After going through an onerous and expensive court battle seeking to prevent his children from being moved far away, only to fail in the end, Winnipeg father Frank Mane describes his experience with Canada’s family law system as “absolute hell.”
Mane and his wife split up following 14 years of marriage after his wife had an affair with her boss. They co-parented their son and daughter for two years, but then the mother and stepfather initiated a legal action to move the children to Seattle where the stepfather is from.
“There was no reason to go there for employment—it was only for selfish, self-centred reasons. And the process was hell. It was just absolute hell,” Mane told The Epoch Times.
“The lawyers involved were all about prolonging their take from the conflict. There was an expert report done, and despite that [report] recommending the children stay with me, the judge didn’t hear anything,” Mane said. “The judge clearly was on another planet.”
Mane, whose name has been changed to protect his family’s privacy, says the children were allowed to leave for Seattle with their mother and stepfather, despite his having spent several hundred thousand dollars to prevent it.
“I’m a very resilient person with a happy DNA, but it just about killed me. It was devastating to lose my children,” he said.
Visits to see his children were scant over the next two years, not only because of the distance and expense, but also due to the reluctance of the mother and stepfather to accommodate such visits. Eventually, Mane landed a job in Abbotsford, B.C., and visits became more frequent. In time, both his daughter and younger son chose to live with Mane, who has since remarried.
Vancouver lawyer Carey Linde, who has practised family law for 49 years, says that the family law system is biased against fathers and that men face an uphill battle.
“The courts still, to this day, while things are an awful lot better, are gender-biased at every turn. … There still is a deep-seated bias against dads. There’s also a bias in the question of credibility,” Linde said in an interview.
“Whenever the father makes a mistake, it is regarded by the courts as sufficient to provide less parenting time with the child, whereas if the mother makes a mistake, it’s a mistake.”
Linde said financial hurdles prevent many fathers from obtaining a reasonable outcome.
“It’s expensive to be able to fight as much as you have to,” he said. “In the early rounds of the war, dads can lose a lot of battles, but if they have the willpower and the finances to carry through to a trial, they’ll still win the war.”
According to a Statistics Canada analysis of seven provinces and territories in the late 2000s, at least 34 percent of all active divorce cases dealt with one or more of the four issues of access, custody, property, and support. Custody was an issue in at least 39 percent of cases, while access was identified in at least one third of divorce cases with an issue. Moreover, divorce cases rarely came to trial.
‘So Many Men Are Suffering’
Christopher Sarlo, an economics professor at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ont., researched the subject after facing custody and support issues following his divorce. In 2014, he penned a paper for the Fraser Institute that gave an unfavourable assessment of the federal child support guidelines. Since then, many fathers have reached out to him with their own stories.
“Over the years I have heard from really many, many men who are going through this. … So many men are suffering,” Sarlo said.
“There’s a lot of pain out there. There’s suicide. Men just don’t know where to turn.”
Canada’s Divorce Act says child support “guidelines shall be based on the principle that spouses have a joint financial obligation to maintain the children of the marriage in accordance with their relative abilities to contribute to the performance of that obligation.”
But in his paper, Sarlo said that those “relative abilities” are not considered by the child support guidelines, which rely on “a number of unrealistic assumptions that make them unfair.” He also said they are “gender-biased,” noting that they “favour mothers at every turn and are punitive to fathers” and “promote discord and litigation.”
The Department of Justice (DOJ) had 14 formulas for a fair approach to child support under consideration in the 1990s before picking one in 1997. In consultation with social policy advocacy groups, it chose a formula that assumed the first child added 40 percent to household costs and each additional child added 30 percent. Yet, economic analyses showed that the 40–30 model was only accurate when both parents had low but identical pre-tax incomes and both remained single after parting.
Other DOJ analyses showed that for most single-parent families, the first child adds 25 percent to costs, the second 13 percent, and the third 15 percent. A subsequent DOJ report, in 2004, showed that mothers won custody in 90 percent of court-contested cases, meaning it was fathers who were most often paying the arguably excessive amounts.
Last year, Sarlo testified in a case in Alberta in which a father challenged the support guidelines on this basis.
“This particular challenge was brought by a fairly well-to-do individual whose wife divorced him,” he said. “He thought that the way the guidelines were framed was inconsistent with the Divorce Act.”
Sarlo said the lawyers involved in the challenge have faced an uphill battle.
“At the Department of Justice level [there’s] a lot of resistance, and they’re fighting every possible way [against] getting this heard at the highest levels,” he said.
“I think there’s a concern by the Department of Justice, and many of the folks that are in charge of the policy there, that [changes] would be seen as offensive to especially women’s rights groups.”
Mane says the family law system needs an overhaul, noting that the way things are done currently has far-reaching negative effects, especially for children.
“This is the largest-scale abuse of children going on in our country and it’s enabled by the state. It has devastating, rolling multi-generational impacts on people that our society feels every day,” he said.
But he said the political will to change the system isn’t there because leaders “are afraid to take on women’s groups and the legal industry.”
Linde and Sarlo both believe that federal legislation should make 50–50 shared custody the default outcome if parents break up.
“Immediately upon separation, there should be all kinds of things in place to keep mom and dad close enough together geographically, such that the kids can have half-time with both parents,” Linde says.
“That should be the default position, and if one parent argues that should not be the outcome, the obligation is on them to prove it.”
He says the “one-size-fits-all” child support formula is detached from the real needs of children and too rigid to allow any acknowledgment of the realities of some post-divorce situations.
Mane describes Canada’s family law system as “the elephant in the room when it comes to our society.”
“It is just unconscionable what’s happening,” he says. “We have to change the law to stop this madness that is hurting children and everyone else.”
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.
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