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Support Payments “Drove Man To Suicide”

Canberra Times - Sunday, 19th November 2000, by Megan Doherty

“You've Pushed Him To The Grave”, Ex-Partner Tells CSA Officer.

Queenbeyan woman Kate Gibbs is convinced the pressure of making child support payments while being unable to build a new life of his own is what finally drove her former partner to commit suicide.

Ms Gibbs and Warrant Gilbert always expected to support his three children but not to the extent where he was only working to keep up the payments and simply exist.

The 28-year old Canberra man died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a friend's car in August while clutching a letter of demand from the Child Support Agency which he had received two days earlier.

The Act Coroner's Court was told this week Mr Gilbert was being forced to live on $150 a week, 47 per cent of his gross salary gone in tax and 30 per cent in child support.

Coroner Warren Nicholl made no recommendation about the CSA but said it was clear that Mr Gilbert's struggle to meet obligations played a large part in the lead-up to his death.

Ms Gibbs claims the CSA even asked Mr Gilbert to sell his car and furniture to maintain the payments without taking into account whether the mothers of his children had entered into new relationships and their circumstances had changed.

Ms Gibbs, 20, said, "You should have to pay for your kids, fair enough, but I mean when they're set up and don't need the money, it shouldn't be taken.

Child Support Agency general manager Catherine Argall said legislation prevented her from discussing in detail individual cases but she did suggest the CSA had not treated Mr Gilbert unfairly.

"When CSA hears of the suicide of one of its clients, it has a profound impact on us and particularly those staff who have spoken with the family." Ms Agall said.

"In circumstances such as this we review our contacts and in this case I can confirm there was no indication that Mr Gilbert was in distress over child support.

"The public records indicate that Mr Gilbert's personal circumstances were complex."

MS Gibbs said other factor may have contributed to Mr Gilbert taking his own life but she believes the child support payments and the fact that the mothers of his children did not want him to see them tipped him over the edge.

Ms Gibbs said Mr Gilbert was working seven days a week but still could not get out of debt or buy his own home.

"He wasn't getting anywhere," she said.

Mr Gilbert had three children from two different relationships.

Ms Gibbs, who was with him for four years, claims she rang Mr Gilbert's CSA case manager the day after she discovered he was dead.

"Pretty much the first thing that came out of her mouth was , "Did he have a will? Does he have any assets?" and I said, 'You're not taking anything else off him. You've pushed him to the grave," she said.

Ms Gibbs believes the CSA has a punitive attitude to non-custodial parents.

"When we put a claim in to get payments reduced and he put down $10 for entertainment they wouldn't lower it because he spent things on entertainment," she said.

"It's just little things. You can't go anywhere. You just haven't got the money."