Statistics Canada is reporting that arrears of child and spousal support owing in Canada totals $2.7 billion. This data is compiled from the provincial agencies that provide a free collection service for parents/spouses who receive child or spousal support.
How does it work? A person in British Columbia (and all other provinces in Canada) who has a court order or an agreement which specifies that support will be paid can register their order or agreement with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP). This provincial government agency then notifies the payor of support to pay their support directly to FMEP where the sum is processed and delivered to the intended recipient.
Based on the enormous sum owing to Canadian recipients, one has to query the success rate of these support collection agencies. If the agencies are doing their job, why is the support owing in Canada so high? The answer is very simple. The process of enforcing and collecting support is straightforward if the payor is employed by a business and receives a T-4 setting out the income earned. The legislation that empowers support collection agencies provides that if the payor fails to pay support as required, the agency can garnish the payor’s wages directly from the payor’s employee.
But more and more Canadians are self-employed in small business or work in situations where income is received in cash or through barter, making it difficult to seize the unpaid support. In these cases, FMEP will seize income tax or GST refunds, if they are available.
Other remedies available to FMEP often result in compliance from payors. Egregious offenders can lose their driver’s licenses and other federal licenses. For some payors the ultimate penalty is losing their passport.
I know of a situation where a parent is stranded on a Caribbean Island unable to leave the country because their Canadian passport has been seized as a result of support arrears.
Why do payors fail to pay support? There are many reasons. Sometimes it is because a parent is denied contact with their child and withdraws support in protest. Other times it is men or women who insist they will never pay support to their ex out of bitterness over the marriage breakdown. Frequently, these situations include a spouse who has left the marriage because of adultery, but is still eligible for spousal support based on Canada’s no-fault system.
Still others lose their job, are demoted or laid off and have no financial resources to go back to court to have their support order decreased on the basis of a significant change in their income, through no fault of their own. Another factor may be the increase in the amount of support that is payable based on recent adjustments to the Child Support Guidelines which more accurately calculate the real costs of raising children. The introduction of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines has also increased the amount of spousal support paid in Canada.
Men and women who have financial resources who refuse to pay support deserve the consequences flowing from their conduct, which can include jail time. Persons who have a change in their income due to health problems or the economy should not be penalized.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang