Personal History

Spousal Support: An Open Letter to the Canadian Justice System

March 26, 2023

author:

Array

Spousal Support: An Open Letter to the Canadian Justice System

This is a letter I sent in August-September 2022 to the following:

I have made some redactions and omissions — one might argue that, as a result, it’s not really an “open” letter — but I am attempting to avoid legal issues and don’t want to play all my cards; this is what I want to communicate publicly.

Contents


I am writing to propose a review of spousal support laws and request a reconsideration of my own case: [then Attorney-General, now premier] David Eby suggested I contact you. My case is ██████████ v. Ryan, court file numbers ███████ (2016-18, Judge Gaul) and ███████ (2014, Judge Sewell). As I will detail below, I do not have the means to appeal or pursue further legal remedies to what I hope to show is an unfair and unjust situation.

I will not review the background of the case here. However, I want to make a few points to begin:

  • I was not supplied with a copy of the August 2018 judgement against me, written by Judge Gaul. As the session was held in Victoria and I live in Vancouver, I was to attend by conference call. The court audio equipment failed, so I could not hear or participate in the session; rescheduling was denied, and my lawyer informed me that the court would require me to pay $1,000 for a copy of the judgement.
  • There was a related order issued in fall 2018; I refused to sign it and as such do not consider the case closed. However I have continued to pay support, only in order to avoid further sanctions and court appearances.
  • Over the last several years, I have searched out and spoken with a number of other spousal support payors in order to compare experiences; their cases inform some of what I write here.
  • I use the term “spousal support regime” throughout to refer, collectively, to the courts and judges, case law, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAG), the BC Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP), and family law lawyers. (I use the term “regime” here in its original meaning — Oxford: “A system or institution having widespread influence or prevalence” — though I am not entirely averse to its derogatory connotation in this context.)

I will review here the impact that this judgement and regime have had on me financially, professionally, and personally; and point out a few areas in which I believe the judges may have made incorrect statements and decisions. I believe the judgement against me, and the regime in general, likely violate several Charter, UN human rights, and other laws, and I will outline some of those here.

Preamble: COVID-19

My experience during the pandemic has been both a summation of my overall experience with spousal support, and a last straw. In June 2020, I lost my job as a result of COVID-19. I notified the FMEP, and they told me to pay what I could. I did — which, for reasons you will see below, was zero. But then, without notifying me, they filed to redirect my CERB to my ex-wife, which would have left me with nothing; I was fortunate to find a job before this action could be completed. And then, again without notifying me, the FMEP put a lien on my home, demanding I immediately pay arrears for the time during which my income was zero. I have been forced to do this on two other occasions, and have gone significantly into debt to do so. I simply had no money left. (Ms. ██████████ declined to participate in a dispute resolution process with the Victoria Justice Access Centre. I do not know whether she applied for CERB herself, as I suggested the FMEP advise her to.)

The FMEP then requested I complete a financial statement. I had done so on numerous previous occasions and, even when as much as 80% (never mind when more than 100%) of my pay was going to spousal support, it had made no difference to the amounts I was forced to pay. So I requested to know what criteria are applied: just how little money or cash flow must one have for them to give me some relief? They refused to answer. As a result I was left to wonder if there actually are any criteria, and it is difficult for me to see their demands for personal financial information as anything other than an intimidation tactic.

I have repeatedly requested the FMEP to remove the lien on my home. My requests have been refused without explanation, and most often not even acknowledged. As a result I missed the opportunity to renegotiate my mortgage before rates increased.

This treatment and these sanctions are, I believe, beyond any reasonable standard of fairness or justice or even logic. But that has been my consistent experience with the spousal support regime in the more than twelve years since I left Ms. ██████████.

Financial Control

I am almost entirely controlled and constrained financially.

