Toronto Star

Wednesday, September 6, 1995

'True deadbeat dads' are few, Ottawa says

By David Vienneau,
Toronto Star

OTTAWA - Only a small percentage of dads who do not make their child support payments are deadbeats, a top justice department official says.

The reality, according to Carolina Giliberti, chief of the department's family law research unit, is that many dads are broke or only unintentionally in arrears.

"The true deadbeat dads are few and far between," Giliberti, co-author of a federal-provincial task force report on child support that was released in January, said in an interview.

"There are some, definitely. I've seen estimates that about 10 per cent are wilful defaulters. The rest just don't have the resources to go back and get their court order varied."

This would appear to defy the oft-repeated public perception that 70 per cent of non-custodial fathers in Canada deliberately refuse to make court-ordered payments to their ex-spouses.

Justice Minister Allan Rock is expected to acknowledge the misperception in the fall when he unveils Ottawa's long-awaited overhaul of Canada's child-support payment system.

The package will include national child-support guidelines for judges to use in determining how much a non-custodial parent should pay for each child.

Draft guidelines released earlier this year were criticized for being too low. Sources say they will be adjusted upwards but only for those parents earning less than $30,000 annually. The government's dilemma is boosting amounts without impoverishing the payer. Rock will also unveil a new strategy to assist the provinces in collecting payments from delinquent non-custodial parents.

A third component will deal with taxation. Currently, parents receiving child-support payments pay income tax on that money, while the payers claim a 100 per cent tax deduction.

Custodial parents say this is unfair but the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the system and now the government is being challenged to resolve the simmering dispute.

Rock will also announce the government is planning a major study aimed at determining why some men default on making their payments.

If a man is a seasonal worker or is temporarily laid off he often cannot afford to go back to court to seek a variance to the court-ordered support, Giliberti said. Many continue to pay a small amount and eventually resume full payments when they are back to work.

The problem is that in Ontario, for example, the system sees them as being in arrears and therefore labels them "a deadbeat dad." There is no administrative mechanism to vary the award to reflect their fluctuating income.

"There is a real problem with a number of non-custodial parents who go in and out of employment, seasonal workers or self-employed workers," she explained. "It means they don't have a regular cash flow which means they can't systematically pay their child support either in full or on time."

Copyright © 1995 Toronto Star.