Toronto Star

Mar 30, 04:17 est

Taking more responsibility for deadbeats

By Dale Brazao
Toronto Star Investigative Reporter

WHY DO WE call them deadbeats, when they are very much alive - simply hiding from their responsibilities to their children?

In the wake of Star investigations into three deadbeat dads, this newspaper has been deluged with hundreds of calls and e-mails from parents detailing their nightmares.

Ordinary people, at their wits' end, begging for help.

And with 128,000 deadbeats in the province owing more than $1.2 billion in child and spousal support, that makes for a lot of heartache.

Their stories are painful: one parent struggling to make ends meet on welfare while the deadbeat dad lives in a mansion and drives a fancy sports car; a father who moved all his assets into his parents' names to keep them from his ex-wife and four children; the dud who doesn't pay his parking fines, let alone put 50 bucks in an envelope for the daughter he hasn't seen in at least six years.

Since The Star detailed these cases, all three men have been served with notices for default hearings by the Family Responsibility Office, whose job it is to enforce the support orders.

``If The Star can find these people, why can't the government?'' asks Renate Diorio, founder of the 500-member Families Against Deadbeats.

Good question.

Take the case of Mark Suddick, who owes his ex-wife Harriett Levesque and daughter Valerie more than $103,000. The province had written him off and sent Harriett a letter saying that even a collection agency could not locate him or any of his assets.

The Star found him in Markham, where he had been working as a parts delivery man for more than a year. Suddick, who has made only one payment of $140 in the past eight years, has now made two in the past month - one for $154 and another for $124.

``He's supposed to pay me $855 a month, but any amount is welcome when you haven't received anything in eight years,'' Levesque said yesterday. ``It couldn't come at a better time. I'm unemployed, my benefits haven't kicked in and my car just died.''

Esther Davids says she is at the end of her rope after pursuing her ex-husband Marvin through the courts for the past five years in an attempt to make him pay the $84,000 owed to her and their four children.

Marvin Davids was ordered in 1998 to pay child and spousal support of $5,500 a month. At the time of their divorce, the courts said, he was making about $168,000 a year. Marvin appealed, lost, then filed for bankruptcy. So far he has paid her a total of $550 since November.

``I guess he wants to see me on welfare. And that's where I might end up if the courts can't make him pay what he owes us.''

The most poignant case is that of Blaine Tanner, who is living the good life in Cleveland while his former wife and three children make do on government assistance in Brampton.

But now that The Star has exposed his life of luxury, a judge has ordered him to pay $1,900 a month on an interim basis until the courts deal with the $500,000 he owes in arrears.

``The system is designed to protect the deadbeat,'' Esther Davids says.

Even the Privacy Act works against spouses who are owed money. While encouraged to provide all the information they can on their errant exes, they are not entitled to know what the province is doing to collect their money.

Attorney-General Jim Flaherty admits the system could work better. He wants to close the books on some 42,000 cases where payments are being made regularly. But critics say that's a shell game and not a solution.

The answer may lie in tougher enforcement and tax breaks. More suspension of passports and drivers' licences. Make the payments tax-deductible to encourage full compliance.

But first the government has to find them. And if it's unwilling to put in the time to track down deadbeats, as The Star did, it should turn that job over to the private sector.

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