  • Both the FMEP and Revenue Canada agreed that my support payments were complete and my obligations fulfilled as of April 2016, as per my separation agreement. But the court made me continue paying, and as I had no pre-tax deduction for the payments I was forced to live largely off my line of credit for almost four years. I accrued nearly $120,000 of line-of-credit debt in this way, the interest and insurance on which have at times exceeded my monthly mortgage payments. My mortgage was effectively doubled.
  • I cannot take on extra work to pay off these debts, as this would set an even higher bar for the base income I will be expected to earn going forward. I have to remain cognizant to this as I will never be permitted to retire, and will be made to pay until I die (see below). And I have already been struggling to maintain the income I had at the time of separation in 2010 due to ageism in my industry and limitations imposed on my career by the court.
  • For well over a decade, my effective rate of taxation — spousal support, a mandatory life insurance policy on my life with my ex as the beneficiary, and income taxes — has been almost 60%. During the years I lived without a pre-tax support deduction, this figure was close to 80%, leaving me at the low-income cutoff point and minimum wage level. I challenge anyone to live like this long-term, particularly in a city as expensive as Vancouver.
  • Every time I switch jobs the CRA takes months to give me a pre-tax deduction for my new employer, and I have to borrow more to survive, which costs me more in line-of-credit interest and insurance. They took years to do so after the 2016-18 case. This compounds. They refuse to give me a blanket deduction.
  • Even without my line of credit interest and insurance, monthly spousal support and mortgage payments add up to the equivalent of carrying about a $1.4 million dollar mortgage. No financial institution in their right mind would authorize me for such a loan, and for good reason. But I have been struggling to carry this for twelve years now. (When I bought my home, none of the Big Five banks would give me a mortgage, as they considered my monthly spousal support to be unsustainable debt payments. Vancity made an exception, but have told me they would not do so again.)
  • My financial institution will not renew or renegotiate my mortgage while there is a lien on the property.
  • Case law was presented in court in 2018 that indicated that spousal support payors do not have any right to spend their own discretionary income. Judge Gaul agreed on the spot and admonished me for, among other things, purchasing a bicycle. My lawyer refused to supply me with the case law, but I do know that the judge was a Madame Justice Dorgan.
  • The FMEP has told me more than once that I am only allowed to spend money on food and shelter. It is not clear to me whether they propose to “allow” me cover my line of credit interest and insurance, never mind clothing or other expenses.
  • While unemployed, which I have been four times in recent years, I have been expected to borrow almost $5,000 a month before I can even cover my own living expenses. If I am unable to pay, I am accused of “unilaterally ceasing support payments” rather than, you know, not actually having any money.
  • Having to pay “arrears” of $4,550 per month each time my income drops to zero is not only an enormous burden for someone in the middle class, but it has been cumulative. I struggle to maintain interest and insurance payments on my line of credit accrued through previous periods of unemployment and arrears levies, and legal fees for both myself and Ms. ██████████, never mind pay it off. (According to my lawyer, Judge Gaul said I could borrow against my home equity “if I chose to” in order to pay the arrears and other penalties; if he actually said this, I don’t know where else he thought I’d find the funds: the lottery?)
  • The SSAG talks about “income sharing.” But it’s not income sharing: it’s that Ms. ██████████ gets $██,███ a year and then, only if I am able to earn any more than that, I am permitted to keep it — although not necessarily spend it: see below.
  • The little that remains of my RRSP savings are inappropriate to my financial situation: a financial advisor points out that because I will never be permitted to retire, I will have to pay significant tax when these funds are withdrawn. TFSAs would have been better, but my situation has been changed by the court.
  • Spousal support survives bankruptcy!

Without the ability to make financial decisions beyond the most basic necessities, I feel I am living in financial servitude: it doesn’t seem to be an exaggeration to say that in the eyes of the regime, my sole function is to provide for my former spouse and that I must do this at any financial cost to myself.

Ms. ██████████ has benefitted directly from my inheritance and the increase in the value of my home. It’s instructive to consider that if I hadn’t purchased a home and been able to borrow from a home equity line of credit, it is very likely I would have been jailed for inability to pay spousal support.

Permanent Spousal Support

Section 13.8 of the SSAG claims that “indefinite support is not permanent support.” I have found that this is not true in practice.

