Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kevin Libin: In divorce disputes, only men are deadbeats

My comments to Kevin:

fromMike Murphy
sender timeSent at 09:30 (GMT-04:00). Current time there: 09:41.
toKevin Libin
bccJeremy Swanson
date23 June 2009 09:30


I follow the NP closely and two recent columns of yours dealing with family and family law issues, CAS was the other, are both courageous and on the money. Male columnists covering these things tend to get more hate mail.

Family Law or FLAW as some of us like to term it is a dysfunctional and highly biased (9-1 ratio in giving females custody) system that requires changing to a presumption of equal shared parenting with co-residency of children. Where this has been enacted divorce rates drop. In Belgium they have given the collection agency for support a new role as under shared/equal parenting neither party pays it.

Thanks for the coverage. I do comment on most issues surrounding family law but was out of the picture for a few days and missed the timeline on the dead beat dads.

Mike Murphy

and the following is a very well written letter to the editor with respect to the column:

The war on men

National Post Published: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Re: Debter Dads Displayed On Alberta Site, June 19.

As an Albertan, I was brought up to believe in equality of men and women. So I was appalled to learn that the government of my home province has created a website that publicizes the pictures of dads who have missed spousal payments for six months or more. They are made to look like criminals.

They are not. Family courts across Canada, instead of helping families stay together, are openly biased against men. They act on perjured evidence, refuse to allow cross-examination, make orders against men who are not present or order unrealistic payments that violate the principles of justice and equality.

The courts don't care about whether the woman is responsible for the breakup or whether she is a wife or a live-in or whether she cleaned out the bank account before demanding support.

The result is destruction of families. Some men resort to suicide. Some disappear or are in and out of the legal system constantly. Many men lose their children and many children lose their fathers forever.

We can do better. Governments should use these funds for qualified advisors to identify the problems and help work out better solutions. The family courts have failed completely.

Marguerite E. Ritchie, president, Human Rights Institute of Canada, Ottawa.

Iris Evans may have created a bigger controversy this week when the Alberta minister suggested dual-career couples were shortchanging their kids. But when it comes to setting a tone for how the provincial government treats parents, the more significant move was a revamping of a website run by Alberta’s justice department used to hunt down what journalists breezily refer to as “deadbeat dads.”

If there was ever a class of individuals denied an iota of public sympathy, it’s these guys. Calgary Sun writer Michael Platt had fun perusing the photos and mocking the parade of good-for-nothings: “Creepy”; “Crusty”; “Snarly”; some guy “you'd swear had crawled from a cave.” Naturally we presume we know what these guys are all about. The jerks obviously walked out on some poor, kindhearted wife who probably stayed home, sacrificing her own career, to raise the kids. All she wants now are a few dollars to help feed and clothe the little ones. But dad, the bastard, couldn’t care less. These kinds of websites are essential justice, the public shaming of these cads, more than richly deserved.

And probably that’s true in a good number of cases. But anyone who’s seen first-hand the real face of divorce in Canada knows that most family disputes, over custody, or support, aren’t so cut-and-dried. Men can be careless, irresponsible, even vindictive. So can women. Yet, it seems, ridicule and humiliation is something reserved for the male of the species.

By focusing on the financial disputes — adding this week an entertaining new “rotating slide show” feature — rather than the myriad other varieties of legal conflicts that arise during family breakdowns, the province cannot help but disproportionately single out dads (there are 141 men on the Alberta website; just two women). Nearly all support arrangements put far heavier emphasis on making men pay, and so nearly every clash over the size of the payments, or their structure, is likely to cast dad as the bum, looking to dodge responsibility.

But there are other areas where legal friction can happen between estranged spouses. Family lawyers will tell you, for instance, that it’s moms who are overwhelmingly the troublemakers when it comes to abusing custody rights, deliberately keeping kids from visitations with their dad or cutting visits short — even if it means defying a court ordered arrangement to do it — or as National Post writers have extensively detailed, alienating the kids so that they come to resent or even avoid their father. It’s not that men aren’t capable of the same dastardly stuff.
Of course they are, and they do it, too. It’s just that judges far more frequently grant primary custody to mothers, and so, it is disproportionately women using that power to stick it to their ex. Who knows? Maybe some dad on Alberta’s website stopped sending court-ordered support cheques after his ex-wife stopped letting him have court-ordered access to his kids. That doesn’t make it legal, or fair to the children stuck in the middle. But it is true that in many situations of conflict, moms also bear some responsibility. Meanwhile, provincial bureaucracies — notably in Ontario — have proven themselves more than adept at losing track of support payments, making even honourable fathers appear scofflaws. Alberta’s name-em-and-shame-em website is incapable of recognizing any potentially complicating factors.

“No two maintenance cases are the same, but some defaulters may not be the monsters portrayed,” University of Calgary law professor Peter Bowal recently wrote in an op-ed about the provincial website. “Only for the government Maintenance Enforcement Program is every case black and white.”

Nevertheless, the public shaming model for “deadbeat dads” is catching on — Ohio tried putting these same kinds of mug shots on pizza boxes, while Texas annually releases a top-ten list of “most wanted” debtors, and Delaware puts men on Wanted posters — but strangely, despite widespread reports of their own abuses, there appears no similar campaigns aimed, for example, at exposing mothers disobeying their own court orders for custody or other issues. Imagine the outcry from women’s groups if any jurisdiction tried setting up a website to embarrass “mendacious moms.”

And make no mistake. Embarrassment is entirely what this is about. Any cash collected is meager: Ontario’s has reportedly helped in getting dads to cough up all of $30,000 in total since it went online in 2007 — hardly more, you can be sure, than erecting and operating the site cost the province over the last two years. The money’s not the point: As a spokeswoman for Delaware explained to the National Post, their “wanted” posters have the effect of scaring parents off any thoughts of defaulting on their support payments with the fear they would become the subject of public scorn. It’s been over a century since we’ve used the degradation of stocks and pillories, exposing criminals to jeering and humiliation as an instrument of punishment. This, we once decided, was a comeuppance not befitting our modern, civilized justice system. At least when it comes to men, some governments, apparently, still miss the good old days.

National Post

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The work of Fathers 4 Justice and the Pain of Fathers ~ Activism in the UK

Equal and Shared Parenting ~ The Movie