Bill C41 response

Sean Cummings from Nova Scotia made a personal response to the committee

The Measure of A Child's Worth

Speech to the Senate of Canada
Standing Committee on Science,
Technology and Social Affairs

By

Sean B. Cummings
Fatherhood ... imagine that!

January 29, 1997

I request that the text of this speech be entered into the record of testimony. My name is Sean Cummings of "Fatherhood ... imagine that!". I represent some 60 non-custodial parents, families and extended family members in Nova Scotia. As well, I would like to think that I represent true advocacy for the rights of children of divorce in Nova Scotia. Our organization was formed to answer a need which exists in my community and indeed, in every community in Canada. We offer first level support to parents who are trying desperately to cope with the loss of their children. We offer advocacy, learning and a sharing of ideas because every father and mother in our organization share the same common bond: a profound sense of loss.

Try and imagine what it would be like to lose your children; now try and imagine getting on with your life. Dare to place your hopes and dreams for your children on a schedule of access visits and holiday time. You can never really understand the pure grief that a non-custodial parent feels at the loss of their parental role, at the loss of their children until you have lived it.

Visualize the tearing at your heart as you help your children pack their things away every second Sunday afternoon. Consider the sadness a six year-old tries to express in his six year-old way as he waves good-bye when his custodial parent picks him up. Try and imagine.

A short time ago you had an important role to fill in your child's life: you were a parent. You cared, supported and nurtured them. You listened with pleasure to their victories in life, and you shared in their disappointments. You held them in your arms at birth, fed and changed them through infancy. Watched them to the bus on their first day of school.... you can't buy that kind of experience. It's unique because the first day of school happens only once.

The first loose tooth, the first schoolyard scuffle. The first school play. The first date.

Are you a parent anymore?

What kind of country do we have when children grow up without day to day contact with both parents? A single family nation? A country of primarily fatherless children? A country with a generation of children who are in a high risk category for social problems and are very likely going to be condemned to repeat the failure of their parents?

Have we ever really bothered to ask children what matters to them?

A generation of Canada's youth is silently suffering while at the same time reacting negatively because they have been missing one vital part of their lives: their other parent. They walk a tightrope over a chasm of emotional turmoil and complications, all the while trying desperately to maintain their love and loyalty toward both parents. They speak in diplomatic tones out of fear of hurting their mom or dad's feelings. They muster their emotional resources and live a life of counting days on a calendar and scheduling their time with each parent.

This is childhood in the late twentieth century.

Do we understand their pain? Do we really presume that the answer to all of life's problems can be found in the labyrinth of complicated guidelines which make up the substance of Bill C-41?

Bill C-41: the price tag for the youth of Canada.

What are our children worth? Three, four hundred dollars a month, each?

A visit to McDonald's every second Friday afternoon between the hours of 4 and 6 PM?

An apportionment of one's income? Is that what they're worth: a taxable commodity?

How should we measure our children's worth, what does it cost? How much shall we spend to develop a healthy and happy generation of children? Is their emotional development something which can be funded by a monthly pay allotment? Can you purchase childhood?

Where are the heroes in all of this? Some would applaud the "great strides we have taken to eliminate child poverty in Canada" which is one of the main focus points of this legislation. It's viewed as heroic in certain circles: that is to say, those who have custody of the children.

I am my son's hero. He's six and I along with my wife, a new spouse, parent him for ten days a month. I live eight hundred meters from his mother's apartment, six hundred meters to his school. When we're together I am complete again, and I know that he feels true happiness: the kind of happiness we all experience at the moment of reunification with a loved one who we haven't seen for a long time.

When you're six, ten days is a lifetime.

I earn significantly less than his mother, and I can't afford to go to court to get a variance. I don't want to either. Support is just, money. It isn't love, and it doesn't make you a hero in the eyes of your children.

I am my child's father, and I am his hero. I can hoist my child onto my shoulders so that he might see the world through his father's eyes. So that he can feel big, so that he can be a six year old man.