  • In 2010-11 I negotiated in good faith an end date of 2016 in my separation agreement. Ms. ██████████’s lawyer argued in court in 2017-18 that I had in fact signed my life away, and Judge Gaul apparently agreed: although I was asking that the end date be honoured, or a new one specified, the judge refused to do either and, according to my lawyer (I was blocked from attending the session, even via audio — see below), suggested I could “come back later” for an end date. However, Judge Gaul was aware of my financial situation via the detailed financial disclosures I was required to submit; that I had spent my life savings in an attempt to defend myself against the regime; and that I would not be able to afford further legal representation, never mind arrears. It is unclear to me whether his decision was disingenuous or punitive; however, there is nothing in place that will ever end or even alter my support obligation, and I have no means of further pursuing this through the courts as I can no longer afford a lawyer.
  • Shelagh Kinney, associate counsel at Watson Goepel in Vancouver and an experienced family law lawyer, told me I would likely never be permitted to retire.
  • Several spousal support payors with whom I have spoken have been forced by the courts to work past the age of 65, and sometimes against doctor’s orders — literally requiring them to risk their lives in order to pay support permanently.

Is retirement not a right?

I don’t know how anyone could reasonably be expected to find any incentive to continue day to day when facing never-ending and exorbitant support obligations (I pay at the very highest end of the scale). It is becoming very difficult to summon much motivation, particularly as my employment prospects have been increasingly uncertain. Before I get to that, however, I wonder whether this permanent support requirement is legal at all.

Labour Issues

“Indefinite” or permanent spousal support is arguably a form of peonage or “debt bondage slavery.” Wikipedia defines this as “the pledge of a person’s services as security for the repayment for a debt or other obligation, where the terms of the repayment are not clearly or reasonably stated, and the person who is holding the debt and thus has some control over the labourer, does not intend to ever admit that the debt has been repaid. The services required to repay the debt may be undefined, and the services’ duration may be undefined, thus allowing the person supposedly owed the debt to demand services indefinitely.”

This is all true of spousal support:

  • The terms of the repayment are not clearly or reasonably stated, because there is no “principal” or specific amount to repay, and no end date;
  • The court refuses to admit, and based on the SSAG is extraordinarily unlikely to admit, that the debt — whatever it might be — has ever finally been repaid;
  • The duration is undefined, and as shown above services are indeed demanded “indefinitely” or without end.

A key question here may be whether or not the payor is actually considered to be receiving pay, and simply transferring a portion of their earnings to the recipient. I suspect this is not merely a question of semantics because a slave, or peon, works without pay.

A concept from the SSAG affirms that this is in fact how spousal support operates. The SSAG talks about “income sharing” rather than support payments. In this sense, the portion of the payor’s income given over to the recipient is never considered his or her income in the first place, but rather is earmarked as the recipient’s income, even though they had no involvement in earning it. The recipient is benefitting directly from someone else’s labour. (The relationship is also one-way: there is no relief or benefit to the payor if the recipient was to become wealthy, for instance; family law lawyers have even told me that my support payments would not be reduced by the amount of any income earned by Ms. ██████████.)

There is also a false prospect offered to the payor for buying their way out of the endless and undefined debt of spousal support. The amount for this is set so high — in my case, more than my entire net worth — that it is meaningless; and creates additional stress and hopelessness because it remains forever beyond reach.

Ownership of Property

I believe that Judge Gaul breached my separation agreement with respect to my real estate and financial assets. My home was purchased solely using funds that were awarded to me in the agreement, and via an inheritance obtained a number of years after divorce. However, it is still obviously considered a joint asset:

  • Judge Gaul required me to use equity in my property in order to pay spousal support arrears for a period during which my income was zero, effectively turning my post-divorce personal assets into a piggy bank from which the regime can withdraw and transfer to my ex-wife.
  • Most of the downpayment for my home came from a post-divorce inheritance that originated from the sale of a property that was a family asset for three generations. Ms. ██████████ is not family, and in fact never met my grandparents, who are no doubt spinning in their graves.
  • I investigated transferring ownership of my home to my child, ██████. I found that the court would nullify any such transfer as “false conveyance.” In other words, it would be considered an avoidance of spousal support — confirming that I do not actually have sole control or ownership of my own property as it is considered “money in the bank” for my ex-wife.
  • I have also discovered that the FMEP would require a substantial cut of the sale price of my home as “prepayment” for spousal support. This not only affirms that Ms. ██████████ has a direct claim on my property, but also makes it impossible for me to move — as I would need the proceeds of a sale for the downpayment on a new home.
  • I have found that if I were to rent my property, rental income would be considered earnings available to my ex-wife to challenge my total income level and obtain a share of the proceeds.
  • The FMEP, without first informing me, put a lien on my property as part of their pressure tactics to extract even more money from me for the period when I was unemployed in summer 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This also prevented me from renewing my mortgage while interest rates were low, which will have a significant financial impact when my mortgage comes up for renewal in 2023. If I can even renew it: see below.

