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 certain points about the enforcement of such orders or agreements that are noteworthy:
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 (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 defalcation 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.
5. Withdrawing from the FRO’s assistance.
Once a support order or domestic contract has been filed with the FRO – and provided both the paying spouse and the recipient spouse are in agreement – they can withdraw from the auspice of the FRO, by sending a formal Notice of Withdrawal. On the other hand, if the paying spouse is delinquent in complying with the support order, then the recipient can unilaterally withdraw the support order from the FRO, by sending a signed Notice by Support Recipient of Unilateral Withdrawal. There is a fee for re-filing the support order at a later date, and there are special rules in situations where the recipient spouse is receiving social assistance and has assigned the support order to a social assistance agency.
For more information about the FRO and the role it plays in enforcing spousal and child support orders, see the FRO website at www.theFRO.ca