The father that took his life: was he pushed, or did he jump?

finances and divorce

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 (thanks, Cameron Paterson), 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.

Photo of Cheakamus Lake, British Columbia, at dawn by ec via Wikipedia

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.

View more from this author

10 comments

Dr Grumpy - September 20, 2017 at 8:23pm

I sympathise with this man I have been fighting PAS having been blocked from seeing my 3 kids for many years. Too many lies hiding of assets and even when you bring it all to the courts attention they take no action You are made to feel that far from trying to do the best for the kids you are an annoyance and totally irrelevant! You are just a sperm donor and cash cow! Some parents use their kids as a weapon or as an excuse to get their hands on a house that they put very little into I could go on but that would risk identifying the parties involved. Barder events need to be looked at more carefully because now more than ever spouses are hiding assets safe in the knowledge that it is so difficult to revisit a financial order when any evidence finally comes to light.

Paul - September 20, 2017 at 8:47pm

We do know John. Its really not a mystery.
The system was deffinatly to blame for this mans death and also the reason why three children now do not have a father.
Or it will keep happening with regularity until society accepts this truth.
What possible evidence would you need to draw from the law report to make that crystal clear for you ?
Even now your artical seeks to portray this man as a shirker who arranges his whole life affairs to avoid responsability. You could have just wrote RIP you bill dodging bastard. ‘Stigmatisation’. The ultimate psycological weapon of the system. That in itself could be enough for somene under considrible stress.
How much child support and maintainance will the children receive now?
We know that this man was killed by the system because there is also colaborative evidence. An lots of it. This is far FAR from an issolated one off event. Its happened to over 4000 fathers in the UK. Who knows how many in Canada and they have stated clearly and with no ambiguarity what caused them to take this disturbing action in their suicide notes.
As you have conceded a troubling case which you were involved with. A man took his own life. (I have no wish to poke the wound but I think you will agree your first hand experience is relevant.)
The irony again of a system which is designed to make men face upto their responsabilitys will not its self acknowledge its own responsability ? – responsability for killing all these fathers.
How can the system continually avoid responsability for these deaths is the only real mystery John ?
I wonder if you are asking the right questions as you read the report John. What was the mans income in real monthy terms. What was his outgoings in real monthly terms? How much were the CMS asking him for ? An how did they go about it ? – think that question should shed some light on your mystery John. Go take another look. Take a calculator with you.

Cognitive bias - September 20, 2017 at 9:59pm

Without the who picture , nothing can be aduced .

Parent alienation . Justice for fathers . Being financially strained, gambling problems ,
Remorse , mistakes , a bully , regrets .

Every word we read or is spoken paints a picture . An immediate bias without us realising . Without
Knowing facts and stating the obvious , there is always two sides to an explanation

You me or the milkman next door cannot know it’s sad three children have no father as you don’t know the context of why there was parent alienation or if in fact and sorry to say it was something very different to parent Allienation

You see you formed a bias as we all do by a little snapshot and the whole picture

Cognitive bias is something I just learnt about through the judges journal and very interesting it is .

Andrew - September 21, 2017 at 5:51pm

Imputing income is an abomination. NRPs are not hamsters locked to a wheel. Like any other man (or woman) they are free to quit a better-paid but stressful job for a quieter and less lucrative one, whatever the consequences to the PWC or even the child.

Paul - September 21, 2017 at 11:16pm

No he can’t Andrew. It explains in the article under Canadian law if the man is deemed to be ‘under employed’ they can continue to extract whatever they like.
Which is utter financial barbarity.
If you even think about the implications of that. That really is an infringement of his libertys were actually getting more to that stage of using a cattle prod on the hamster if it stops for breath.

JamesB - September 22, 2017 at 1:18am

I read all of that. You say perhaps he did it to avoid paying and to exert control. You therefore imply that if he did so it makes it his fault rather than the system.

Well, if he did that, it doesn’t make the system correct and him wrong, your logic once again is found wanting.

It used to be the case that a clean break was possible with children. That defeats your morality. Indeed I am not sure what point you are trying to make John or even if you have one.

Having paid. I think paying child support to someone who has stolen your children from you is an unnatural misguided law and you miss that point entirely, again. I suppose the divorce industry puts it down as collateral damage in the same way as you might the body count in an action film. Except these are peoples lives that are messed up day in day out, which your again misguided thought on supporting the children at the difficult time again misses as its that perverted logic which created the mess in the first place.

You crow about rights then aren’t willing to pay for the women and children you ‘liberate’ and expect people like this man and me to, in the same way as you crow the government withdrawing legal aid to the divorce industry. Perhaps we need less help where there is no abuse, if this is the mess it creates.

JamesB - September 22, 2017 at 1:36pm

Is what we have better than the 50s model? Yes.

When a relationship breaks down I think it would be better for the Government not to chase the non resident parent for maintenance. It seems to cause a lot more problems than it solves.

JamesB - September 22, 2017 at 1:45pm

Is what we have better than the 50s traditional (inc gender stereotypes etc) model? Yes.
When a relationship breaks down I think it would be better for the Government/Courts not to chase the non resident parent for child maintenance. It seems to cause a lot more problems than it solves.

JamesB - September 22, 2017 at 2:01pm

I mean it (on-going child maintenance for years) causes more problems than it solves.

Andy - September 24, 2017 at 10:57pm

Yet again the story of the down trodden NRP. I know it’s Canadian law in this case but is shouts a very loud and clear message..The system was set up to take all financial elements from a NRP and give it to the PWC.
He chose to support another family and move on but yet again financially taken again by the system untill he could see no way of recovery to survive himself…
So the so called system that promotes itself to share all financial burdens of children are equal..HaHa I can only laught at the incompetence of such a system where one person is robbed to give to another..and who has no intention of getting any financial stability them selves because of the generous hand out given each month…
What if the PWC was noted as taken his or her own life because looking after children was to much of a burden..Would we see action on such matter prioritised but when the NRP is looked sat it’s just a statistic…or usually known as take a blind eye syndrome…
This is much the case as of the British CMS take take and take again…

Leave a comment