Court Orders Maintenance Enforcement Program to Pay Dad for Abusive Collection Efforts

GeorgiaLeeLang009Some of the worst complaints about the  British Columbia family law justice system arise from litigants dealing with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program  (“FMEP”), called the Family Responsibility Office in Ontario.

Support enforcement programs permit parents and spouses who have court orders or agreements providing for child or spousal support payments to register their orders or agreements with the enforcement program in their province, at no cost to the registrant.

The protocol is that once an agreement or order is registered, the payee parent or spouse must pay support to FMEP, no longer directly to the recipient. FMEP ensures that the recipient parent or spouse receives the payment monthly, and in cases where a payee fails to pay, they take steps to enforce the payment of the support.

Interestingly, a payee does not have to be in arrears of support to be monitored by FMEP.  I remember years ago when a client of mine agreed to pay support for his wife and children, an agreement that was incorporated into a court order. My client’s wife registered with the Program as she was entitled to, however, my client was most distressed when he received a letter from FMEP  addressed, “Dear Debtor”. My client made every payment every month on time and was insulted by the program’s cavalier use of the term “debtor”. He was certainly not a debtor, just a regular guy whose wife registered with the program.

Sometimes recipients enter the program out of spite for their former spouse, however, 99.9% of the cases involve payees who have fallen behind in their court ordered payments.

In a recent Ontario case, a typical scenario unfolded for Richard DeBiasio, who paid child support to his ex-wife for the support of the two children residing with her, with a set-off because he had one child living with him. It is not uncommon that as children mature they switch homes and move from mom’s house to dad’s house. That’s what occurred in the DeBiasio case where over time all the children resided with their father.

Mr. DeBiasio negotiated new terms for child support with his former wife, entered into a new agreement and made arrangements to appear in court to finalize their new arrangements. Unfortunately, Ms. DeBiasio had already registered with the Family Responsibility Office,  (“FRO”) who were unaware of the new support agreement that had yet to be confirmed by the court.

The first Mr. DeBiasio heard of any problems was when FRO sent a letter advising him that they were reporting him to the credit bureau. Shortly thereafter FRO issued a garnishing order to his employer which prompted his lawyer to send a letter to FRO advising of their mistake and the pending court order.  FRO was unmoved–they were enforcing the order they had received from Mr. DeBiasio’s wife and had now taken steps to have his driver’s  license suspended. Needless to say, FRO was not responsive to any communication and regularly ignored letters from his lawyer, also refusing to accept phone calls.

Mr. DeBiasio finally obtained a court order directing FRO to cease their collection efforts. He then asked the court to order FRO to reimburse him for his legal fees, an amount close to  $10,000. The court reviewed numerous other decisions ordering FRO to pay costs, noting that most of these cases involved “aggressive enforcement actions on the part of FRO”.

Justice Nelson awarded Mr. DeBiasio the sum of $7,500 saying:

“In this case it was made clear to the FRO caseworker that there was a dispute over the amount of arrears owing.  It was made abundantly clear that there had been a material change because of the move of the children.  While I understand that FRO has a mandate to enforce, it seems to me that insisting on enforcement by way of licence suspension, when it is likely that the matter will be before the court within a very short period of time, is an unreasonable exercise of the Director’s mandate to enforce.

…the caseworker was kept fully apprised of all relevant information about the motion to change.  The refraining motion was December 10, 2015; the motion to change was scheduled for December 30, 2015.  The insistence by the Director on proceeding with enforcement under such circumstances is not only costly to the individual involved but costly to the court in terms of time allotted to the case.”

It should be noted that FMEP’s and FRO’s inappropriate attitude while serving the public is not limited to payors who have arrears of support. It is also nigh impossible for recipients to be heard in a timely manner. The British Columbia program is contracted to a large American corporation that makes oodles of money, with little apparent concern for customer relations.

DeBiasio v. DeBiasio 2016 ONSC 2253

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Prestigious “Stella” Awards

10950859361151CDPEveryone knows about the Emmy, Tony, and Oscar Awards, but what about the Stella Awards?

A “Stella” is awarded to those litigants who file the most frivolous lawsuits each year. The award is named after Stella Liebeck, the 79-year-old woman who successfully sued McDonald’s Restaurants in 1992 when she spilled hot coffee on herself.

Her original payout was $2.9 million which included punitive damages, however, on appeal she received far less.

Ironically, although outrageous lawsuits continue to clutter our court dockets, Stella’s case was bonafide. The rarely published facts included the following:

1. She was badly burned. The reports say that either 6% or 16% of her body was burned.
2. She underwent treatment for two years including multiple skin grafts.
3. She offered to settle her lawsuit with McDonald’s for $20,000.00, but the company declined.
4. Between 1982 and 1992 McDonald’s dealt with about 700 spilled coffee cases, many of them resulting in serious injuries.

So, perhaps undeservedly, Stella is the namesake for vexatious litigants.

Recent Stella runners-up include:

Allen Ray Heckard, although shorter and heavier than Michael Jordan, sued Jordan because Heckard said that people frequently mistook Mr. Heckard for “Air” Jordan. He sought hundreds of millions of dollars for defamation and emotional suffering.

Looking for even deeper pockets, he also sued Nike for the same relief. After a brief chat with a phalanx of corporate litigators, Mr. Heckard abandoned his lawsuit.

Speciality search engine Kinderstart.com sued Google in an attempt to have Google list their website, explain their Page rankings to Kinderstart.com, and pay compensation to them as a Google competitor.

They claimed that Google breached their constitutional right to freedom of speech by failing to rate them higher on Google.

You’ve got to be kidding! Who are the lawyers that take these cases?

The clever owner of stellaawards.com should begin a new website to “out” the lawyers and law firms that participate in this nonsense. It could be as popular as the United Kingdom website “Solicitors from Hell”!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide….

352c45a9a449851d47da3cd61856bca7Yes, it’s true. Family law lawyers now have access to information that can transform a case from an up-hill battle to a slam-dunk and its all thanks to the internet.

Case in point: I have a client whose ex-husband, a venture capitalist, stopped paying his child support about one year ago. Exhibiting the patience of a saint, my client bided her time, hopeful that her ex would reinstate his payments and make up the arrears. Didn’t happen.

She then contacted my office and the legal process began. Her ex was obliged to provide the usual financial documents including income tax returns and corporate financial statements. His tax returns showed nominal income and gosh, darn, he said that all of his businesses were insolvent and that he had no financial statements.

With a little help from the internet, we learned that he was selling his home with an asking price of just over $900,000.00. After the usual land title searches, we learned that he had already purchased a new home in another community. He said that he was downsizing. He paid about $850,000.00 for his new home. It was a lovely estate property in a less expensive rural area.

Next stop was his Linkedin page and from there we simply googled his name and the names of his corporations. Here’s what we found.

Earlier that year, he made an offer of $25 million to purchase a golf course/housing development project that was very close to his new home and in financial trouble. Press releases abounded announcing the pending acquisition and his superior business acumen.

Several years earlier he had been a finalist for an entrepreneur of the year award. He was on the Board of his local Chamber of Commerce and associated with at least two consulting firms touting his business expertise. His allegations of insolvency were not born out. His only business debt was related to a wine store he operated. He was paying $1000.00 per month to pay down the $40,000.00 debt, $1000.00 more than he was paying for his two kids!

With this information and his feeble explanations, he no longer looked as broke as he said he was. Now we await the court-ordered production of all his credit card and bank account statements. Our court hearing is pending.

You can run, but you can’t hide.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang