A sad tale of a father pushed to the limit

family law

I have always been a stickler for parents meeting their financial obligations towards their children, but sometimes it is easy to overlook that parents are human beings, often trying to cope with very difficult circumstances, and different people can be affected in different ways. Strict rules can lead to consequences that can push people to, or beyond, their limit. A truly humane family justice system needs to recognise this. Some will say that no such system exists, but I would hope that it does, even if it may not be possible to create a perfect system that never makes mistakes.

The story I am about to tell takes place in Canada, but it could equally have taken place over here. Indeed, it probably has.

Jeramey was a 45 year-old man living in British Columbia. He had once been a reasonably successful businessman, but recently his business, at least according to him, dried up and he declared himself bankrupt. Jeramey had been married to his first wife for almost eight years, and had two daughters with her, now aged about eight and ten. He was also briefly engaged to another woman, who had his son. Finally, on Valentine’s Day 2015 he married his second wife, Angela.

Jeramey and Angela will never celebrate their third anniversary, as on 9 March Jeramey took his own life, in a most brutal way. It seems that he rigged his own truck so that when he drove down an embankment, his neck would break. A blood-spattered suicide note was found in the truck. It read:

“FAMILY LAW NEEDS REFORM. I recommend mandated lower costs and less reward for false claims of abuse. Parental Alienation is devastating. I loved my children as much as a husband and father could. I see no light. Recommend; an authority consistent during high conflict separations: It is exploited in family law.

Sorry Dad and Angie. I’m very sorry.”

The story behind the note is a harrowing tale of a family justice system pushing one person to breaking-point and, ultimately, denying three children a father. Jeramey complained that his first wife alienated his daughters against him, with the result that he had not seen them for eleven months. The court required Jeramey to pay $6,500 a month maintenance for his first wife and daughters. He had applied to the court to have that sum reduced, but his application was refused. His first wife was also seeking he be found in contempt of another order and fined an additional $10,000. Meanwhile, his former fiancée had obtained a maintenance order for their son, making Jeramey’s total maintenance liability $8000 a month, which by my calculation equates to about £4,800 per month. He did not meet the payments in full, and British Columbia’s Family Maintenance and Enforcement Program was chasing him, apparently moving to take away his driver’s licence and passport for failing to meet his financial obligations. In October last year, he was jailed for non-payment of support and breaching court orders.

According to Angela, Jeramey’s ex-wife was due to get his pension if and when he retired, his bank accounts were locked, he lost his homes, his vehicle, and his business. “You emasculate a man and take away his ability to provide” she said, “He’s a human being. He has limits.”

Two days before he took his life, Jeramey wrote to his lawyer. He said:

“I’m tired … Not only have I lost my children which by itself has torn me into two, but I have lost all my assets in life … The level of cruelty brought on by what could have been a simple divorce was and still is mind blowing and I’m simply not the same person I was, and I expect I’ll never see that person again.”

Where to start with this?

Well, the first thing to say is that there are of course always two sides to a story. It may very well be that Jeramey’s first wife and former fiancée see things very differently. However, what cannot be denied is that Jeramey, rightly or wrongly, felt that he had been failed by the system, and felt that he had no way out, other than to take his own life. A system that does that to a person needs to carefully look at itself.

Another thing to say is that each person’s limit is likely to be different. Maybe another person in Jeramey’s position would not have felt the same way. Many litigants in the family justice system consider themselves hard done by, when the average person would think that they are not.

I’ll look in a moment at what could be done to reduce the chance of such tragedies, but first a quick look at the consequences of Jeramey’s actions.

It is of course a minor point, but it may be significant for Angela: the death does not cancel out the maintenance arrears. They become a debt of the estate, and can be recovered (if the estate has funds) by the receiving party/parent, or the agency handling the case, such as our Child Support Agency/Child Maintenance Service, in the case of child maintenance. Obviously, this could have serious economic consequences for the new family of anyone pushed to the limit like Jeramey.

Far more important, however, is the fact that three children have lost a father, who apparently cared for them very much, in appallingly tragic circumstances. They will never really know their father. How do you explain to them what happened? Will they ultimately blame it on their surviving parent? This tragedy will stay with them for their entire lifetimes.

