Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘family responsibility office’

Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario – video

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

In this legal video, we review enforcement in Ontario is done through a provincial government office called the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). The court automatically files all support orders made after July 1, 1987 with the FRO. Separation agreements can also be filed there if they have been filed with the court and then mailed to the FRO.

The parent who is to pay support is told to make all support payments to the FRO. When the FRO receives a payment, it sends a cheque to the parent with custody, or deposits the money directly into that parent’s bank account. It only does this after it has received the money from the paying parent.

If a payment is missed, the FRO takes action to enforce the order or agreement. To do this, the FRO needs as much up-to-date information about the paying parent as possible. This includes his or her full name, address, social insurance number, place of employment or business, income, and any property he or she owns. The information about the paying parent goes on a Support Deduction Information Form which is available at the court. This form is given to the FRO along with the support order or agreement. It is important to update this form whenever the information changes.

 

Once the order or agreement is filed with the FRO, then it is the FRO, not the other parent, that is responsible for any actions taken to enforce it.

Sometimes parents receiving support withdraw from the FRO because it is easier to receive payments directly from the other parent. But if problems arise later, and they want to re-file with the FRO, they might have to pay a fee to do this.

Parents who have an obligation to pay support should also know that the FRO cannot change the amount that the order or agreement says they have to pay. If they think that a change in their financial situation justifies a reduction in the amount of support they should pay, they must get a new agreement or go to court to get the support order changed.

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 www.RussellAlexander.com.

Husband Reneges on Post-Separation House Transfer – What Do Courts Do About Broken Promises?

taxiShould a Cab Driver Lose His Licence for Failing to Pay Support?

As many of you know, in Ontario the government’s Family Responsibility Office (FRO) is charged with the task of helping enforce spousal and child support orders. To do this, the FRO has been given an arsenal of enforcement mechanisms to be used against the parent in default of a support order – including garnishing wages or income tax refunds, having a lien placed on property, and suspending his or her passport.

But one of the more routine enforcement mechanisms is for the FRO to suspend the driver’s license of the defaulting payor until he or she has paid the support arrears or has satisfied other terms of the support order.

Certainly this adds a significant level of inconvenience to the payor’s life, and likely provides a very effective incentive for paying arrears and support. But what happens if that person relies on being able to drive, as a means of earning his or her livelihood?

This was precisely the quandary in the recent Ontario decision in Dumais v. Dumais. There, the father had been ordered to pay about $300 in monthly child support, based on his income. However, he never voluntarily paid that support and quickly fell into arrears which over time totalled about $40,000. The mother applied to the FRO for assistance to enforce the support order and collect the arrears.

The matter came before the court when the father asked to have the arrears rescinded, and to have his support reduced to zero. In this context, the court had to consider whether the FRO’s suspension of the father’s driver’s license was reasonable in the circumstances.

The court observed that if it allowed the license suspension to continue, then the father would lose his job as a taxi driver and have no source of income whatsoever. This, the court found, was counter-productive and moreover would prevent the father from driving to exercising access to his child (who was in the custody of the mother).

Instead, the court arrived at something of a compromise: Rather than allow the FRO to suspend the father’s license for arrears – which it said would be “catastrophic” – it essentially suspended the FRO’s suspension in connection with the arrears only. The father was not totally off the hook, however: Any going-forward support would still be subject to the FRO’s enforcement mechanisms. The husband’s support obligations were reduced slightly, to $267 per month, based on his most recent income levels.

Dumais v. Dumais, 2013 ONSC 5949  http://canlii.ca/t/g0q8x

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 www.RussellAlexander.com.

Is the Family Responsibility Office Culpable for its Screw-Ups?

 

 shrug

Is the Family Responsibility Office Culpable for its Screw-Ups?

In a prior blog Top 5 Tips for Dealing with the Family Responsibility Office I gave some tips on how to effectively deal with the Family Responsibility Office (FRO), which is charged with encouraging and enforcing timely payment of court-ordered support in Ontario.

The experience of having the FRO involved comes with its hassles: My clients often complain of delays, confusion, and frustration in dealing with the FRO whether they are on the paying or the receiving side of the equation. Part of this is likely systemic: the FRO reports handling about 180,000 cases each year, and as a government body is hampered by all the red-tape that seems to inherently afflict bureaucratic offices.