I believe this shows that the regime has essentially granted co-ownership of my property to Ms. ██████████. At very least, it’s putting back into play property granted to me in the separation and continues the division of assets long past divorce. Based on the agreement and divorce law, these assets should not be “on the table.” And if Ms. ██████████ has such a stake in this property, why does she not have to contribute to the mortgage payments?

Professional Issues

I have had a very difficult time finding employment as a tech worker in my late 50s; most my age have long since started their own businesses, which in 2014 the court disallowed me from doing.

  • In 2014, after losing a job the previous year, I was working for a couple of startups and planning my own business; it was the first time in years I’d enjoyed my work. However, Judge Sewell told me that I would not be permitted to continue with this: I would be considered “intentionally underemployed.” As though I would start a business in order to spite my ex-wife. This twisted illogic would startle someone with the reasoning skills of a seven-year-old. (In the meantime, many of my former colleagues have started thriving businesses.) I was made to pay support at the previous rate regardless of my income. I was forced to take a job that I really did not want; it was the worst experience of my career, and it harmed me professionally and emotionally.
  • For twelve years now, after spousal support my take-home pay has been less than the junior employees with whom I have worked. This has been extremely demotivating, particularly over the long term.
  • Judge Gaul told me that if I had trouble finding work and/or maintaining my income in Vancouver, I would be required to move. Section 1 of the Charter guarantees “The right to live and to seek employment anywhere in Canada.” The threat of being forced to leave my friends and [child] hangs over me. (Also, moving outside the country is not feasible as I would not receive a pre-tax deduction for my spousal support payments.)
  • I submitted information to the court regarding ageism in my profession. It is increasingly difficult to compete against, and be interviewed by, people twenty to thirty years my junior. The experience of applying for hundreds of jobs without success is distinctly different from earlier in my career when I was offered the majority of positions for which I applied. Ageism is a significant and well-known problem in my industry. This is only going to get worse for me as I reach my 60s just a year from now, and I expect more periods of unemployment and/or lower pay; it’s doubtful I have much of a future at all in technology. Firms typically advertise for 3-6 years of experience; having more than 30 has become a significant handicap.
  • Many of my most recent jobs have been with precarious startups offering no or few benefits, and I have had to provide my own hardware and software.

Having been forced to take a series of jobs only to satisfy immediate need and income criteria has also contributed to a loss of interest in my career.

Motivation

Motivational issues have become significant for me. Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is a classic text on the subject. He writes about intrinsic and extrinsic rewards and punishments, and self-determination theory.

My pay, the main source of extrinsic reward, has been more than halved for over a dozen years. Currently, paycheque to paycheque I’m left with not much more than 30% of my net, after I pay spousal support, life insurance, and interest and insurance on the line of credit loans the court forced me to take out. Here is how my latest paycheque breaks down:

  • $█,███ (59%): Spousal support and mandatory insurance policy on my life with Ms. ██████████ as sole beneficiary
  • $███ (9%): Line of credit interest and insurance for funds borrowed to cover spousal support while unemployed, spousal support arrears, and Ms. ██████████’s court costs
  • $███ (18%): Mortgage, strata fees, property tax, and Home Buyers’ Plan repayment
  • $███ (14%): Remaining to cover all other expenses

Pink writes that if baseline rewards are not adequate or equitable, one’s focus inevitably shifts to the unfairness of the situation and the anxiety of one’s circumstance. That has certainly been my experience: I wake up stressed every day, and the situation increasingly dominates my thoughts. I suffer from stress-related hypertension. A counsellor told me that, while I am not planning to harm myself, I exhibit suicidal ideation.

