Divorce and Custody Battle Causes Man to Set Himself on Fire

In an incident that received little attention in the mainstream press, a man named Tom Ball, 58, committed suicide in front of the Keene, New Hampshire County Courthouse on June 15, 2011 by dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match. His 15 page suicide note explained that he was angry at the state child protection bureaucracy and the courts after his ten year battle over child abuse charges. He was angry at the US court system, the federal government, police, child protective services, in general, a system that in his opinion no longer works and no longer serves our interests.

Ball’s troubles began when he slapped his then four-year-old daughter, giving her a cut on the lip, when she refused to obey him after three verbal warnings.

His wife called the child’s mental health provider who apparently told her that if she did not call the police, both she and Ball would be arrested.

So she called the police and Ball was arrested. After six months, the wife filed for divorce. Clearly, no one should strike children. But a cut lip under some circumstances, if a clearly isolated instance and without more, probably should not constitute child abuse, and certainly not domestic violence. This family probably needed help and what they got was an inflexible system that was not, by its very nature and structure, able to help the family in the ways they needed it. What if instead of dealing with the bureaucratic and inflexible family and criminal court systems, the family had been provided with therapy and counseling, what if they had been able to learn effective and compassionate communication skills, what if they had been able to learn how to resolve conflicts and better discipline skills? Perhaps the couple would still have divorced, but they probably would have learned to co-parent effectively despite the divorce. Perhaps Mr. Ball would have learned more effective methods of discipline and conflict resolution, and the child would probably have had a father and close and loving relationship with him. A far better outcome in my opinion, than a broken family and a dead father.

One interesting part of his suicide note was his observation that the United States is no longer a nation of laws; Ball described what he calls the ‘second set of books,’ which is essentially the collection of policies, procedures, and protocols that courts and executive agencies rely upon. According to Ball this includes police departments and other ‘enforcers’ across the country who use standardized responses to take judgment out of the equation. Even the guys who drove the trains to the concentration camps were just following procedures claims Ball.

Tom Ball owed about $3,000 in child support, and in his suicide letter noted that he could have borrowed the money. However, Ball had not worked in two years and faced jail time for failure to pay child support. Wouldn’t the court and his ex-wife know about his financial status? If he did not have the money before, how would he get the money after spending a year in jail?

In his lengthy note, Ball expressed his frustration with domestic violence charges and lengthy divorce proceedings, and wrote of a conspiracy of feminists and governments that disenfranchise men. I don’t agree with the claims of Ball and others that this was due to feminism and a bias in favor of women and against men in family court. But I do believe it lends credence to the view that in so many cases, the court system simply does not work and that most of us are better off learning conflict resolution skills to solve our own problems, and if necessary working with professionals to assist in that effort, rather than relying on the court system and other bureaucracies.