But the recent Ontario decision in Ashak v. Ontario (Director, Family Responsibility Office) offers the unexpected – and one might say refreshing – possibility that the FRO could be held liable for its inefficiencies and mistakes, whatever their origin.

There, a support order that had been filed with the FRO obliged the husband to pay child and spousal support to his former wife. Rather than pay, he left the country, most likely fleeing to Iraq where there was no agreement between that country and Canada to reciprocally enforce these kinds of support orders. The wife was forced to turn to social assistance.

Fortunately, at one point the husband returned briefly to Ontario; at this point the FRO, in conjunction with the federal government, was able to confiscate his passport using its power under Canadian support-enforcement legislation.

Yet it all went wrong for the wife a few months later: despite the fact that the husband filed some questionable documentation in support of his bid to have the passport reinstated, the FRO inexplicably authorized the federal government to take that step anyway. This allowed the husband to abscond from Canada once again, still not having paid any support. He is not expected to be seen in Canada again.

The wife then took an unusual step: she sued the FRO for (among other things) gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty in its handling of her case. The FRO asked the Ontario court to summarily dismiss the wife’s claims against it, claiming the wife has no standing as a private citizen to sue a government body.

The court dismissed the FRO’s application. Perhaps surprisingly, it concluded that the FRO “owes a duty of care to the public generally.” A person in the wife’s position, who had an active file and who had been proactive in providing the FRO with information, had been negatively impacted by the FRO’s mistake. The economic harm she and her children suffered was foreseeable: Had the FRO done its job correctly, the husband would not have had his passport returned, and the wife would have been able to get her support order enforced against him.

The matter was ordered to proceed to trial; that hearing will involve consideration of the FRO’s proper standard of care. I will report on that decision as soon as it is handed down.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Ashak v. Ontario (Director, Family Responsibility Office), 2012 ONSC 1909 http://canlii.ca/t/frqmq

Ashak v. Ontario (Family Responsibility Office), 2013 ONCA 375 (procedural decision) http://canlii.ca/t/fxsjq

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 www.RussellAlexander.com.

Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

In this we discuss enforcement in Ontario is done through a provincial government office called the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). The court automatically files all support orders made after July 1, 1987 with the FRO. Separation agreements can also be filed there if they have been filed with the court and then mailed to the FRO.

The parent who is to pay support is told to make all support payments to the FRO. When the FRO receives a payment, it sends a cheque to the parent with custody, or deposits the money directly into that parent’s bank account. It only does this after it has received the money from the paying parent.

If a payment is missed, the FRO takes action to enforce the order or agreement.

Enforcement of Child Support


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

In Ontario is done through a provincial government office called the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). The court automatically files all support orders made after July 1, 1987 with the FRO.

The parent who is to pay support is told to make all support payments to the FRO. When the FRO receives a payment, it sends a cheque to the parent with custody, or deposits the money directly into that parent’s bank account. It only does this after it has received the money from the paying parent.

If a payment is missed, the FRO takes action to enforce the order or agreement.

Varying Child Support – How Long is Too Long to Wait

???????????????????????????????????????

Varying Child Support – How Long is Too Long to Wait ?

In this case, the mother of a child – whose finances had taken a downturn for a few years – narrowly missed being deemed too late to have her child support obligations reduced accordingly.

The child’s father agreed to have custody when he and the mother split up in 2007. At that time the mother was ordered to pay him $211 per month in child support, based on income that the court had to guess was in the range of $25,000 per year.

Three years later, in 2010, the mother brought an application to vary that order, to have the support reduced in line with her lower-income during those subsequent years. (And it must be noted that she was in arrears under the original order at the time of her application).

The mother explained that her circumstanced had changed: she had held a variety of jobs and had been fired from at least two of them because the Family Responsibility Office was taking enforcement measures against her salary. She was in the process of trying to build a photography business with her new boyfriend, but it was faltering and was in fact operating at a loss.

The mother therefore asked the court for a support adjustment, to bring it in line with her $18,000 income for 2007, and her $0 income for both 2009 and 2010, when the photography business was losing money. At the same time she asked the court for an after-the-fact extension of the time for her to file her variation application. (The child’s father did not object to the mother’s application in this regard, and filed no material to refute the mother’s figures.)