I have had the experience of having to decide whether to decline a bonus, for fear that it would trigger an unaffordable “review” court case, for which I would also have had to pay my ex’s expenses if I lost — which, given my experiences, seems a certainty. But more importantly, bonuses set an even higher bar for what I will be expected to earn for the rest of my life — and given doubts about future employment prospects, this becomes an especially significant risk. This is an excruciating, embarrassing, and highly demotivating position to be in.

It has been six years since I had a two-week vacation, and almost three years since I had a week off.

The only extrinsic motivator I have is a stick, rather than a carrot: the prospect of punishment — through financial levies; massive “arrears” charges when I struggle to find work; and severe sanctions such as liens, confiscation of ID, and ultimately incarceration. According to case law, I’m not even permitted to spend any amount of discretionary income I might have left over. This type of extrinsic punishment, Pink writes, lets loose negative behaviour, diminishes performance, crushes creativity, and fosters short-term thinking.

I can confirm all of these outcomes. But perhaps more crucially, research shows that these extrinsic punishments extinguish intrinsic motivation; that has also been true for me. Add in Judge Gaul’s reprimand for buying my bike, which saddled me with guilt and killed my enthusiasm for the one thing that was giving me joy in life, and I have very little left in the tank.

Self-determination theory is centred around human psychological needs. When our needs are thwarted, we lose motivation, productivity, and happiness. Autonomy — as opposed to control — is the most critical. As I am showing here quite comprehensively, my financial, professional, and personal life are almost completely controlled and curtailed by the spousal support regime. And again, I can confirm that my motivation, productivity, and satisfaction in life have suffered enormously. Even my self-confidence has taken a hit.

Personal Life

The spousal support regime effectively prevents me from finding a new partner:

  • Several of the payors I have spoken to have told me that the income and assets of their new partners and spouses have been garnished and confiscated in order to pay spousal support to their former partners.
  • Dating my peers is essentially impossible, as I cannot afford the kind of lifestyle that is considered table stakes for professionals. Vacations, travel and more are largely out of the question — and not even permitted, according to the Dorgan judgement referred to above; along with the FMEP’s insistence I only spend on food and shelter.
  • I cannot afford a car, which greatly restricts my options.
  • Enormous ongoing spousal support payments, along with the debt I’ve been forced to carry, have been significant factors in the end of several of my post-marital relationships.

Ms. ██████████

While I do not want to focus on Ms. ██████████, as most of the issues I have with spousal support are related to the judgement against me and the regime in general, it is worth making several points related to her:

  • Ms. ██████████ occupies what seems to be an impossibly narrow sweet spot: claiming to be unwell enough to receive maximum and permanent spousal support, while at the same time never having been able to qualify for a single penny of government benefits; and supposedly too ill ever to work again, but not too sick to have recently completed an advanced degree — with a GPA of 4.2 (just shy of A+, by my understanding).
  • In court, it was never debated or explained why any illness my ex-wife may have is my fault or should be my responsibility. However, while I submitted a peer-reviewed scientific paper that throws serious doubt on her claimed diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I have no way of knowing whether this was even taken into consideration.
  • The regime has essentially designated me as Ms. ██████████’s private welfare provider for life: but I am required to pay her ten times the British Columbia welfare rate.
  • I believe I have thoroughly dispatched any compensatory claim to support; but “need” is also debatable. Particularly after twelve years of being paid more than many working people, and three times what is considered low income (Statistics Canada measures for low income, 2014), it’s not clear why she would “need” any more than anyone else to whom I’m not married. I can just as easily, and I think more legitimately, argue that I need the entirety of my compensation, particularly after this length of time.
  • I have supplied ample evidence, including an affidavit from [our child], that Ms. ██████████ was abusive and neglectful through the last ten years of marriage. She threatened suicide if I left; although I now understand that to have been manipulative and abusive, the emotional burden of that position was enormous. A counsellor has told me I still have PTSD-like symptoms from the marriage; and it has take me years of therapy, not to mention new and healthy relationships, to understand the extent of Ms. ██████████’s emotional abuse. This process is ongoing.
  • I have now been supporting Ms. ██████████ without any reciprocation for over twenty years. The ten years before separation should qualify as a period of spousal support, as she was abusive, neglectful of our child, and contributed nothing to the marriage while threatening suicide if I left.

