CANADA

TIPPING THE BALANCE

BRIAN BERGMAN March 18 1996
CANADA

TIPPING THE BALANCE

BRIAN BERGMAN March 18 1996

TIPPING THE BALANCE

She became a lightning rod for thousands of divorced women across Canada. In May, 1994, Susan Thibaudeau, a social worker and divorced mother of two from Trois-Rivières, Que., won a gruelling legal battle when the Federal Court of Appeal upheld her refusal to pay taxes on the $1,150 a month that she received in child support payments from her ex-husband. The court agreed that the tax law was discriminatory because noncustodi al parents who pay support, usually fathers, are allowed to deduct pay ments from taxable income while custodial parents, usually mothers, must pay taxes on them. Ottawa ap pealed and last June the Supreme Court of Canada uoheld the tax

By failing to make the tax reforms retroactive, they said, Ottawa would force thousands of women with existing custody arrangements to launch potentially costly court actions. “These are measures that penalize women once again,” said Thibaudeau, who was on Parliament Hill for the announcements.

Many divorced fathers who stand to lose a considerable tax deduction were even more incensed, flooding open-line radio programs and Ottawa’s budget hotline with angry calls. Ross Virgin, president of a Toronto-based men’s rights group called In Search of Justice, told Maclean’s that he was also fielding calls from anxious males who were

act—prompting an angry Thibaudeau to say that she was ashamed to live in country where “the values of governments are money and power.” But Justice Minister Allan Rock told Thibaudeau to take heart: the Liberals intended to introduce a package of child support reforms that would address her concerns. Last week, Rock delivered—and managed to upset both divorced mothers like Thibaudeau and noncustodial fathers.

In a series of measures announced along with the federal budget, Rock said that for custody arrangements reached after May 1, 1997, people will no longer have to pay taxes on their support payments, while parents who make the payments will no longer get a tax deduction. Women’s groups warmly endorsed Rock’s proposals— with one serious reservation.

“tired of being treated as wallets rather than fathers.” Rock’s proposed changes, he said, were “nothing but a massive tax grab by Ottawa that will take money out of the hands of families.”

Some family law specialists say that such concerns may be justified. Over the first three years under the new tax regime, Ottawa expects to enjoy a revenue gain of $200 million-money that Rock insists will be used to support children of divorced parents. But even if that is true, says Evita Roche, an Ottawa-based family lawyer and mediator, family finances could be squeezed. Most of those who pay child support are men who make more money than their ex-wives, putting them in a

higher income tax bracket; there tends to be more money available for children if the lower-income earner pays the tax. Roche also says that the changes could prompt even more men to default on their payments, while others may go back to court to seek reduced obligations. Concluded Roche: “Women who are looking for an immediate benefit from this will find that they have more problems than they realize.” Rock, who last week embarked on a national tour to promote his reforms, may find that the hard slogging has just begun.

BRIAN BERGMAN

in Ottawa