Suicide doesn’t solve your problems. It only makes them infinitely, uncountably worse.
- Sinead O’Connor
I wrote here back in April about a Canadian father who took his own life, apparently pushed to that desperate act by his treatment at the hands of the Canadian (or British Columbian) family justice system. I have now had a law report relating to the case referred to me, and I have been examining it to see if it throws any light upon the case, and the father’s actions. In particular, I wanted to see whether the system could be said to have been in any way to blame for the father’s decision to take his life, or whether he alone was responsible for that decision.
First I need to explain what the law report is about and, perhaps more importantly, what it is not about. The report actually concerns three applications, one by the father, one by his first wife (the mother of his first two children), and one by his former fiancée, the mother of his third child. The father’s application was essentially for a downward variation of the amount of maintenance he was paying for his first wife and their children, on the basis that his income had reduced. The first wife’s application was for an order that the father be found in contempt for failure to comply with an order for disclosure of documents relating to his means, and for a $10,000 penalty to be imposed upon him. The former fiancée’s application was essentially for child support for the third child.
What the report was not about was the issue of the father’s contact with the children. As mentioned in my earlier post, the father claimed in his suicide note that the children had been alienated against him. The law report makes no mention of this. The only detail it gives us in relation to the children concerns the third child: we are told that, despite the fact that he was engaged to the mother after the child was conceived, he denied paternity. He only took part in paternity testing after being ordered to do so, and the results confirmed that he was, indeed, the child’s father. It would appear from this that the father was only concerned with contact with his first two children, who were aged 9 and 6 at the date of the hearing in July 2016.
Having set out the above, I don’t think I need to go into any further details of the history of the matter, although if you do require further details you will find them in my earlier post.
So what does the report tell us?
Well, I think it makes it quite clear that the father was not an entirely innocent victim of the system. As mentioned above, he failed to provide disclosure of his means, as required by the court. The judge also found that the father declared himself bankrupt but then continued to trade under a different company name (which he claimed was owned and operated by his father, despite his father living in New Zealand), in order to avoid his creditors. The judge concluded that the father:
“…intentionally failed to comply with the [disclosure] order … He did so as part of his complicated efforts to avoid paying child and spousal support to [the first wife] and child support to [the former fiancée]. He was thus in contempt.”
The outcome of the case was that the father’s application to vary the maintenance was dismissed as the judge found that his income had not reduced, the contempt/penalty application was adjourned, and child support for the third child was fixed on the basis that the father had an annual income of $181,400. It should be noted that the first wife had earlier been prepared to accept that income figure, despite an accountant finding that the father’s income was actually in excess of $300,000.
So we know that the father was not an innocent victim, but that does not of course mean that no blame for what he did lies with the system. Having said that, the report really does not suggest any such blame. The only point that struck me is that the Canadian system, unlike ours, specifically states that the court may impute an appropriate income to a spouse where it considers that the spouse is “intentionally under-employed or unemployed”. This may have added to the pressure on the father, as he knew that even giving up work would not provide him with a way out of his obligations.
And, as mentioned above, the report sheds no light on the father’s alienation allegation. We don’t know whether the allegation was true, and if it was, whether the system had been at fault in not dealing with it. Obviously, this could have had an enormous bearing upon the father’s state of mind when he decided to take his own life.
So whilst the report is helpful, it doesn’t provide us with all of the answers. Were the father’s actions all part of a calculated attempt to avoid his financial obligations, such that he only decided to take his life because they had failed (perhaps in a final, terrible, attempt to exert control), or were they the actions of a man who was under great stress, was unable to cope, and who had been failed by the system? We may never know.
Whatever the truth behind this story, it is still a tragedy, most particularly for the three children who will now grow up without a father.