In her recent book Run Towards the Danger, the Canadian actor and producer Sarah Polley writes, “So much of coming to terms with hard things from the past seems to be about believing our own accounts, having our memories confirmed by those who were there and honoured by those who weren’t.” [Our child] confirms, and has expanded on, these memories of “hard things from the past.” I ask the court to honour them.

Arguments and Tactics of the Regime

I have been subjected to arguments that are disingenuous, insulting, illogical, and perhaps even illegal.

  • I have been forced to withdraw money from RRSPs to cover “arrears” for zero-income periods, and court costs, and then have had these withdrawals considered part of my income to make it appear that I earned far more than I actually did.
  • Another example of a similar “fun with numbers” exercise is someone at the Victoria Justice Access Centre trying to tell me that having my income drop from $███,███ to $███,███ for 2020 was not significant. I doubt that she could handle an $18,000 drop in annual income; but more importantly, this is another instance of a disingenuous argument. In fact, my income dropped from about $██,███, after support, to $██,███. That’s not only a twenty-five percent decrease; but is also appallingly low compensation for a professional job for someone with my experience and qualifications, and it doesn’t even cover the bills.
  • Spousal support recipients can write off legal fees on their taxes; payors cannot. This seems designed to encourage recipients to keep suing for even more.
  • I have not come across another instance in case law where there was a winner and loser declared in a so-called spousal support “review,” as with my 2017-18 case for which, as a result of being declared the “loser,” I had to pay Ms. ██████████’s court costs — again, borrowing a significant sum against my home equity line of credit to do so.
  • The spousal support regime is fond of saying that all cases differ and require considerable court time and costs. While this may be true in terms of marital and personal details for individuals, I have found by speaking with other payors and reviewing case law that the outcomes are almost always the same, and that judgements appear to be increasingly severe and usually result in permanent spousal support.
  • Spousal support is currently set up so that the less someone contributes during a marriage, the more they receive in both quantum and duration when it ends.
  • The so-called “Rule of 65” from the SSAG discriminates based on age:
    • Married at 20, divorce following a 20-year marriage results in spousal support with a finite duration (20 + 40 = 60).
    • Married at 25, after a 20-year marriage spousal support is permanent (25 + 40 = 65).
    • Married at 55, after a 5-year marriage support is permanent (60 + 5 = 65)!
  • Although I realize that divorce is a civil matter, I think there is an ex post facto element here. The SSAG was written after I was married; I suspect the “Dorgan precedent” on discretionary income didn’t exist at the time of my divorce. It’s a moving target, so every time one returns to court there is the potential to be subject to new requirements and sanctions; and these appear to be becoming increasingly extreme over time.
  • No-fault divorce seems to be obscuring and eliminating factors that should be taken into account for spousal support. Because one does not have to produce a “reason” for divorce, the concepts of fault and responsibility are jettisoned. I left Ms. ██████████ because she was emotionally abusive to me and abusive and neglectful of our child. Because I did not have to produce or relate this information in order to obtain the divorce, it ended up getting lost in the proceedings. I think it is critical and should be one of the central factors in determining spousal support. I did not get divorced on a whim.

I hesitate to return to court not only because of the above, not only because I can no longer afford to, but because the last time around I was so blindsided by the “no-fun” rule that I wonder what new regulations the court might impose. Would I be told far from my home I am allowed to roam? That I must again cohabitate with Ms. ██████████? I am only being partly facetious here.

Recommendations

I want to take the opportunity to propose some potential reforms of the regime.

Having been a participant in the spousal support system for some years, and having spoken to a number of other payors, read some case law, and done related research, I have a few ideas about reform of the system and replacement of the SSAG. This would likely eliminate millions from the coffers of family law lawyers, yes: it would permit these funds to remain instead in the pockets of both parties after a divorce, where they are much needed.