So how can we stop such tragedies from happening? Well, it’s probably true to say that we can’t ever stop them entirely. Parental alienation, for example, is a horrendously difficult issue to deal with, and it must be remembered that if it happens that is not the fault of the system, but of the ‘alienating’ parent. I couldn’t possibly go into the arguments about parental alienation here. Suffice to say that we need to be constantly striving to find better ways of dealing with such matters, although quite how that can be done with dwindling resources, I’m not sure.

As for the money issues, it is extremely difficult to come up with any answers, as ultimately the judge has to make a decision, based upon the evidence. Sometimes those decisions are going to be wrong. They can also be very good decisions, as I’ll mention in a moment. At least Jeramey had a lawyer to speak for him: many in his position in this country would not, without the availability of legal aid.

As to the issue of child maintenance, I don’t know how that is calculated in Canada. Over here, of course, we have a formula, and a system that, for most people, is dealt with remotely, rather than through the courts. A formula could protect people from being required to pay what they cannot afford, but on the other hand its rigidity could result in unfairness. Personally, I feel that a system with a human touch would surely be better, rather than an impersonal system that relies on fixed rules and formulas, with outcomes determined by computers. We did, of course, once have such a system here, before the advent of the hideous Child Support Agency. Then, child maintenance was determined by judges and magistrates, who were not bound by rigid formulae, and could respond appropriately to genuine cases. The paying parent had a chance to appear before them, and put their case in person, explaining the reality of their position. The system wasn’t perfect, but at least there was that human connection between the parent and the decision-maker, with the possibility that tragedies like the one above could be spotted in advance and headed off by good decision-making, and possibly even the suggestion of outside help for the parent in genuine difficulty.

As I think I’ve made clear, the system is not perfect, and we should all be trying to make it better. I think that the present system with human interaction between parties and decision-makers is the best method available to us. Which brings me to my last point: it seems that we are being faced with a future where more and more of the work of the family justice system will be dealt with online, and without direct human interaction. Surely, such a system will find it even more difficult to spot the Jerameys of this world? Could it be that things are actually going to get worse, rather than better?

Photo by Jaina Teeluck via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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17 comments

spinner - April 3, 2017 at 5:12pm

You have stated that you don’t know if child or spousal maintenance is calculated using a formula in Canada and then gone on to use this event to promote your own opinion which you have voiced many times before that you think judges and lawyers should calculate maintenance levels instead of using predetermined formulas.

I do know how spousal maintenance is calculated in Canada and they use a formula for both child and spousal maintenance.

Child

https://www.mcgurk.ca/child-support-calculator/

Spousal

https://www.mcgurk.ca/spousal-support-calculator/

Neither of us know the exact reasons for his suicide, I would suggest him not being allowed to see his children and the break up of a second relationship may have been a large factor.

With both of these formula’s there is oversight from a court which is ideal. What is often not good is the collection of data that these formula’s are then based on. So someone could have a good year or month followed by a bad one and the calculations are based on the previous good one.

A solution to this problem would be to allow payers to vary month to month as they would if they had been in the household but to catch people cheating the system at the end of the year when a tax return is submitted if there is a discrepancy for under payment or over payment that could then be made up. If the payer is cheating the tax system then this is a separate law enforcement issue which I’m sure the receiver of money would be more than happy to cooperate with the authorities on.

Vincent McGovern - April 3, 2017 at 5:27pm

In twenty fourteen 4,630 men took their lives in the UK, 13 per day. The Sunday Express in 2003 estimated that there had been 8,515 suicides by parents over not seeing their children. 94.8% were fathers. That approximates to over 900 per year. Several times as Chair of Central London Families Need Fathers have I come across this. Ministry of Justice data in 2015 shows that 1.2% out of 4,654 Child Enforcement applications were successful. And I believe the male suicide rate it is increasing in direct proportion to the increasingly rigged system against fathers that operates within UK family law. Pure naked corruption both ideological and financial are the twin drivers here.

I work towards the time when this utterly utterly sick system is properly examined and fault found where applicable. And hopefully jail time will apply to some whom I have had successful Ombudsman investigations against. No place in society for those who so corrupt the Paramountcy Principal.