I am his hero because in the springtime we plant a garden in our backyard. We care for it through the summer months and harvest it's bounty in the autumn: together. It makes him responsible and it prepares him for parenthood. He can't wait to be a big brother, and he can't wait to grow up and be a man!

I am his hero because we walk together on cool Atlantic afternoons in the shadow of the Halifax Citadel. I am his hero because we talk about the most amazing things, important perspectives in the language of a six year-old boy. We discuss snowflakes and waves on the ocean. We talk happily about our collective hero, Spiderman, as if her were a real person. He is real to my son, and if he's real to my child then he is real to me.

What is the cost of childhood?

We talk about fear and the dark. about accidents in the bed from time to time. We talk about my big hands and his small hands.

We talk about why his mother is planning on moving to Edmonton this Summer. You see, when you're six, Edmonton is just across the road from his mom's apartment. You can still go over to your dad's house for ten days a month, and after school you can go for a walk in the shadow of the Halifax Citadel.

What is the price for my son's childhood? What is it worth?

His youth is a wonder to me. His innocence, a source of joy. His confusion is a source of pain for us both, and is hope is hope for me.

What price shall we place on a walk in the shadow of the Halifax Citadel on a cool Atlantic afternoon? How much is a smile worth, or a missed birthday party?

What is the cost of a confused little boy who faces a move to a city where he wasn't born and everything that he knows lies in the shadow of the Halifax Citadel?

Three, four hundred dollars a month?

What about my wife? She is a new spouse, a term she loathes because she is my wife. She is the main wage earner in our home and as such, she must absorb any increase in the amount of support I pay each month. She inherits my misfortune, lock stock and barrel.

She loves my son dearly and I know that he loves and looks up to her. They have a special relationship because my wife isn't his mother, which he understands. She isn't his mother, but he knows that she loves him and is a vital part of his life. They share time and respect each other. My wife is a co-caregiver, and my son thrives because of our commitment.

Of course support has to be paid. My wife, the primary wage earner goes off to work each day living with the threat of seizure by the state. Anything that we posses in the way of a jointly held asset can be seized and sold off to cover the cost of support that I would owe if I were in persistent arrears. Jointly held assets like our home.

She takes it in stride because she understands my grief and my son's confusion. She walked into it.

We're going to have a new baby and my son will finally have a chance to be a big brother. That is of course, if he doesn't move to Edmonton. A new member of our family and a new child to share my hopes with.

This child will be entitled to a reasonable standard of living, but I can't help but wonder if he/she will have a lower standard of living because of yearly adjustments to the amount of child support I will have to pay, and his mother will have to absorb through her contributions to our collective standard of living.

Because I don't have as significant an earning capacity as my wife, I will likely be the one staying home and adopting the important role of homemaker. I will care for our new baby, care for my son if he's still here and care for the home. Of course, the support will have to be paid. My wife and I have two options due to my poor earning potential. I can get a job and put our new baby in a daycare which is not the same thing as being raised by a parent. Or I can stay home and care for our new child and my wife will pay support for a child who isn't hers. Which child should have the priority? What if I can't find work? Is it fair that I should have to institutionalize our new baby so that I won't have my assets seized and sold off? Does this make me a deadbeat dad?

My wife really dislikes feeling like we are constantly living with the influence of my ex-wife. My ex-spouse is always there, in every decision we make.

Should we buy an new stove, the old one is broken. "I wonder what my ex-wife will say". What if we would like to buy a new car. Better not, my ex-wife might find out and demand an increase in support. Try and imagine what it would be like to inherit this kind of life upon marriage to a non-custodial parent, and live in fear of the influence of their ex-spouse in everything that you do. It's really intrusive.

My wife feels that we must answer to my ex-wife, and she's right. We do.

My ex-wife doesn't have to answer to us, and we have no right to inquire as to her financial means. I don't really care to either because if I did, she too would feel controlled.

Meanwhile, my son is growing up every day. Ten days a month costs my family which we gladly absorb into our monthly expenditures. Of course, we all know that unless my child lives with me for greater than 40% of the time, any child care costs in my home, the non-custodial parent home, are not recognized.

