Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles

The Globe and Mail

The divorce law needs to put kid's rights first

The Globe and Mail, Canada's largest national newspaper, By HOWARD IRVING, Wednesday, October 12, 2005 page A23

Amid all the talk of rights for children, one more right needs to be asserted: Each child should have the right to benefit from long awaited and much needed changes to the Federal Divorce Act.

In May, 1997, when the Divorce Act came into effect, the then minister of justice proposed that a joint committee of the House and Senate make recommendations regarding child custody and access. After 55 hearings, and more than a year of study, the committee made 48 recommendations to Parliament, all with an underlying theme: The adversary system as it pertained to the majority of custody and access disputes put families (especially children) at risk. Despite this disturbing conclusion, Bill C-22, created to amend the Divorce Act, still sits on a shelf. Justice Minister Irwin Cotler recently said that the government aims to reintroduce child-custody and access reforms this autumn. It's about time. Correcting the current act is long overdue.

In essence, the legal system manifests protracted litigation, alienating both parents and children. Lawyers, trained to zealously advocate for the rights and benefits of their adult clients, rarely have expertise in family dynamics or child development; family dynamics are not problems in law. Yet such family disputes can have profound long-term consequences for children.

It's not the fault of individual lawyers; the adversary system in family law simply puts them into a process in which it's difficult to bring about the required resolutions, such as promoting parental co-operation and good-will, and encouraging parents to accept mutual responsibility for their children by helping them formulate clear and specific parenting plans in the children's best interests.

Many voices call for change. In May, 2005, the B.C. Justice Review Task Force proposed "a family-justice system where mediation and other consensual processes are not considered 'alternative dispute resolution' but are the norm. Families will bear the primary responsibility for making their own arrangements, with the benefit of all the resources that the new family-justice system will offer" -- resources such as parent education; family mediation; collaborative family law and legal aid services.

In my brief to the special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons, I proposed something similar: that the new divorce act affirm that both parents are responsible for the care of their children after separation and divorce. Parenting plans should be developed according to the best interests of the children. Parents should share responsibility for child support in proportion to their respective new incomes (as it stands, non-resident parents are wholly responsible for child support if their involvement in parenting does not exceed 40 per cent of the time; this holds even when resident parents have higher net earnings than non-resident parents).

The current act is replete with language about "custody" and "access," reflecting a bygone era where women and children were legal chattel of the paternal head of the household. The new act should assume the existence of two-parenting households and reflect shared responsibility. Separated families should be able to take part in education programs dealing with divorce's impact on parents and children. The new divorce act should also take into account the importance of grandparents, siblings and other extended family members.

Family mediation is intended to come alongside rather that replace the current adversarial system. Attending at least one confidential mediation session should be mandatory; indeed, the law should affirm that mediation and other methods of dispute resolution be the first choice in cases of marital breakdown. The federal and provincial governments must commit adequate resources to do all this -- to expand unified family courts, run parenting education programs and offer family mediation.

The joint committee and other task forces have put much effort into making their recommendations; if implemented, such changes would curb the worst excesses of the current adversarial system, and would go a long way toward making dispute resolution fair and equitable. Lawyers, judges and mediators should see themselves as parts of a single team, all co-operating to help divorcing parents formulate sensible, workable and effective parenting plans.

Today, at least 50 per cent of Canadian marriages or common-law unions end in divorce, affecting at least 60,000 children. Haven't enough recommendations been made? Isn't it time now for government to act . . . for the sake of the children?

Howard H. Irving, professor emeritus in the University of Toronto's faculties of social work and law, is in private practice as a family mediator.

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

Ottawa Citizen

Ontario agency admits to overbilling on child support payments

The Ottawa Citizen
January 14, 2012

TORONTO - Ontario's controversial Family Responsibility Office has been overbilling 1,700 parents, mostly fathers, for as long as 13 years, the province admitted Friday.

The 1,700 parents were overbilled by an average $75 each month, after the agency wrongly applied a cost of living adjustment that was eliminated in 1997.

Those who were overpaid will not be forced to give the money back.

Instead, taxpayers will foot the $5.3 million bill for the agency's mistake.

"This error's been found and it's being corrected," said Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy. "We're going to be reaching out to those individuals (who were overbilled) and talking to them about their situation, formally alerting them."

The Family Responsibility Office, or FRO, is responsible for ensuring court-ordered child support payments are made. Read More .. than 97 per cent of all payers overseen by the office are male.

Milloy said the agency discovered the problem at some point in 2011. No one will be fired for the mistakes, he added.

"I see this as something very serious," he said in an interview. "I'm not trying to minimize it, but … there's been lots of action taken to reform FRO, to update computer systems, to update customer relations and it's on a much firmer footing."

The billing mistake is only the latest controversy to engulf FRO.  Read More ..