The Insanity of Canadian Family Justice
I have become Alan Harper from the sitcom Two and A Half Men. Or Professor Crawley from The Big Bang Theory. Or Kirk Van Houten from the Simpsons.
In the space of about six months in the back half of 2016, due to the efforts of my ex-wife, her lawyers, the BC Supreme Court, and the Maintenance Enforcement Programs of BC and NS, I lost my house, most of my possessions (what I have left is in a small storage locker), my vehicle, my life savings (such as they were), was released from the military (looking for work but on unemployment) and am under constant threat of revocation of my federal licenses, driver’s license and passport. I have arrears of $63,000 and counting. If I didn’t have a good friend to put me up, I would be on the street. I am under court order to pay $1690/mth Spousal Support and $500/mth against the arrears.
I won’t go into excruciating detail of the long winding path to my present circumstances but I’ll hit the highlights of how I’ve ended up in this ludicrous situation.
In mid-2011, our marriage of 20 plus years finally came to an end. It had been on the rocks for about a decade but for the sake of the kids, we kept up appearances. We even attempted to reconcile by having her move to Manitoba where I was training as a military pilot leaving our daughter with her Comox grandparents to finish Grade 12. The ex had recently been fired from her clerk position at the Comox Air Force Wing hospital, so as she was unemployed, we decided to give the marriage one last go without the children. But we were absolutely incompatible, circumstances came to a head and she decided to leave for Comox to live with her parents taking the family car and as many possessions as she could. I was left with @$35000 in debt, 20 year old furniture and no vehicle in rural MB. I was also at a career crossroads as I had been recently ceased trained as a pilot and was attempting an Occupational Transfer to another military trade. There was no guarantee of this happening but fortunately in November, I was approved for MARS and transferred to Victoria. I was nice and had the military movers bring all her left-over personal effects to Victoria. Then I sorted and packed them up for Comox, dropping them off at her new home with her boyfriend. She has been living with the man more or less since then and they currently reside in Victoria. Under BC law, they are now common-law.
Meanwhile, since she left, I was paying down a $24000 consolidation loan, putting money against an $11000 line of credit, trying to financially help a university son with a new baby and a university daughter, keep a $2000 old clunker on the road plus my own bills. There wasn’t much left over for Spousal Support for the ex but she was healthy, had a place to live and work history in the Comox Valley.
So instead of concentrating on getting back on her feet as she was basically debt free she started borrowing money from her family so that she could hire a ‘man-hating’ lawyer. I was told of her reputation when I consulted a local lawyer. I had asked the ex to refrain from lawyers as they would siphon scarce resources away especially from the kids. To date, she has spent @$13000 and counting on her lawyers. Also, to be absolutely clear, the ex has never asked for money for the children and technically, I should have been paying Child Support while they were both under 25 and in university. During this entire ordeal, the focus has been for her to suck as much money out of me as she could.
In May 2012, I had my one and only reasonable hearing before a BC judge. Through her lawyer, we sat in court with them asking for the high end of @$2000 in Spousal Support. Here is how such a ludicrous figure can be calculated. Under the Spousal Support Guidelines, there is a formula for determining a range of Spousal Support depending on length of marriage, financial need and current respective salaries. Typically, regardless of circumstances, lawyers and judges run the numbers and the payer can be stuck with a monthly amount for life. I will get to the ridiculous lengths a person has to go to in order to vary or cease this lifetime obligation. At the time, she was going to have an annual salary of @$15000 and mine was about $50000. But when you do the calculation, every extra penny of your income gets counted. With the posting to Victoria, my salary increased due to the Post Living Differential allowance due to the higher cost of living plus the one time moving costs subsidy I received. This bumped my annual gross income to $60000 that year. The lawyer knew what she was doing and wanted to cherry pick the large spread in current incomes knowing full well that once set, the monthly amount is nearly impossible to vary. Also, she knew she had her client a ‘Golden Goose’ because I was military. Once spousal was set, if I didn’t pay the full amount, they could go to Family Maintenance for enforcement. As a federal institution, Family Maintenance can easily issue and enforce garnishment orders which the military is obligated to follow. On top of that, as a military officer, I would be due for regular built in pay increases with promotions and pay incentives. She could regularly apply for Spousal increases as my pay went up. As for me applying for Spousal decreases, I would have to prove she wasn’t looking for adequate employment. Since she was already lying through her teeth about her circumstances (more about that later) and need for Spousal, that would be nearly impossible for me to prove.
