In a case called Caine v Ferguson, the court was asked to consider whether a support-paying father of a child, who now had additional children to support, should be relieved of paying $11,000 in support arrears, because he acted as a stay-at-home dad while pursuing a fledgling part-time music career.
The 29-year old father had been previously ordered to pay $332 per month for his first child, who was now 9 years old, based on what the court imputed to be his income of about $35,500. He paid no support whatsoever, and the Family Responsibility Office started taking steps to collect on about $11,000, representing the unpaid support arrears that had accumulated so far. The child’s mother was on social assistance.
The father was now married to another woman with whom he had two additional children. The court described his part-time musical endeavours this way:
He stated that he is a talented musician and that he is writing, performing and producing his own music. He showed the court his recent CD. He says that he is not making any money yet, but he is giving away the CD at no cost and performing at shows for free in order to become better known. He said that his music is being played on music stations. He also has made some music videos that are on the internet.
The father brought a motion asking the court to eliminate the arrears entirely, claiming that he earned no income in the two most recent tax years.
The court found that – despite his child care obligations to his new family – the father was deliberately under-employed, and his decision to stay at home was simply not reasonable in light of his obligations to support his first child. (And it did not help him for the court to learn that he quickly depleted a $10,000 personal injury settlement, obtained after a car accident, by traveling to St. Maarten with his new wife and making music videos).
Rather than try to pursue his music career part-time, the court found that the father could have been earning at least $21,300 per year at a minimum wage job, even taking into account his child care responsibility to his other children. As the court put it:
He is choosing to pursue a speculative music career at [his first child’s] expense. He has no desire to pay child support for [her] and appears quite content with the status quo…
He refused to pay child support and completely ignored the order. He has financially abandoned this child. … The court cannot condone such behaviour and needs to send a clear message that there are consequences for acting this way.
… [The mother’s] social assistance entitlement has remained unchanged. It has been the taxpayer who has had to subsidize the [father’s] financial neglect of [his child]
The court concluded that he had made nominal efforts to seek work since 2008, when the order for support of his first child was initially made. Nothing about his current situation called for a change to that order, other than to adjust the $35,500 that had been imputed to him at the time, since in all the circumstances it was unrealistically high.
The court retroactively imputed that amount of income to the father, and adjusted the arrears slightly to accord with the lower income figure that it imputed. The court also observed that the father could still pursue his musical aspirations on a freelance basis, if he remained adamant.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Caine v Ferguson, 2012 ONCJ 139 (CanLII)