Courts Punish Responsible Fathers

Maritta Meri sent in an editorial she wrote about two recent divorce court cases in Ontario, Adams v. Adams and Miglin v. Miglin. Both demonstrate the affluent lifestyle divorced women can enjoy without being expected to work or take on responsibilities. Meri's comparison and analysis of these cases should come to no surprise to most readers of this site, but the essay serves as further testimony to the double standards and "man-as-wallet" attitudes so prevalent in North American court systems today. Click "Read More" below to read the essay.Maritta Meri writes:

The Ontario Court of Appeal, in the Adams v. Adams judgement, which was released on April 30, 2001, has once more reaffirmed its position that men who put their families first need to be punished.

Just a few days earlier, on April 26, the judges at the same court had sent a clear message to women when they delivered the Miglin v. Miglin ruling: marry well and divorce will be a lucrative business opportunity. Men are told: you only have yourself to blame if you get married and earn a good living for your family. After the divorce, your income is still considered to be the "family" income, though you yourself will be an outcast.

The interesting thing about the Miglin case is that, besides being husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Miglin were business partners. While married, they benefited equally from the business venture. The three judges at the Appeal Court upheld the trial judge's order which provided Mrs. Miglin with a generous income under the guise of child and spousal support after she wanted out of the marriage and accompanying responsibilities.

This income exceeds the amount that she had earned while working alongside with her husband during the partnership. In addition, she got the absolute decision making power over the children and his share of the matrimonial home. When he showed concern about the children and asked for joint custody he was told that he was obsessive about them and only wanted to get out of his responsibilities. Having rejected joint physical custody Mrs. Miglin was seen as the victim who alone had to care for the children. Who, in one's right mind, would want to stay married, share the decision making power and work for one's keep when one can get a divorce, stay at home while earning more by holding the children as hostages, and yet be seen as being a victim?

Mrs. Miglin was her husband's business partner. Her income was far above of what she would have been paid had she been employed by someone else. There is no mention of her other qualifications besides being married to her partner.

In the Adams case, the mother is a qualified nurse, the father a successful plastic surgeon. Because of her marriage, she enjoyed an elevated standard of living while staying out of the paid labour force. Just like in the Miglin case, there was no mention if she had domestic help or if she herself did all the housework and childminding. Her true contribution to the family in return to the benefits that she enjoyed was not open to scrutiny. His was wide open, and seems that he passed with flying colours.

Mrs. Adams initiated the divorce proceedings. She asked for $6,474 a month in child support for five children born between 1980 and 1989. Her demand for spousal support was $7,000 a month. From the court transcript: "Essentially, from that time [the birth of the first child] forward, she devoted herself to be a house [sic] maker and raise the children." She was not asked what she did, or did not, do. Just like Mrs. Miglin, she did not offer to continue to provide any services to her husband after the divorce.

The children are now at a stage where they no longer need a full time caregiver. The oldest had left the home, but now intends to return to his mother in order to "further his education."

The Court of Appeal concurred with the trial judge: "It is my opinion that support payments should be $5,000 per month as this amount more properly reflects the standard of life that Mrs. Adams was accustomed to during the marriage [my emphasis] and is reflective of the fact that she is a full-time caregiver of four boys who range in age from 11 to 18 years of age. Moreover, a review of the trial record does not suggest even a hint of extravagance on the part of Mrs. Adams," said the judge.

Referring to her estimate of $350 monthly for house repairs and maintenance, Mrs. Adams testified: "Oh, because, because particularly this year I've actually had to replace a fence"

Referring to her general financial situation, Mrs. Adams testified: "Oh, I think I've, you know, certainly come to terms with the fact that, you know, I'm not secure right now, and I haven't, I've become more careful. I mean, I have certainly had a comfortable lifestyle before and I was very fortunate, but now I feel a little differently, and yes, I think I've cut the bills back significantly."

The trial judge rejected Dr. Adams' submissions on the issue that he had made mortgage payments over and above the require amount: "Dr. Adams voluntarily made prepayments on the mortgage and thereby voluntarily accrued a benefit to his wife." Indeed, Dr. Adams concluded his testimony at the trial on this issue by saying that he agreed with Mrs. Adams' counsel "that the primary reason was to provide a roof over the heads of my family."

Further quoting the transcript: "The Adams" matrimonial home was a large and expensive one. Dr. Adams was the legal owner of the home and he was responsible for paying the mortgage [Strange conclusion. The Divorce Act defines the matrimonial home to be a joint property, and therefore joint responsibility, between husband and wife, no matter who pays the mortgage and/or whose signature is on the deed]. Prior to the separation in October 1996, Dr. Adams made mortgage payments of $1,500 weekly or $78,000 yearly. These high weekly mortgage payments accomplished the goal of, as expressed by Dr. Adams, "paying it off in a very rapid rate."

"After the separation, Dr. Adams made no change in the mortgage payments until September 1997, when he extended the mortgage to 20 years and reduced his payments to $1,436.15 monthly. These payments continued until the home was sold in September 1998, with Dr. Adams making them until May 1998, and then Mrs. Adams making them pursuant to a separation agreement."

Mrs. Adams is a qualified nurse. There is no shortage of jobs for nurses in Ontario. She can pick and choose the type of work that she wants to do as well as her hours of work. The conclusion: she does not want to work.

There is a striking similarity to the Miglin case. Both women benefited from the marriage. They maintained a post divorce standard of living far above what they would have been able achieve without their husbands' income. Why would women want to work when they can earn more by staying at home? Why would they want to stay in a marriage and share the decision making with another person when they can have sole custody, support payments and absolute power over the children? In addition, they are given an awesome power to control the life of their ex-husbands who are ordered to earn enough to provide their ex-families as they had done before they were reduced to the status of walking wallets. Yet, though they garner all the rights without accompanying responsibilities, women are seen as the universal victims of a patriarchal world. The ultimate irony is that this is called "equality."

"In June 1997, the Department [of Justice Canada] released its policy on gender equality analysis which requires that this analysis be integrated into all work of the Department, including policy and program development, research, legal advice, legislative drafting and litigation strategies." [Source: Department of Justice. Diversity and Justice: Gender Perspectives. A Guide to Gender Equality Analysis. 1998]

According to these directives, only the negatives, either perceived or real, affecting women are to be analysed, the positives in their lives are not taken into account. Then those negatives are compared to the positives, either perceived or real, in men's lives. The Department of Justice concludes: "Since both women and men are diverse, being more inclusive of women can also result in inclusion for more men."

The two above cases are an eloquent testimony of how these directives are applied. The more we see women as victims, the more we will be forced to regard men as victimizers. Equal? In my opinion, not.

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