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Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support?

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Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support?

Most separated and divorced parents are at least vaguely aware that there are certain enforcement mechanisms available in cases where a parent fails or is unwilling to pay the child support that he or she has been ordered to pay by a court.

Specifically the Family Responsibility Office (FRO), which is a provincial government agency, enforces child and spousal support from delinquent support-payers, and to this end has various enforcement tools at its disposal.  These include garnishment of the support-payer’s wages, and suspension of his or her driver’s license.

But people may not be aware that a parent in default may also face jail time, under the provisions of the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act (“FRSAEA”).  Although this outcome is not common, it does arise in some cases.

The recent decision in Ontario (Director, Family Responsibility Office) v. Garrick was one of them. The father owed child support arrears for over $55,000, which amount had been racked up over several years.  He explained the non-payment with the fact that much of those years had been spent behind bars, after his highly-publicized conviction for fraud perpetrated against several well-known people, including “two football icons” and a doctor at the Hospital for Sick Children.   And while he had now served his time and was released, he claimed that with his criminal record and notoriety, he was now practically unemployable in the community.

The court did not buy it.  It observed that the father had not provided financial disclosure of his income, nor did he bring forth evidence as to the jobs he had applied for, or the rejections he received.  The court also added that his evidence fell short in other ways, too:

A payor in a default proceeding has the onus [under the FRSAEA] of proving that he or she has accepted responsibility to pay child support and has placed the child’s interests over his or her own. Mr. Garrick has provided no evidence of having done anything of the sort.

Indeed – and despite the father’s claims to the contrary – the court found that he was healthy and employable, but had wholly abdicated his support responsibilities to his child while continuing to live an affluent lifestyle.  He had spent a full seven years actively avoiding his financial obligations to his own child.

Turning to the available recourse in these situations, the court noted that the role of incarceration was to compel the father’s compliance with his support obligations, not to punish him.   However, the court added:

I have considered all of those submissions. But the court must conclude that this is a textbook case of a payor arranging his affairs in order to avoid paying the support that he has been found to be capable of paying. [The father] has carried the metaphorical keys of his prison in his pocket. If he is incarcerated, he has, for reasons of his own, chosen to lock himself in.

The court ordered the father to be incarcerated for 90 days, or until the child support arrears were paid in full. Additional jail time was ordered in the event that on a going-forward basis the father continued to put himself in default.


For the full text of the decision, see:

Ontario (Director, Family Responsibility Office) v. Garrick 

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at