The mother was largely successful on her application, though the court refused to vary her support obligation for 2007. However, it agreed to reduce her support liability to $157 per month for 2008, $40 per month for 2009, and $28 for 2010. For the years 2011 and 2012 she was relieved of child support obligations entirely. The child turned 18 in late 2012, so child support after that time would cease in any event.

Although the court commented on her 3-year delay, it concluded that the mother – who was unrepresented – had not intended to let the matter drag on; rather, she was unaware of the correct deadlines for doing so, and unsure of the proper documents to file.

More importantly, the court found that the significant reductions in the mother’s income were a “material change in circumstances” under the law, and were of the type that warranted a corresponding reduction in her child support obligations.

What’s the lesson to be learned? Don’t delay in bringing your variation application! And get a lawyer, so that you know your rights!

For the full text of the decision, see:

Stirling v. Willrich, 2013 ONSC 2003 http://canlii.ca/t/fwx5s

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 Russell Alexander.com

Top 5 Tips for Dealing with the Family Responsibility Office

tips

Top 5 Tips for Dealing with the Family Responsibility Office

A while ago I wrote about the role of the provincial Family Responsibility Office (FRO) More About The Family Responsibility Office, Some Common Problems Addressed.  (For those who aren’t aware: In Ontario, all child support orders are automatically filed with the FRO, which operates under legislation giving it an arsenal of mechanisms by which to encourage and enforce timely payment of support on the part of the paying parent.)

If you are such a payor pursuant to a court-issued Support Order, here are five tips for dealing with the FRO:

1. Always keep the FRO updated on address changes.

Otherwise, you may miss out on receiving the various noticed that the FRO is required by law to give you. These may include a warning that the enforcement mechanisms that can be levied against you are about to be stepped up – for example a notice that your driver’s license is about to be suspended.

2. Keep the FRO apprised of your employment situation.

If you have lost your job, have been laid off work, or have had your income reduced due to disability or a reduction of overtime, then the FRO should be made aware. In such situations your next step may be to obtain a variation of the filed child support order that triggers the FRO’s involvement in the first place, which will in turn affect the FRO’s role and mandate in the enforcement process.

3. Don’t ignore anything you have received from the FRO.

Many of the processes involving the FRO allow for only a few days for you to respond; the FRO may quickly escalate the remedies available to assist with collection and you don’t want to be surprised by any of them. The FRO’s available avenues for encouraging your compliance and payment can include: suspending your driver’s license or passport, a garnishee of your wages (via a “Support Deduction Order” sent to your employer), filing writs or liens against your property, seizing your income tax refunds and HST rebates, seizing your bank accounts and – last but not least – imposing jail time of up to 180 days.

4. Document everything.

This includes not only your correspondence with the FRO, but also the paper trail of any support payments that you have made. Payments to the FRO can be made by way of internet banking or telephone banking and may be the easiest to document; payments by cheque or money order are more cumbersome to track. But regardless of the method, make sure to designate the FRO case number on any payment that you make.

5. Always make the mandated support payments if you can.

As mentioned, the FRO has a wide arsenal of options to deal with delays or non-payment, including jail time if necessary. Naturally, these shorter-term consequences should be avoided if at all possible. But there can be longer-term drawbacks as well: arrears in child support payments will show up negatively on your credit bureau report, which can affect you for years to come.

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 http://www.russellalexander.com/practice/family-responsibility-office-fro-and-default-hearings/

So what do you think?  Do you have any tips or comments for dealing with FRO?

No “Get Out of Jail Free” Card – What NOT to do When You Owe Child Support

get out2

No “Get Out of Jail Free” Card – What NOT to do When You Owe Child Support

A recent Ontario decision illustrates that courts will get tough with payor spouses who allow themselves to accumulate significant child support arrears by putting their other interests in priority to their support obligations.

The facts were rather typical: Commencing in January of 2007, the father had been ordered to pay $300 in child support. However, over time he fell into significant arrears, to the point where he owed almost $10,000.

Faced with the father’s ongoing default in payment, the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) started proceedings against him. A total of 14 court appearances were required in order to try to deal with the matter. Eventually, the father agreed to pay $500 per month, comprised of the original $300 in ongoing support, and an additional $200 to be paid toward the outstanding arrears. As part of this order, the court decreed that for each missed payment, the father would spend three days in jail.