Brian - April 4, 2017 at 6:31pm

I second your remarks wholeheartedly. The statistics are an inconvenience and shocking truth and it does not take much to put join the dots together.

Dr Grumpy - April 5, 2017 at 2:03pm

From personal experience there seems little that the ‘system’ can do! Reporting this to social services because it is emotional abuse generates the stock reply ‘this is a civil matter’ even if there are signs that the kid(s) are suffering from lack of contact from the isolated parent. The controlling parent can make as many allegations as possible without any of them being investigated. Even the police record allegations on the Police National Computer. I have been cut off from my eldest son since Aug 2015. I resorted to writing letters to my son and received a police warning since she reported it as ‘harassment’
Having been cleaned out by the cost of the divorce and the financial settlement I don’t have the money to go to court to get contact! I am also very weary after all the litigation to date! But what else can I do if I want to see my son?

Paul - April 3, 2017 at 5:42pm

RIP
It is worth reminding people here that over 500 deaths have been attributed to the CSA. They have directly named and shamed the CSA in their suicide notes and family law of course. There rebranding as CMS does not fool me. An it does not wash blood of their hands.
There is a document called the’ book of the dead’ which you can find online with all the names in.
If that many had died in war time. Monuments would have been built and medals would have been awarded. For every one their who died. How many fail suicide attempts ? How many have been saved and supported by there family. How many men struggled on without the money they needed to support themselves. How many untold stories.
Because the government acts like a dictator ship and forces measures on us that dont work. Because they have no better suggestions.
I feel its important we remember those men. Victims of uncompationate beurocracy. Ruthless accounting.
R.I.P

Dr Grumpy - April 5, 2017 at 2:04pm

paul I agree what is missing is the parent who has suffered mental health issues but not taken their own life! I bet if this was looked into the figure would be much higher

Paul - April 3, 2017 at 6:02pm

When two parents live together. They have to pay for ONE HOUSE HOLD.(rent/mortgauge)
When they split up both parents have to pay for seperate homes/mortgauges.
Man has to pay his house hold after paying 17.5% tax the 15-20% child support then finding money to eat.
If you agree with paying for your kids or not. You should at least leave a man with a reason to go to work.
With jobs flattened to minimum pay. It seems mathmatically impossible to me for a man to start a week without 37.5% of his income.
You should look at the lowest common denominator when working out a policy like that and BE SURE that you don’t leave people destitute.
Also if a man spends all his working life paying for his estranged kids then there is no way he is also saving for his retirement/future at the same time. So at some point in the future the state will be picking up the bill for him anyway. In the long term it makes no financial sense.

Andy - April 3, 2017 at 11:58pm

This is all to real. Here we have a normal Father who has for what ever reason or reasons walked or both have decided to get divorced as the situation cannot or does not benefit both adults and for the sake of the children involved.Jeremay moves on such is life..
Jeremay meets up with a second person to what we can only support a fresh start and no one can blame him for that as we all wish to do..However what ever reasons for Jeremay and his first marriage ended as it could.
Here is the legal kicking and what every Father get tarnished with.
Firstly you tell me that the Father is to blame for the first marriage failure and if so how come the law supports the mother…what if the mother left Jeremay ran off with another bloke with the children and the law expects Jeremay to pay…one sided.
Secondly, if that is the case and all mothers use the law to obtain finances from the booted out father and with the help of the law cuts off or alienation of all kinds to fracture any decency in the father then this system is wrong…
Jeremay and his second marriage as noted went wrong and don’t you think this was a attempt to create a stable life for all concerned but no yet again the law took Jeremay and took all financial gain from him and what was the point of increasing his burden no point at all…
The end result was Jeremay had no way out…This is a very sad tale..what would the deaf judges who never listened say now to the children..our decision was right perhaps. That justice for you…
In all Jeremay may of been a coward and took this way out but since he had no money to pay then where would he have got on paying his demand back…
Jeremay tried to do the right thing but the system made him feel like a criminal treat and live like a stray dog.
This story is all to real and high time the law was changed to affordability so all benefit not just one sided…
Shame on the judges who condemned a normal Father to take his own life..the Goldigger mothers still got nothing…
High time Fathers stood up to this and if we all stood up to this then the system would crumble…
Who was the child in all this not Jeremay….all comes down to money…

Devil's Advocate - April 4, 2017 at 10:48am

If Canada and most G197 nations had the Family Law system of Italy, Brazil and Mexico ..rather than the hated Germanic system…Jeremy’s ex wife and ex fiance if they were psychologically torturing his childen, it is they who would be serving time in prison and never seeing their children again on release.
Get real guys. Change the legislation and this sad indictment to psychopathic rabid feminism would be illegal. Whats the matter with you?

spinner - April 4, 2017 at 11:50am

The problem is not the feminists it’s the cuck’s who sit there doing nothing. There are women in government doing more to help men and consequently families than any male representative.

