Wife Plans to Sue Ontario Family Responsibility Office for Husband’s Suicide
In the past few years, the government of Ontario implemented legislative amendments allowing drivers’ cars to be impounded and / or their licenses to be suspended in cases where they have failed to pay child support. According to a London, Ontario woman, this impact has directly caused the suicide of her common-law husband.
She and the husband had two children, now aged 18 and 21. They separated in 1996 and the husband, a 50 year-old truck driver, had been paying child support for the children since then. However, he had recently become unemployed due to a down-turn in the trucking industry, and missed two child support payments totalling about $4,000.
This prompted the Ontario Family Responsibility Office (FRO) to suspend his commercial license. This left him unable to secure employment even when opportunities later became available shortly afterwards. Nor could he afford the $1,500 the FRO demanded in order to reinstate his license. His efforts to negotiate with them – including those made by his MPP and ombudsman on his behalf – were unsuccessful.
Eventually, the FRO took him to court, requesting $10,000 (to cover his outstanding support payments, the reinstatement fee, and court costs) or else a jail sentence of 188 days in lieu. He could not afford a lawyer, so represented he himself in court. The judge advised that she was unable to assist him with this legal quandary.
The husband was therefore stuck in a downward spiral of being unable to pay child support, unable to pay the $10,000, and unable to work without his commercial license. And naturally he would be unable to earn an income if was serving time in jail.
He became despondent, and in August of 2010 committed suicide by laying down beside railway tracks near his home and rolling into the path of an oncoming train.
His common-law wife now holds the FRO responsible for his death, and apparently plans to sue them in court. Incidentally, the trauma she experienced due to his death threw her into her own suicidal depression, which required her to undergo a six-week stay in hospital.
In Ontario, the FRO’s various statutory powers to enforce child support orders arises from the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act. (And similar support-payment enforcement mechanisms exist in other Canadian provinces, administered by offices such as the FRO which effectively impose quasi-criminal penalties for non-payment.) The provisions of the Act are complex, and there can be serious consequences if notices or correspondence from the FRO are ignored.