Barbara Kay Calls for Gender-Neutral Justice in Child Support

October 26th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Lucien Khodeir is a man on a mission.  His mission is nothing less than the reform of Canada’s child support laws, and he’s got Barbara Kay of the National Post in his corner.  Read about it here (National Post, 10/17/12).

If possible, Canada’s child support laws may be even more unjust than those in the United States, but of course the two countries are much the same in that regard.  As Kay points out,

The crux of Canada’s 1997 guidelines’ problem is that they substantially increased support obligations, while payors — usually dads — could no longer deduct their contribution from taxes. All the provinces signed on (except Quebec, where the system is fairer, more reality-based).

Worse, the Canadian Parliament swallowed the plainly untrue notion that mothers suffered uniquely following divorce.  For reasons I can only guess at, the MPs never stopped to consider why, if that were the case, the overwhelming majority of divorces are filed by mothers.  So eager was Parliament to benefit mothers at the expense of fathers that it passed child support guidelines that bear little resemblance to the real-world needs of children or the real-world burdens of fathers.

The guidelines were premised on a methodologically flawed 1985 study, concluding divorce impoverished women and enriched men. That is not the case. The study ignored the realities of a divorced father’s new logistical burdens and obligations to a second family. Within three years of separation, a third of dads and a quarter of moms have new partners, half including other children. By nine years after separation, 40% of both dads and mums have second families.

Given that, it becomes altogether clear that the mantra, intoned by lawyers, judges, MPs, mothers’ advocates and the like, that child support is all for the sake of children, is bogus.  First, the study on which current Canadian law is based made no bones about the fact that its purpose was the financial betterment of mothers post-divorce.  Second, the guidelines utterly ignore the fact that most fathers remarry within a few years of divorce.  Often as not, that brings them new children to support, but the law gives them no relief from the level of support of the children by their first wife.  In other words, the second set of children suffer so that the first set may prosper.  That’s not pro-child, only pro-mother.

Of course, if the original order were reasonable and actually possible to pay, fathers might not complain so much, but often, it’s not.

In 2000, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld as reasonable and fair a Toronto father’s order to pay 96% of his take-home pay in spousal and child support, leaving him $302 a month to live on.

Then there was Darren White of Prince George, B.C., whose dual support orders equalled 114% of his gross income, because the judge chose to believe that White was not paying $439 monthly for a child in another province. White’s ex-wife held the exact same job at the same salary, so should not have needed spousal support. Nevertheless, the judge ordered White out of the family home, adding the cost of new lodgings, and refusing further “visitation” with his children.

Speaking on behalf of the court, another judge said the case was in no way special. Perhaps not to the judge, but special enough to Darrin White that he walked into the woods and hanged himself.

With laws and courts like that, it’s astonishing that anyone ever pays, but they do.

After [1997], judges shifted their focus from particular circumstances to the abstract ideal of ending the “feminization of poverty”: i.e., maintaining children’s theoretically desirable lifestyle through support payments that often have no relevance to the individual father’s literal resources. Thus, the famous “deadbeat dad” of popular imagination is largely a myth. Most dads want to comply, but many can’t. In fact, only 10% of fathers are willful defaulters, a lower percentage than support-responsible “deadbeat moms.”

And Lucien Khodeir isn’t having it.

Khodeir is not the first person to denounce the inherent unfairness in the guidelines, but he may be the most pertinacious. He’s written two e-books on the subject, and argued the need for reform through the courts up to the UN level on his own dime. According to almost equally knowledgeable comrades-in-arms, Khodeir has established a new gold standard in legal advocacy for the fathers’ rights movement. We owe him a hearing.

Recently Khodeir sent a 55-page letter to federal and provincial justice ministers, other politicians and media, calling for corrections to the guidelines’ well-known deficiencies, patterned on international reforms undertaken in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In the United States, he notes, every state’s child-support guidelines are publicly reviewed every four years.

Only 30% of U.S. Fathers With Custody Receive Child Support

Speaking of the financial problems mothers bear following divorce, I’m reminded of a study done for UNICEF of British mothers and fathers following divorce.  It did in fact find that mothers tended to do worse financially than fathers mostly for one very good reason – their refusal to work for a living.  The study pointed out that following a divorce, barely over half of British mothers (51%) did any paid work at all, preferring to live on state aid.  Indeed, 15% of mothers actually quit working after their divorce.  With classic British understatement, the study’s authors mention that post-divorce financial inequality stems from “the greater career labour market attachment of husbands compared to wives.”

It’s not much different in the United States.  As the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported recently, drawing on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, single fathers with children earn on average over 50% more than do single mothers with children.  Unmarried male heads of households with children earned on average $35,051 in 2010 versus $23,184 for their female counterparts.  Those fathers are in charge of childcare just as much as are the mothers, but they earn substantially more, resulting in lives of much less financial risk for their kids.

And of course, fathers are far less likely to receive child support than are mothers.  In the U.S. about 56% of mothers with primary custody have a child support order in place while barely over 30% of fathers do.  Even at that, non-custodial mothers are ordered to pay less than are fathers and pay a smaller percentage of what’s required.

Child support laws need to be changed in a number of ways, but the notion that fathers need to be financially ruined to end the “feminization of poverty” under the guise of caring for children needs to die a quick death.  It is long past time to make all aspects of child custody law gender-equal.  Lucien Khodeir is doing his part.

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