Brian - April 4, 2017 at 6:42pm

That I believe spinner…Takes a woman’s empathy to sit up and pay attention. It’s the hard wired flaw of the male gender that when times are good blokes think “I’m alright, Jack” women have a more outward compassionate outlook…well most of them anyway, the remainder you can find on the family court daily listings for a child arrangements order application as a respondent or in the media for unlawful abduction. …see Nottingham news (previous culprit Bristol…splashed all over the papers in Cheltenham) can’t name names even though at the time Judge Wildblood QC lifted the reporting sanctions on the Bristol perpetrator)…met Judge Wildblood too once…short slight framed nice mild mannered chap.

Yvie - April 4, 2017 at 12:21pm

John Bolch has had a light bulb moment. He has at last realised that it is not all about fathers who want their ‘rights’ to see their children, or fathers who refuse to pay maintenance for the upkeep of their children. As stated above, when a marriage breaks down there are two homes to maintain and two sets of bills to be paid. Therefore not to take into account both sets of incomes and outgoings, particularly when fathers earn below the average national wage, is grossly unfair to fathers who want to support their children, but whose wages do not stretch to the amounts demanded off them. And for a loving father who has shared the residency of his children for many years, who then finds his children are alienated from him and no longer wish to see him, it is a devastating blow and hard to bear. For some dads it just becomes too much.

John Bolch - April 4, 2017 at 5:34pm

I’m afraid I haven’t had time to read any of these comments, but please do keep them coming.

spinner - April 4, 2017 at 6:18pm

of course you “haven’t had time to read any of these comments” and you just wanted to post a comment taking up some time to tell everyone that you didn’t have time, makes perfect sense to me John.

Brian - April 4, 2017 at 6:27pm

I mentioned something about suicide in a comment for another topic which was declined to be posted. National statistics support a particular demographic too. This story just illustrates the truth many in the situation already know. When you laugh, the world laughs with you, when you cry, you cry alone and in the British family courts, no one wants to hear the dads scream, so no one takes notice and everything just carries on, dads are the baddies with eye watering levels of unsubstantiated claims of DV, mums can abduct with impunity. The family justice bill will never receive royal ascent, no one will care enough for it too! When is Gotham city’s finest going to get his grappling hook back on the roof of Buckingham palace?

Brian - April 4, 2017 at 7:04pm

Never mind automating child maintenance calculations, automate child arrangements enforcement. Automating it couldn’t be any worse than the current arrangement. No surprise that it takes no hesitation to imprison a hard working dad and emasculate him like a eunuch yet takes the effort to move a mountain to imprison a mother for contempt for just one night for child arrangements order breaches. Family courts are a joke – the law is fine it has the provisions to act it’s the idiots running the show – the courts are choked up because they send out the wrong message by making the sloth like speed bad decisions they do over mothers. I respected women – Then I experienced the family court myself and am observing it again with child arrangements with a close relative and as a result I became a misogynist. Good title for a book that..”How i became a misogynist”. Won’t take long for the death threats to arrive then!

Brian - April 4, 2017 at 7:24pm

This is an emotive subject anyway, my ex-wifes “replacement” for me committed suicide when she was pregnant with his child while I was in child arrangements “contact” proceedings at the time with her as the respondent for our three daughters. …Unfortunately he wasn’t around to see it happen, but his parents did when they wanted to be part of something that is the only legacy of their son when they turned to the family courts to see their granddaughter. I wanted to give evidence in their case to support them, but I had to evaluate my sense of social responsibility with my own children’s needs. I never felt so trapped in my life.

(*Edited by the moderators – please see comment policy here)

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