Remarkably, at this first hearing, the judge looked at the circumstances and our sorry finances and booted us out to come to a handshake agreement without the lawyers. We settled on $850/mth for Spousal plus I would take over the $11000 LOC in my name. It was a stretch financially for me and ultimately unsustainable and by October, I had to drop it back to $500. Remember those two kids in university I was trying to help out? I also co-signed a $10000 student student line of credit with my daughter and I felt it wasn’t financially prudent or possible to take out another $11000 loan. So I kept paying the consolidation loan, $770/mth, $100/mth to the LOC, some help to the kids, some extra to the ex, my own bills and continued with a grueling Navy MARS training program.
Everything more or less stabilized out for a year. She found some better work when she and the new husband moved to Victoria. I finished a major phase of training and was selected for an exchange with the Chilean Navy for five months. Then the situation started going off the tracks. A few days before leaving for Chile, my CO gets a panicked call from the ex crying she’s going to be financially destitute. I had already set everything up on automatic and had her okay that things would be fine. The call still was a black mark on my file and resulted in chats with the CO and Cox’n.
Things again stabilized out and after coming back from Chile, I was posted to Halifax late in 2013. I was getting my feet under me financially, I had moved out to the Maritimes with my girlfriend and the ex had not been making much noise. I wanted to finally sort out the divorce but a $4000 income tax bill courtesy of the higher taxes in NS hit me. I clearly communicated this to the ex and she didn’t like the fact that she wasn’t getting more money.
Early in 2014, I received about $9000 in a severance pay buy-out and to avoid a huge tax bite put the money into RRSPs. In July, as things seemed settled out financially, with a $5000 loan from the girlfriend, using the benefits of the military to cover closing costs of $6000 and using the First Time Home Buyer’s RRSP program, I bought a house. Rent in Halifax is exorbitant and my mortgage payments were equal to my past rent payments. Fast forward a few months and I was attending my son’s final university recital and had made plans to take my daughter to the Dominican Republic as a graduation gift from the Royal Military College. The ex’s true selfish greed showed once she found out about the trip. She was absolutely livid feeling that since she had never had a nice vacation like that, this was her misspent money. She was also upset about my buying a home feeling that again she was getting short shrift.
After that Christmas of 2014, she began in earnest to squeeze all the money from me as she could. I started to receive notices from her new Victoria lawyers. There was a Victoria court date in mid-August. I was right in the thick of my MARS NOPQ training and getting ready for a major fall deployment. I tried to get legal help in NS and then had to try and find legal representation in BC. Just having an hour’s worth of time is $300 a pop, so cha-ching goes the extra cash. Also, finding a divorce lawyer on the fly isn’t easy. As it turned out, I had no lawyer and a Spousal order for over $1800/mth was levied against me. I was deployed shortly after and couldn’t do anything about the order. Then she upped the ante and came after me again in December with another hearing. I found somebody to represent me at least this time last minute, deposited $3000 with his firm and got boned. Spousal support was set at $1690/mth and arrears were @$50000, oh and half my pension, thank you very much. The judge used the straight up calculation of my gross total wages of $82000 and hers of $36000 plus went back several years to calculate generous arrears. In essence, after working out taxes our gross incomes would equal out. Why should your spouse be entitled to that kind of income from you for the rest of your working life?
By my reckoning, I am ok with a certain amount of Spousal for the ex. I calculated our incomes (linked below) over the time of the marriage and historically I made @$32000/yr and she made @$17000. Using the magic formula, about $500/mth would work out. Why should she get to cherry pick my income for her benefit after the split up?
This is where the cock and bull of women’s SOB stories are used to sway the courts in their favour. Of course, according to her affidavits, she was the only one that looked after the children, she gave up her career in order to further mine, she moved whenever I had to because of work, she was promised it would be her time to go back to school so she could have a ‘good’ job, her health, relationships, financial well-being had suffered, and on and on. For the record, I looked after the children as much as she ever did, especially when they were young. She never had to sacrifice a job for any of my jobs and the moving we did was to better locations for job seeking for both of us. As a matter of fact, when I did work for the Coast Guard in Vancouver, I commuted six hours every four days to work and back. I couch surfed and slept in closets for over three years to keep costs down as a rental room was too expensive. When I returned home, I took my four days off to again look after the kids and run the house. I took overtime when I could so that she didn’t have to work as many hours at her clerking job. Then when I joined the military, I went out on my own on Imposed Restrictions so that the family wasn’t uprooted. Our son was shortly done high school and our independent daughter looked after herself. The ex wasn’t that put out plus she was living in the home and comforts of my efforts. As for her going back to school, she wanted to quit working and have me pay for a four year university program. That wasn’t going to happen with all the debt we were in. Her affidavits were filled with half-truths and outright lies, coached by lawyers to incite sympathy from the court. I was a continent away and unable to adequately defend myself.