  • I do not advocate for an immediate post-divorce “clean break” model. I believe that spousal support should be paid for a limited amount of time, with some indexing of duration based on length of marriage — though not age — and quantum based on incomes but never an “indefinite” (permanent) duration.
  • Unless recipient health outcomes are directly traceable to some action or neglect of the payor there should be no additional resulting obligation; it must at some point become a societal responsibility if we consider that divorce is a final separation of concerns. Where it is not possible for an adult to make their own way, the state should provide a basic income for that person: whether and how far this would go beyond welfare, I don’t know. Former spouses should never have to take on the role of private welfare providers, and no law or precedent should create a dependency of one person on another. A divorce with financial obligations remaining in place indefinitely from one former spouse to another is not a divorce.
  • A lump-sum payment option should be based on a proportion of available resources and length of support as above, as everyone’s situation and means will differ significantly.
  • The ability for judges to override legal agreements such as separation agreements and pre-nuptials should be eliminated.
  • All post-divorce assets such as gifts and inheritances should be removed from the equation of spousal support; any future spouse’s or partner’s assets must be protected from claims of a previous spouse.

Summary

  • I am required to make onerous support payments regardless of my income, even if it is literally zero; even if I have to borrow money to do it; even if I have to default on other payments; even if I have to forfeit my home and all my other assets.
  • I have been set up for financial failure by being unilaterally required to carry the equivalent of a $1.4-million mortgage — which can never be paid off — under threat of severe punishment. Default or bankruptcy are not permitted.
  • I don’t actually own my home; all of my assets — including those awarded to me in my separation agreement, or obtained after divorce — are essentially jointly owned by, and accessible to, my ex-wife. The division of assets continues more than a decade after divorce: and it is one-way, in favour of Ms. ██████████. The fact that a lump-sum settlement would require me to pay more than the total all of my assets is a clear indication that a coördinated, if not conscious, goal of the regime is to transfer everything I have to my ex-spouse.
  • I am not allowed any hobbies, interests, or other non-essential activities; any discretionary income is not mine to spend. In fact it is not clear that I am legally permitted to purchase anything beyond food and shelter. This “no fun” directive has been deeply damaging to me personally.
  • The court in 2014 dictated the direction of my career, by prohibiting me from starting a business; and has since punished me when the direction it so imposed was unsuccessful.
  • I will never be permitted to retire. At the same time, the low net income I’m left with, and debts I’ve been forced by the court to incur, make it impossible to save for retirement. I have no pension.
  • I am not permitted ever to earn less money than I did at the time of divorce, regardless of economic factors, ageism in my industry, or even worldwide pandemics.
  • Earning more money is extraordinarily risky, as it would trigger a court case I cannot afford, and set a new, even higher bar for what I’m expected to earn for the rest of my life. I can’t even take on additional work to try to pay down my line of credit debt, which was incurred solely as a result of the measures imposed by the spousal support regime.
  • Despite contributing virtually nothing for the last decade of the marriage, and in fact being emotionally abusive to myself and our child and neglectful of our child, Ms. ██████████ has been handed a veritable set-for-life lottery prize. She bears no responsibility for the past, none in the present, and carries none for the future.
  • I am effectively prevented from cohabiting or getting married, as it would put my new partner’s assets at risk; dating — or even socializing with — my peers is unaffordable.
  • I was not even allowed to see the 2018 judgement against me without paying for it. This adds insult to injury: I have been given what amounts to a life sentence, but I have little idea why, other than what my lawyer conveyed to me in a brief phone conversation. What is this, China?

At this point, the reasons no longer matter to me: the judgement has destroyed me financially, professionally, and personally. The damage is done.

Whether or not these outcomes were intentional and/or coördinated, they are the net effects of the current spousal support regime. Taken individually, any one of them should be enough to challenge the judgement in my case along with the wider status quo. Together, they add up to something so far beyond what I agreed to, or could reasonably have expected, that the result is a situation that is unsustainable and unliveable.

This is not divorce: it is state-enforced permanent marriage. I have more obligations to Ms. ██████████ now than when I was married to her, with the exception of being allowed to live separately; and these obligations are enforced brutally with threats against my home, my ID, my assets, even my freedom. The court has given me a Sisyphean task. Spousal support has felt punitive for a number of years; but especially since my pandemic experience, it has seemed vindictive.

