September 16, 2003

[…] Luke Hovland committed suicide June 3, eight months after spending 43 days in the Strafford County jail for failing to pay more than $16,000 to his ex-wife to cover half of their daughter’s tuition at Tufts University.

Hovland — a forester-turned-salesman — made about $55,000 yearly and had struggled to keep up with child support payments while earning enough for his new wife and young daughter, Sakellarios said. The lawyer said the court-ordered tuition payment deepened the 50-year-old Hovland’s despair.

“You get more and more convinced they’re going to chase you forever,” Sakellarios said at his office in Manchester. “There was a sense of hopelessness.”

While empathizing with Hovland, Sakellarios said the question of requiring divorced parents to provide college support is complex. He said New Hampshire’s current policy would be improved if the courts placed a cap on the mandated payments, so that no parent could be forced to pay more than half of the tuition for in-state students at the University of New Hampshire — currently $8,644.

Wil Boc, the lawyer who represented Hovland’s ex-wife, contended that Hovland persistently misrepresented his financial situation as worse than it was while resisting child-support payments.

However, Boc said judges handling similar cases should look carefully at individual circumstances and show some understanding for the noncustodial parents.

“Judges need to listen more to how it makes a father feel when a kid says, ‘Don’t ever call me, I don’t want to speak to you, here’s my bill for $20,000,”‘ Boc said. “It drives people crazy.”