So this brings me to 2016 and my annus horribilis. Take your pay check and cut it in half. The ex demanded the $1690/mth or off to Family Maintenance she would go. With a mortgage payment and other bills, I wasn’t going to be able to pay this bill and afford to eat so I gave her $500/mth. So her and her lawyers made threatening calls to my CO demanding the Spousal. My CO was sympathetic but more entries into my personal file. The ex used the argument that I could write off the payments on my taxes. It takes months to set that system up through the tax office but she wouldn’t give me any time. About March, I knew I had to sell the house. At about this time Family Maintenance was starting to jump all over me. If you ever have to deal with them, they are straight up assholes and would have made perfect Nazi oven keepers. I gave them my income and expenses and they don’t care if you get to eat. Even if you’re on Welfare, they don’t force you to sell your house or take away your car. But these people don’t care if you end up living in a cardboard box, they only care about the money.
Early April there was a bizarre incident. The ex called the police and sent them to my doorstep with the story that I was going to commit suicide. Absolutely untrue but I reported it to my chain of command as is necessary.
By this time, all of the stress involved with my situation had taken a toll on my health and MARS training. My blood pressure was through the roof at around 200/120 and I was taken off the ship. It was decided I should try to transfer to another occupation. Family Maintenance started garnishing my wages for the $1690/mth and continued to pester me to pay down the arrears which were climbing. They levy heavy fines of hundreds of dollars every time you don’t pay off the full amount. I managed to sell my house at the end of July at a loss of at least $50000 due to the poor Halifax housing market. It was also at this time that my old 1999 Ford F150 finally died, so lots of transit buses for me now. I liquidated most of my possessions except for a few keepsakes that are in a storage unit and a good friend took me in.
Okay, seemed like another equilibrium, well think again! The ex was hot and heavy for those arrears monies. Unbeknownst to me, she and her lawyers were going after me again with a court date coincidentally on the day of my release mid-Dec. We had just seen one another for our daughter’s military Wings parade in Moose Jaw. I wasn’t sure of my reaction upon seeing her in person. What would you do to a person who has systematically set out to destroy your financial well-being and career? She had kept a straight face and her only slip up was when she mentioned she was still living with the now common-law husband. She had kept up the pretense that they had broken up long ago. I had actually felt sorry for her. But no, he had been living with her all this time, so I get to support the both of them. He’s a deadbeat and doesn’t make much money. Plus she has conveniently refrained from mentioning him in her affidavits.
I managed to push the latest BC court date to January 2017 and had the time to finally prepare all the forms and affidavits for my response to her latest application. According to court documents, she was in the room and asked the judge for an extra $2500/mth to be applied to the arrears I owed. Even when I was working, that would be 105% of my net pay. What shows the true colour of her black soul and lunacy of the court system is the judge thankfully only ordered $500 for arrears payments but kept the $1690/mth spousal payments in force. On EI, my total net income would only be $2000/mth. As it is, Maintenance is already garnishing 50% of my EI, so $460 to each of us every two weeks.
So at any point, do you think Family Maintenance would give me a break? Of course not! Under threat of arrest, they called me in for a Financial Examination. The ex had been telling everyone from her Member of Parliament to the heads of BC and NS Family Maintenance that I was sitting on a cash windfall from the sale of my home. Absolutely untrue and wishful thinking on her part and I sent out the documents to prove it. So after the raking over the coals with my finances laid bare for the fifth or sixth time, do you think they would stop garnishing what little income I get from EI? Of course not! Instead, I get more threats that they will take my driver’s license, federal licenses and passport away. Makes so much sense when I’m trying to find work to make it more difficult for me to be employed. Meanwhile, the counter keeps ticking as I am obviously not paying the impossible amount of Spousal plus arrears.
My last resort has been a desperate plea to the court system here in NS for some sanity. It has been an onerous, frustrating, time-consuming task to have my case even looked at. I cannot afford a proper lawyer. The court officers are not sure of what documents and forms I need. Getting one piece of paper from the BC Courts is $50 a pop. The process seems to be never ending and the screws just turn down tighter and tighter.
This is not a funny sitcom. This is my ruined life that I cannot even begin to salvage. What happened to equality? Oh yeah, when it comes to divorce, women are weak and powerless. Unfortunately, too many other men have been placed in this same position due to archaic Family Divorce Laws and outdated court attitudes. Thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with child custody. It could be worse.
Here’s a fun fact: Divorced men are many times as likely to suicide while women’s rates stay about the same. I am not suicidal but I am depressed and cannot sleep most nights. A mental health worker asked if I had access to a gun.
If you want the ex’s side of the story, her name is Heidi Roberta Jensen and she lives in Victoria with her common-law husband Don Croitor. I will happily pass along her address and phone number upon request.
Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.