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December 11th, 2006 at 6:06 am

The Divorced Men Underground Railroad

Thousands of men who don’t have access to their children are choosing to start a new life in another country by working with the Planetary Alliance for Fathers in Exile (PAFE).  This is an organization that believes men are persecuted and offers them a way out.

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An underground organization based in Nice, France, PAFE claims to have assisted 250,000 North American men start new lives in Europe.

Through encrypted e-mails and clandestine phone calls, PAFE prepares men to leave everything behind, lines up work for them abroad and changes their identities.

Alliance founder Roger Debois, who also goes by the name Jean Kelly, said he was a New York City emergency-room physician before starting PAFE. He assists North American men, including 4,000 Canadians, who want to start over. Many are the victims of "unethical lawyers,” Debois said.

Ottawa lawyer Pamela Cross, executive director of the National Association of Women and the Law, said that’s easy to say, but untrue.

"The real activism on the part of fathers’ rights groups coincided perfectly with the federal government passing changes to the child support system in 1997. It made it much more difficult for non-custodial parents not to pay appropriate levels of child support," she said.

Debois, through a series of e-mail interviews with The London Free Press, said he has helped men from London.

When asked to set up an e-mail interview with one, he said they all declined. "I asked," he wrote, "but they all said they don’t want competition."

Debois did arrange an interview with an Ontario man but that was as specific as the man would get about where he used to live.

The man called himself Pete and said he left Ontario for Austria and then Bulgaria because "every girlfriend I met declined to have a serious relationship, claiming I was not free to marry because of child-support obligations cutting into a future household."

Pete, who said he is a pilot, started a new family and has two children, aged four and one.

He has a 12-year-old son from a first marriage but said Canadian laws handed the boy to his ex. "Now I consider him a lost son."

Pete believes he made the right decision to leave Canada and give up the fight for his son.

"My potential was too precious to waste it on lawyers."

Cross said fleeing shows fathers were never really interested in their children.

"I do find it interesting . . . how often when men fight for custody and don’t get exactly what they want . . . those men just vanish from the child’s life. And then you’ve kind of got proof that this was never about the father wanting to be involved with the child."

PAFE used to have a website but has recently gone underground, Debois said, because "we act against family court orders."

Heidi Nabert, a director with Fathers Resources, a group that aids and supports fathers going through custody battles, was alarmed when she learned about PAFE.

"To create a new identity for someone is illegal," she said. Nabert questions the legality of helping fathers abscond child support.

Asked if men are leaving the country to get away from support payments, Debois responded with a link to a Global Television website promoting a documentary about two men’s access struggles against a system they believe has a "deep and persistent gender bias against fathers."

The program notes fathers have gone bankrupt trying to gain access to their children. The documentary calls for changes to Canada’s divorce laws to give more fathers more time with their kids.

Andrew Koster, the producer/director of the documentary, is a divorced dad himself. "Divorced fathers are presumed to be absent from the lives of their children by their own choice and often painted in the media as deadbeats or aggressors."

A London divorced father of three understands what drives a man to contact PAFE.

"We lose our role as fathers, husbands. I want the public to be aware of how tough it is," the father said.

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