Children pay most in split
TORONTO SUN, By MICHELE MANDEL, May 2, 2004
GENE COLOSIMO hasn't seen his daughter in 10 years. "I'm not a deadbeat dad, I'm a deadbolt dad," he says bitterly. "I'm deadbolted out of my child's life."
His marriage dissolved after two years when his daughter was just 8 months old. For two years, he was awarded only limited access and after she turned 3, he never saw her again. "She just turned 13," he says. "I don't even know where she is -- and if I look for her, I'm guilty of stalking and I'm liable to 10 years in prison."
His wife made allegations of abuse after their daughter returned home from one of her first visits with him and said, "daddy put me in a cage." The 2-year-old had been playing with a bunny in a backyard enclosure, but a judge banned all access while her claims were investigated. "I must have been the worst man on earth that I couldn't see my child. Even murderers get to see their kids," he says. After a prolonged Children's Aid Society investigation and $80,000 in legal fees, Colosimo was cleared of any wrongdoing. But it was too late. After two years in court, his ex-wife still wouldn't allow him access. And he had run out of money to fight.
"Once you break contact, it's done," he says.
The agony of losing his child has left him unable to work. He insists many displaced fathers are driven to suicide. "It's been 10 years that I haven't seen my daughter," Colosimo sobs. "I lost her and I'm still damaged goods."
And because he is not allowed to see his little girl, he won't pay to support her. "Why do I have to put food on the table and never have a seat at the table?"
Her ex-husband can be found on the Deadbeat Dads Hall of Shame Web site, a young man in a white tuxedo jacket who had just promised to stick around in good times and bad.
But that was a long time ago.
John Da Estrela owes more than $300,000 in support to his three children -- ages 18, 15 and 11 -- since he and his wife separated 10 years ago. Ontario's Family Responsibility Office took his driver's licence away in 2002 and garnisheed his wages until he abruptly quit his job so they could take no more. They then issued a warrant of commital in 2003 which sent him to jail for 90 days.
And she still hasn't seen the money.
"I can't figure out how to get him to pay," says his ex-wife, Michelina Marsico. "There's months when we're down to our last penny."
After their divorce, she had to go on welfare. Now she works two jobs, at a clothing store and as a property manager. Over the years, she went from asking for $4,000 a month from her ex-husband to just $500 in addition to the $500 a month he must pay social services to cover the welfare his family had to claim in the early years.
There is currently $1.2 billion owing for child support in Ontario. A few months ago, the Liberal government promised to crack down on deadbeat parents.
"There are hundreds of thousands of children not receiving any support and there's no excuse," she says. "The government has to have more ..te."
The federal Child Support Guidelines are one of the key lightning rods in the divorce wars. Created in 1997 to set a common standard across Canada, the guidelines set child support payments based on the income of the parent who must pay -- with no upper limit. And so we had the recent Peter Nygard case where the millionaire's ex-mistress was seeking $68,000 a month in child support payments.
As well, the rules of taxation were changed so that child support was no longer deductible by the person who paid it -- all of which represented a large increase in what many fathers had to pay. "I think the guidelines were a tremendous tax grab by the government," argues lawyer Rochelle Cantor.
The guidelines also allow for a reduction or an elimination of child-support payments when a parent has access to a child 40% of the time or more and women's groups charge dads are just fighting for access now to reduce their payments.
Men's groups, meanwhile, have launched a lawsuit claiming the federal model violates the charter's protection against discrimination because it "arbitrarily requires men (in 90% of the cases) to make payments to their former spouses, using a formula that is not based on the needs of the children."
The system, they argue, "does not require the child support payments to be accounted for or in fact spent on the children. This deprives children of financial security."
High profile divorce lawyer Harold Niman believes the system is actually working reasonably well. "Women feel they're being unfairly treated; men feel they're being unfairly treated," says Niman, who represented Nygard's former flame Kaarina Pakka and acts for "whoever calls first" in the divorce wars. "I don't think either of those views are accurate. Courts are dealing with things in a very fair way."
Cantor disagrees. "I think women do get off better when it comes to custody and access."
All too often, she says, she's seen the accusation of child abuse raised by the mother to win custody.
One of her clients had been falsely accused by his ex-wife of sexually abusing their child. By the time the two-year ordeal ended in his complete acquittal, the family court judge still decided to deny him any access to his son because he had been out of his child's life for too long.
"That child has a right to two parents. That judge took away that right," his lawyer argues.