Man jailed after courts bankrupt him...
Family law in Canada needs some serious change...
Jeff Dolan spent Father’s Day in jail, locked away for failure to pay child support. Deadbeat dads don’t garner a lot of sympathy. But you don’t need to study Jeff’s case for long before you realize that he’s anything but a deadbeat. Instead, he’s a man hopelessly ensnared in a crushing bureaucratic machine: He’s in jail because he couldn’t pay child support, but he couldn’t pay child support because he was unemployed … and he was unemployed because the court took his driver’s license for failure to pay child support … after he went bankrupt paying his court costs.
There is no good news in this story, but there is some dark irony. Jeff, who despite a learning disability graduated high school and held down several construction jobs in his home state of Minnesota, was also a volunteer at a local sexual violence crisis centre. One of his jobs there, on top of fielding telephone calls from sexual assault survivors, was to talk to high school classes. One thing he taught was “male privilege” — the notion that society favours men in many varied, sometimes subtle ways, thus enabling sexual violence.
Jeff is living proof that if there is such a thing as male privilege, it is doled out unevenly.
Jeff’s saga began five years ago, when a slowdown in Minnesota’s economy saw his employment opportunities dry up. After travelling to Texas to work in the oil industry, Jeff returned to his wife and two sons only to be served with a restraining order. His wife was claiming that Jeff was himself an abuser. Jeff’s lawyer urged him to immediately file for divorce, warning him that such orders are used by women as a “silver bullet” to ensure swift, favourable divorce proceedings. Jeff’s lawyer proved prescient, and he spent the next several years both seeking to prove that he was not an abuser and to get equal custody of his sons. It would be hard enough to argue for custody when facing abuse allegations at the best of time; Jeff actually had to do so before the same judge. Though the abuse allegations were ultimately set aside (two psychiatric profiles showed that he was not abusive), the damage was done — Jeff had lost equal custody, had gone deep into debt fighting two legal battles at once and had a nervous breakdown. By the time he was well enough to work, the world’s economy was in chaos, and there were no jobs.
But Jeff didn’t quit. He found new work, and could make good money billing by the hour. All he had to do was drive to the appointments, and he’d be able to pay down debt and meet his child support obligations. Enter the courts — since he had fallen behind on his obligations, the court stripped him of his driver’s license. That caused him to be unable to work. He fell further behind in his payments, and now he’s in jail. He can’t get his license back until he’s employed and making payments again, but he can’t find work because he does not have a valid license and now, must declare on job applications that he’s served jail time.
It’s a complete Catch-22, an utterly Kafka-esque nightmare from which there is no escape. The courts have left only one avenue open to Jeff to regain his freedom, financial independence and his children, while simultaneously making it impossible for him to do those very things. If anyone ever needed a heaping helping of male privilege, certainly, it must be Jeff Dolan.