Without exception, everyone to whom I have told my story is shocked and appalled. Even counsellors: one characterized the regime’s requirements of me and actions against me as “abuse;” another suggested I flee the country. I think the general public would react similarly and I do not believe that my sentence, as I have come to call it — or the current spousal support system in general — would survive a jury trial. People can see how unfair this situation is. And that’s what comes up consistently: fairness. There can be no justice without it. Again, I am not advocating an immediate clean-break model, but there should be limits.

I have gone through four periods of unemployment in the last few years; I live in constant dread. It is difficult enough to look for work without also being threatened. I feel I am under siege.

Being dealt with essentially like a criminal has had an incalculable emotional impact on me. It is hard to accept that I am being treated this way in British Columbia, in Canada. Sometimes I have even thought that if I could serve a prison term to be done with spousal support, and finally be divorced fully and completely, I would seriously consider it. That divorce could result in jail time, whether voluntary or not, speaks to how extreme and punitive this regime has become.

I am earning less than I was at the time of separation, while the cost of living is higher, taxes have increased, insurance premiums continue to rise, and I am deep into a line of credit. I have some ocular issues that could worsen at any time, threatening my ability to work.

What real incentive, what motivation, do I have to keep going? My mental health has been significantly impacted by all of this. I have reached a point at which it is impossible for me to proceed in my life without having this issue resolved.

Requests

My interest in all of this is to regain independence, autonomy, and control of my life, career, and finances — ironically, my goal in getting divorced in the first place. I have spent virtually my entire adult life supporting Ms. ██████████. I request that you give me just a few years at the end of my career, perhaps the end of my life. I want a full and final divorce.

I ask for:

  • Final and irreversible termination of spousal support within one year from the date of this writing;
  • In the meantime, no further requirement to pay support if and while I am unemployed and continue to search for work; any support is to be based on my actual rather than historical income;
  • An immediate removal of the lien on my property;
  • A return of the arrears paid for the period during which I was unemployed following my pandemic-related job loss in 2020 ($█,███.██);
  • A return of the arrears I was ordered to pay for the period I was unemployed in 2017-18 ($█,███.██);
  • A refund of Ms. ██████████’s court costs of 2016-18 that I was ordered to pay ($█,███.██);
  • No remaining financial or other ties to Ms. ██████████, and a peace bond to prohibit any further contact of any kind from her.

Until and unless these requests are satisfied, I am going to do three things:

  1. I will continue to pay spousal support; however, I will not coöperate in any way with the FMEP. I will refuse to complete any more financial disclosures nor provide any further information related to my personal, professional, or financial affairs to the FMEP or anyone else in the regime. I will not sign any document that does not satisfy the above items.
  2. I will take my story, along with that of other payors, to the media. My last lawyer threatened that I would end up in court if I did so; it’s not clear what segment(s) of the regime would pursue legal sanction for speaking publicly about the status quo, but I will defend myself vigorously against any such action.
  3. I will make it a personal mission to publicize internationally the punitive methods and outcomes of the provincial and federal Canadian spousal support regime. I have spoken to immigrant payors who told me they never would have moved to Canada if they had known the way they’d be treated if they got divorced here. I will seek out channels where the province and/or the country recruits doctors, technical workers, and other professionals, and warn them about the way law-abiding citizens can be treated in this province and country.

In addition, if I am prevented from renewing my mortgage in 2023 — once again, my financial institution indicates they will not do so while there is a lien on the property — and/or any effort is made to confiscate my home, █ ████ ███████████ █████ ███████ ████████, ███ ████ ████ █ █████ ████ ██ ███ ██ █ █████████ ██ ████████████ ██████. At that point I would be suing for lost opportunity costs along with other damages.

I sincerely believe that given everything I have outlined here, the requests I make are justified and fair. I don’t believe that anyone with a real interest in justice could reasonably hold out against such a position.

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2 Comments
  1. Bill Nickoli

    I'm so sorry that this has gone on. I remember when you two met working at that grocery store in Toronto. Words escape me...

  • I went to Japan. | Chris Ryan

    […] 2018 the Supreme Court of British Columbia told me that, as a spousal support payor, I am not allowed to spend any discretionary income. I badly needed a break and will just have to argue my case if they try to apply more punitive […]

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