Once again, however, the father missed payments, but then in August 2011 – faced with what would otherwise be his imminent arrest – he paid off what now totalled $12,000 in arrears.

After that time, the father made no further voluntary payments at all. (It was conceded, however, that at one point he had lost his job as a chef and had been receiving Employment Insurance benefits. Some of the EI benefits had been subject to garnishment by the FRO.)

However, even after the father found another job, he was not particularly forthcoming with his payments. After more pressure from the FRO, he indicated that he was content to have his wages garnished at the 50% rate, and was willing to consent to paying $800 per month going-forward, with $300 in monthly ongoing support and $500 allocated towards the arrears.

Nonetheless, the FRO was not satisfied with this plan, as there was concern that the father would not follow up with or follow through on it. The FRO pointed out that in August of 2011, for example, when he was on the brink of being incarcerated, the father had agreed to have his wages garnished at 50%, but then he sat back and did nothing, waiting instead until the FRO took additional steps against him.

The FRO therefore applied to the court for a default order, requiring that required the father to pay arrears, and which allowed the FRO permission to apply for any future arrest warrants without giving the father notice (as was normally a requirement).

The court granted the FRO’s request.

It considered the father’s chequered history of defaulting on his support payments, the fact that he had been recalcitrant for years (i.e. since the original order in 2007), and the fact that he had been given many prior chances. The court wrote:

Having regard to the history of this matter, and the significant length of time over which the payor has had the opportunity to organize his financial affairs, the time has come for him to treat this obligation with the importance it deserves.

The payor is no longer entitled to put his own interests ahead of those who are entitled to child support.

It would appear that the tasks he is required to perform in his work are not so onerous that he could not give realistic consideration to supplementing his income through other forms of employment.

Furthermore, the payor may have to prevail upon other family members in an effort to assist him in paying the arrears. He can then make private arrangements as to an appropriate repayment schedule. Someone other than the Family Responsibility Office must now be either the banker or broker.

The father was ordered by the court to pay arrears of almost $10,000 by a specified date, failing which a warrant of committal could be issued to incarcerate him for 60 days. The order for $300 per month in ongoing support, with a 3-day jail term for each missed payment, was allowed to stand.

Ontario (Director, Family Responsibility Office) v. McLaughlin (2012), 2012 ONCJ 334  http://canlii.ca/t/frlmw

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 www.RussellAlexander.com.

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Top 4 points about enforcing child and spousal support payments

 
 

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Top 4 points about enforcing child and spousal support payments

For those ex-spouses who are subject to a court order or have agreed that one of them will pay spousal or child support to the other, there are several points about the enforcement of such orders or agreements that are noteworthy, here are four points to consider:

1. Filing and deduction is automatic.

If the obligation to pay support arises through a court order, these are automatically filed with the Ontario government’s Family Responsibility Office ( or “FRO”). The role of the FRO is to process child and spousal support orders and to provide enforcement support for recipients through various means. The court will also make a “support deduction order” which is filed with the FRO, which directs the paying spouse’s employer to deduct specified support amounts from the paying spouse’s regular pay, and to send those amounts directly to the FRO.

2. Other support agreements filed voluntarily.

In cases where the support obligation comes not from a court order but rather under a domestic contract (such as a separation agreement, cohabitation agreement, or paternity agreement), the support payments can be enforced privately, or if necessary they can still be processed through the FRO. For this to occur, the contract must first be filed with the court, and then filed with the FRO.

3. Enforcement of support payments.

In cases where the paying spouse has not been making the required child or spousal support payments, or has not been making them on time or in full, then the recipient spouse can take legal action to recover the money owed. Potential avenues of individual recourse include having the paying spouse’s wages or bank account garnished, seizing his or her RRSP, or registering the support order as charge or filing a writ on his or her home. The recipient spouse can also request a hearing before a court to obtain an order for payment from the paying spouse, failing which, he or she may be sent to jail. All of these steps can also be taken by the FRO on behalf of a recipient spouse, if the obligation to pay arises pursuant to a court order or if a domestic agreement has been filed with the FRO.

