I immigrated to Canada with my family 13 years ago. During that time I embraced the Canadian culture, and Canada also embraced me, with nice people all around smiling, encouraging and pushing me forward in my career.
My wife, however, was not as successful. Despite the fact that we both entered the country with more or less similar professional qualifications, she lacked the most critical skill needed to be a successful employee in Canada: being a good team player. She was able to land many jobs aligned with her education and expertise as a professional in the building design industry. However, she would continually get into never-ending fights with everyone she happened to work with and end up losing her job. Instead of analyzing what she was doing wrong and learning from it, she decided to let go of her career. It didn’t matter how much I encouraged her not to give up. She ended up taking part-time, low-income jobs only for the purpose of funding her long trips back to the country of our birth to spend as much time as she pleased with her friends there. Thus, her income was earned for her alone, and the trips were for her benefit only. I was left with the kids, struggling to make ends meet solely on my income.
Eventually, her frustration and feelings of failure started affecting our relationship. Her outbursts of anger, threats and abuse became directed more and more towards me and the kids. Luckily, I was able to protect the kids throughout most of their childhood, but after a while, I was unable to take it anymore; and, naïvely, it turned out, I suggested we should separate.
In what appeared to be her previous knowledge of how family law works in Canada, she jumped at the opportunity. She wanted to kick me out of the house, get complete custody of the kids and take most of our savings (including gifts to me from my parents in the form of major contribution toward the down payment of our matrimonial home); then take three quarters of my income going forward in the form of child support and spousal support.
Initially I laughed at that proposal. I thought there would be no chance Canadian family law would be insane enough to support her requests! On her side, she started portraying herself as a housewife and a stay-at-home mom who took care of the kids throughout our marriage and hardly went to work since she received her Bachelor’s degree more than 20 years ago; a claim that the judges acknowledged as not true — though it did not matter whether it was true or not when they issued their order. Gradually, in the year and a half following the date proposed for our separation, I started realizing how terrible the system is. Going to court three times and spending a small fortune on lawyers, I ended up having the kids 40% of the time; however, I still lost most of my assets, including most of my parents’ gift, and half of my net income. My pleas, on the one hand, to consider her capacity to work, given her well documented professional career; and, on the other, to consider the deductions I have from my gross income, such as mandatory pension and substantial commuting expenses (I work three days a week in different city than the one I live in), fell on judges’ deaf ears. But it was not just the judges. The whole system (Child and Family Services, Canada Revenue Agency, etc.) and even Canadian society, to my horror, accepts this insanity as a law of nature.
Using my February 2019 budget as an example, my net income was about $5,600. Out of that, I paid $2,700 in spousal and child support, $300 in section 7 child care expenses, $500 in gas so that I can keep going to work (I stopped maintaining the car- no oil change, a cracked windshield, no winter tires making it a matter of time before deteriorating safety measures will get me one day on my commute), leaving me with $2,100 to live on.
On her side, she gets $2,700 spousal and child support, and another $1,200 single mom and low income benefits from the government. She also works part-time making $2,300/month; and to top it off she has a growing private business that is under-reported, and from the transactions showing on her financial disclosure, appears to have made her an additional income of around $1,500 in February alone. Adding all that together, she made $7,700 in one month, which is more than we had ever been throughout our marriage. Still, she is considered the low-income and I the high-income earner!
I do not blame her for lying and abusing the system as much as I blame the system and the social norms we, as Canadians, take for granted. Also, in self-reflection, I would never have learned about this grave injustice had I not fallen under the bus myself.
While many components of the family law system are, in fact, unjust, the concept of spousal support, in my mind, is the gravest. Trying to understand how Canada ended up adopting this twisted approach to divorce, I realized it comes from the Ecclesiastical/Christian Courts in Middle Ages Britain; and the Christian concept that divorce does not end a marriage (I am hoping I can expand on the history of family law in a future blog post at this site). It does not matter how secular we claim our country is; it does not matter if some of us do not believe in Christian dogma. It does not matter that I was married in a different culture that considers this concept ridiculous, and I never signed on to this when I agreed to be bound by marriage. Despite all the rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights so that no one religion or culture can control an individual or minority , it appears as if all cultural and religious groups are required to conform with the Christian concept of marriage instead of the rule of reason and the concepts of justice and fairness.
The concept of spousal support also takes its roots from times when women were looked at as financially incapable and had to be dependent on a man. This model of family structure is alien to me. I grew up in a family where the mom is a successful working woman who managed to make her way to become the equivalent of Assistant Deputy Minister in a region of the world that is frequently looked down on here in Canada as anti-feminist! Unfortunately, I discovered that this general acceptance of gender economic inequality is widely accepted by the legal system and is certainly not alien to Canadian society, with my wife’s claim as a stay-at-home mom taken for granted and labeled as “traditional marriage.” Following rational deduction, this implies she did not enjoy a level of free will during the marriage that would hold her responsible for her career and financial decisions; and that this is also OK by the system.
Other wonders I discovered along the way were that spousal support, being more of a right not a plea for assistance, does not stop if the receiving side remarries; it is only reviewed. Second, it does not cease if I decide to stop working. And what happens, one wonders, if I cannot work? Third, you do not go to jail for bankruptcy, but you do go to jail if you cannot pay spousal support. The bottom line, this is clearly a form of slavery where guaranteeing the lifestyle of the recipient spouse is all that matters. This is a guarantee that does not exist during marriage, but only after divorce — at the expense of the payor. No wonder my wife had a huge incentive to push me towards divorce, then stick around collecting the reward at the expense of the rest of the family. A very self-serving position, especially if she feels her partner deserves a life-long, debilitating punishment. The payor in this case is frequently debilitated from most means of starting a new life. The recipient continues to enjoy all the benefits of the marriage without any of its responsibilities, while the payor continues with the responsibilities without the benefits.
All that said, I believe some level of spousal compensation after divorce can be defended. As a general rule, it sounds only fair that if one of the two previous partners brought something into the marriage, they should be able to take it back upon dissolution. In my case, I believe my wife is entitled for compensation for the maternity leaves, and having to, theoretically, put her career on hold in order to give birth to our kids; which I see as the only excuse for how marriage prevented her from pursuing her career.