Nearly destroyed by bureaucracy
Nearly destroyed by bureaucracy
BY MINDELLE JACOBS, EDMONTON SUN
FIRST POSTED: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2010 08:05 AM MST | UPDATED: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2010 08:06 AM MST
It began with a misaddressed letter about a court date over child support. It resulted in $80,000 in arrears and a pole-axed father losing his home, job and dignity. Eight years after the nightmare started, David Fowler finally has a chance to crawl out of that deep, black hole. But at age 55, with a disabled son to care for, he wonders if he’ll ever catch up.
“I’m going to have to pick up the pieces. I’ve got no choice in the matter,” says Fowler. “All I want to do is provide for my son.”
Things would have been different if that 2002 letter serving notice of the court date to address the child support issue had been mailed to the correct address – his postal box in Canmore’s main post office. Instead, it ended up in the slot of a community super-box in his neighbourhood.
“It sat in there for months without my knowledge. I didn’t even have a key to that box,” says Fowler, a former tow truck driver.
His ex-wife’s lawyer called him a half-hour before he was due to be in court in Calgary. Since he was in Canmore, he couldn’t make it.
The judge overestimated his salary and ordered him to pay $450 a month to support the three kids living with his ex. Several months later, the court doubled Fowler’s child support payments.
It appears the judge may not have known that Fowler had custody of a fourth child with Down syndrome and autism. Fowler was spending about $1,200 a month on aides to supervise his son when he wasn’t in school. After all, Fowler was a single dad with a solo towing business.
His son, now 15, is essentially non-verbal and needs help with everything from dressing to brushing his teeth. The teen has the mental capacity of a three-year-old.
Fowler’s current legal aid lawyer, Brian Warrington, says he could have filed a claim against his ex for support of their disabled child. But Warrington didn’t get involved in the case until last year. By that time, Fowler was more than $80,000 in arrears.
He hired several lawyers to try to get a fair hearing but kept hitting a brick wall.
Fowler’s been on welfare since 2006, when maintenance enforcement officials yanked his licence for non-payment. He lost two tow trucks because he couldn’t afford the storage fees and sold another to avoid impounding charges.
A fellow tow truck driver is storing Fowler’s last remaining truck for free until his circumstances improve. So instead of working, paying taxes and having a chance to sort out his child support mess, he’s jobless and volunteering at a thrift store five days a week in return for free clothes for his son.
“I had a company, I had a residence, I was well respected within the community,” says Fowler. “You just get totally morally destroyed.”
He may yet get his life back. His lawyer, Warrington, managed to get about $80,000 in arrears wiped from the slate. Fowler’s ex agreed to waive the arrears. If she hadn’t, she would have been sued for years of support payments for the disabled child.
But the maintenance enforcement folks are still demanding Fowler pay about $4,000 in penalties and other arrears. Officials don’t comment on specific cases, a spokesman for the maintenance enforcement program said Thursday.
“This kind of thing should never happen,” says Warrington, a Calgary lawyer. “Sometimes it’s a plug in the system and it’s hard to correct.” He’s going to try to get the rest of Fowler’s arrears eliminated as well.
Rick Fowler, president of the Equitable Child Maintenance and Access Society, (no relation to David), described it as a tragic case of government-induced poverty.
“(Fowler) and his son were taken out by family law just like a tsunami.”