I guess that the costs for caring for my child in my home don't exist. Tell that to my wife.

I try to maintain a balance in my home. My child knows that he has two homes and that is much more special than having one. I soften the likelihood of his confusion by trying to communicate my parenting concerns to my ex-spouse. I try to schedule his bedtime routine with the one at his mother's house.

The problem is: she won't sit down and discuss parenting issues with me.

Suffer the little children.

In our group are people from similar circumstances. Most aren't as fortunate as I am to have their children with them for ten days a month. Most parent their children for a mere 48 hours every two weeks. Most are flat broke, many are unemployed. Nearly all of them have had their parenting time denied by their ex-spouse for one reason or another.

Now there is pain, there is salt in the wound.

48 hours of "access" every two weeks. That's 96 hours per month, 1152 hours each year or 48 days. In eighteen years a non-custodial parent will have parented their children a possible 864 days, roughly two years and change. Out of eighteen years.

This of course is assuming that you are fortunate enough to live near your children. Many non-custodial parents are not.

If you have your parenting time denied, there is no recourse. It is devastating to children and parents because the time that they do have is fleeting. Any obstruction of that time is a horror. Bill C-41 certainly addresses the issue of non-payment of support, but there is nothing that even acknowledges denial of parenting time.

What are our children worth?

Most non-custodial parents would gladly pay if they had the money, but many simply don't. How does Bill C-41 address this reality? By revoking driver's licenses and passports! Is there a provision to assist non-custodial parents in seeking a variance or claiming hardship if they can't afford the support.

Well, yes. Sort of.

In theory it would work assuming that an angry ex-spouse won't attempt to prevent an application of undue hardship.

And we all know how well divorced people get along.

Are you a hero to your child if you're poor? Yes, you can be. Are you a hero to your child if you're wealthy? Yes, you can be.

Are you a hero to your child if you deny access? I doubt it. Your kids will still love you, because you're a parent, even if you deny access. They will also very likely feel confused and alienated from the parent who they were "scheduled to be with".

Are you a hero to your child if you are a leader in their lives? Yes. Can you be a hero even if you live two thousand miles away from them. Well, sort of.

They will know you as mom or dad because they have only one mom or dad. But they will see you for probably thirty days a year, not exactly day to day care. You'll still be mom or dad, but you more than likely be regarded as a distant friend who just happens to be called mom or dad.

And you'll pay three, four hundred dollars a month to do it. When you have your children with you for thirty days in the summer you will receive no support because you have the children less than 40% of the time.

When they go back to the custodial parent home you'll have a hole in your life to fill again. Your children will grow and mature and change, which you'll miss.

Your ex-spouse will probably still dislike you a great deal.

You will still pay support in accordance with the guideline. You will have no value as a parent, no role to fill in your children's lives. Your new spouse will assist in yearly increases of child support and you will feel so very alone.

This is normal. This is life for non-custodial parents and their families. This is the best that we can offer children: a monthly payment from a person they hardly know.

Is it any wonder why non-custodial parents lose hope? Can you see how easy it would be to simply walk away?

How should I tell my six year old what will likely become of his life? How shall I tell him that he might know me now but won't when he moves away and I become just another dad who sees his child for a month every summer. How can I be a parent when I'm not treated as a parent. How should I explain to our new son or daughter that he/she has a brother who they won't be able to grow up with?

This is my life like so many others.

For those of you who have been fortunate enough to watch your children grow. For those of you who have never experienced the thought of losing your children, be thankful.

To quote Joni Mitchell, "don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone".

What are your children worth: three, four hundred dollars a month? Or an alternative to this bitter, hateful system which is destroying peoples lives?

Bill C-41 simply adds more opportunity for adversity and litigation, more reasons to argue than to parent. More living under the control of an ex-spouse and more living in fear of reprisal from the state.

This isn't the future I had hoped for my children.

Suffer the little children.

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