newspaper logo

Non-dad on hook for support

Edmonton and Calgary Sun
Feb 5, 2005

EDMONTON -- An Edmonton judge has decided a divorced dad has to make child support payments, even though the child isn't his. Justin Sumner had an on-again-off-again relationship with the woman he eventually married, Dawn Sumner.

She already had a child from a previous relationship with a man named Rob Duncan, and as she and Justin broke up and reunited, Dawn was sexually involved with both men.

When she found she was pregnant, she called Justin, who recognized there was a possibility that Duncan was the father, but later concluded he was the dad. Read More ..

Father Committeed Suicide after calling Family Responsibility Office

Andrew T. Renouf committed suicide on or about October 17, 1995 because he had 100% of his wages taken by the Family Responsibility Office, a child support collection agency of the Government of Ontario, Canada.

He asked for assistance for food and shelter from the welfare office and was refused because he had a job, even though all of his wages were taken by the Family Responsibility Office.

Andy was a loving father that hadn't seen his daughter in 4 years.

A memorial service was held in October, 1998, for Andy in front of the Family Responsibility Office at 1201 Wilson Avenue, West Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is in the Ministry of Transportation grounds in the Keele St. & Hwy 401 area. All members of the Ontario Legislature were invited by personal letter faxed to their offices. Not one turned up. The Director of the Family Responsibility Office and his entire staff were invited to the brief service. The Director refused and wouldn't let the staff attend the service although it was scheduled for lunch time. There was a peaceful demonstration by followed by a very touching service by The Reverend Alan Stewart. The text of the service will soon be able to be read below.

The service made the TV evening news.

It was Andy's last wish that his story be told to all. YOU CAN READ HIS SUICIDE NOTE

Auditor General Ontario

Auditor General of Ontario

Disasterous Report on the Family Reponsibility Office FRO 2010

80% of Telephone calls don't get answered

Payers and recipients do not have direct access to their assigned enforcement services officer

"There is only limited access to enforcement staff because many calls to the Office do not get through or are terminated before they can be answered."

"The Office is reviewing and working on only about 20% to 25% of its total cases in any given year."

"At the end of our audit in April 2010, there were approximately 91,000 bring-forward notes outstanding, each of which is supposed to trigger specific action on a case within one month. The status of almost one-third of the outstanding bring-forward notes was "open," indicating either that the notes had been read but not acted upon, or that they had not been read at all, meaning that the underlying nature and urgency of the issues that led to these notes in the first place was not known. In addition, many of the notes were between one and two years old."

"For ongoing cases, the Office took almost four months from the time the case went into arrears before taking its first enforcement action. For newly registered cases that went straight into arrears, the delay was seven months from the time the court order was issued."

Read the shocking report by The Auditor General of Ontario Report on the Family Responsibility Office