4. Additional enforcement mechanisms through the FRO.

In addition to the list of legal remedies above, the FRO has certain other avenues of recourse and powers available to it, including:

• forcing public officials or individuals to product any records containing information about the paying spouse’s employment and financial circumstances;

• deducting at source any money owed by the federal government to the paying spouse (for example, income tax refunds and/or Employment Insurance benefits);

• suspending the paying spouse’s driver’s license;

• reporting the paying spouse’s default to a credit bureau; and

• taking steps with the paying spouse’s employer to achieve court-ordered enforcement of the support deduction order that has been imposed

We hope you have found this video helpful. If you require further information about enforcing support payments please give us a call or visit our website at www.russellalexander.com

More About the Family Responsibility Office: Some Common Problems, Addressed

 

More About the Family Responsibility Office:  Some Common Problems, Addressed

In one of last week’s Blog posts, I detailed some of the more specific elements and frequently-asked questions about the Family Responsibility Office (FRO), which is a government office in charge of processing child and spousal support orders, and providing enforcement support for recipients through various means.

To continue on that topic, I am addressing some question from spousal or child support recipients or payors that come up quite frequently:

1) What if the payor’s address is unknown? The FRO can enforce a support order even if it does not have the support payor’s current address or employer information (although it certainly helps!)    Even if the FRO does not have the payor’s current address, telephone number and employer information, the FRO will still register the recipient’s support entitlement, and can track support payments and arrears.

Incidentally, by law payors are required to tell the FRO about any changes to their personal information within 10 days of the change to avoid possible enforcement action.  If a payor does not provide this information within the time stipulated, If we don’t get this information from the payor or the recipient, we have a number of tools available to search for the payor’s address or employment information. Once we find the information we need, we can take enforcement action, if necessary, to recover any money owed.

2) What if the payor has left the province or the country?   In cases where there is a cross-border element, (e.g. the recipient lives in Ontario but the payor lives in another province or in the U.S.) the FRO can take various steps to enforce payment.   These arise through legislation including the Ontario Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act, 2002, which allows the FRO to enforce support orders involving Ontarians and people who live in other reciprocating jurisdictions.

For example, if the payor moves to another province, the Act specifically allows the FRO can ask the province to enforce the support order.  On the other hand, if the payor moves to another country, and provided there is a reciprocal enforcement agreement in place, the FRO can ask the government of that country to enforce the support order.   FRO has entered into enforcement agreements with every Canadian province and territory, as well as 31 countries. These different governments are known as ‘reciprocating jurisdictions’.

Finally, the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act, 2002 also allows the FRO to:

•Register and enforce support orders issued outside of Ontario;

•Make or change a support order when the recipient lives in Ontario and the payor lives in a reciprocating jurisdiction; and

•Make or change a support order when the payor lives in Ontario and the recipient lives in a reciprocating jurisdiction.

For example the FRO may file a Writ of Seizure and Sale against the support payor in Ontario, which allows the FRO to take any profits the arise on the sale of the payor’s assets, such as his or her home or cottage.  The FRO can also suspend the payor’s driver’s license if needed.

3) What if the payor is self-employed?   In the normal course, when the court issues a support order, it also issues a “support deduction order”, which gives the FRO the authority to ask the payor’s employer (or other source of income) to deduct the support payments from the payor’s income, and forward them directly to the FRO.   (And a payor is obliged to notify the FRO if he or she changes employers.)

However, those payors who are not on a regular payroll, or who are self-employed or unemployed, are responsible for making all payments directly to the FRO.  This can be arranged in one of several ways:  1) Pre-authorized debit (PAD) from a bank account; 2) Internet banking and telebanking; 3) Cheques or money orders; or 4) by mail.

4) Is it true that my car can be impounded for non-payment of support?

As I have detailed previously, the FRO has a wide variety of enforcement options at its disposal.  For example, in some circumstances the FRO can suspend the payor’s driver’s license for non-payment of support.   (Note that this consequence is not generally imposed after only one missed payment, but rather my result after the payor has continued to default on payments and is unwilling to work out a payment plan.  Moreover, this avenue is taken only after the payor is notified in writing in advance, and is given various options to avoid the suspension.)   However,  as part of the Ontario Road Safety Act, 2009 which is effective December 1, 2010, a driver who is found to be driving with a suspended licence under the Highway Traffic Act for (among other reasons) continuing to default on support payments, the police may impound the driver’s vehicle for seven days.   So – as a result of the combined operation of these two events – a defaulting payor may indeed find that his or her vehicle has been impounded.

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 roperty, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at www.RussellAlexander.com