Spousal Support & Alimony

Some Points About the Family Responsibility Office – Its Role and Powers


Some Points About the Family Responsibility Office – Its Role and Powers

In a Blog post a few months ago Top 5 Points About Enforcing Child and Spousal Support Payments , I briefly mentioned the Family Responsibility Office (“FRO”), the role of which is to process child and spousal support orders, and to provide enforcement support for recipients through various means.

In this first of two posts, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit and hone in on the FRO’s role and processes, and highlight a few points to note:

• Payors who are liable to make support payments – either by court order or domestic agreement – must make those payments directly to the FRO, not to the recipient.  A direct payment to the recipient will not be credited and may result in the FRO taking enforcement action against the payor, with an administrative fee being added.

• Conversely, the FRO does not make a payment to the recipient until the payor has remitted the corresponding payment to the FRO.  As such, the FRO will not pay the recipient for any missed support payments on which the payor has defaulted.

• The FRO has a wide array of available enforcement mechanisms in its arsenal. For example, if a payor is delinquent in making the required support payment, the FRO may take the following steps against him or her (after giving the payor notice in writing):

•garnishing bank accounts (i.e. taking the money owed directly from the payor’s bank account);

•reporting the payor to the credit bureau;

•suspending the payor’s driver’s licence, Canadian passport and federal licences (such as a pilot’s licence);

•placing a lien on the payor’s personal property by registering the amount owed with the Ontario government;

•issuing a writ of seizure and sale for property owned by the payor (any profit from the sale of the property is used to pay the support arrears);

•reporting the payor to his or her professional or occupational organization(s);

•seizing any lottery winnings to which the payor is entitled; and

•starting a “Default Hearing” where the payor is required to explain the default in support payments, and may be liable to serve up to 180 days in jail.

• Changes to support orders or domestic contracts can be made in certain circumstances, for example, where the payor spouse’s income has changed, if one of the spouses has remarried, or if the dependent child has graduated from school or has obtained a job.  In cases where one or both the parties wants to change the support order , the parties will have to apply to the courts by way of a Motion to have the desired changes made.  In cases where the support is being paid under a domestic contract that needs to be changed, the parties will have to negotiate the changes and file the amended contract with the Ontario Court of Justice or the Superior Court of Justice (Family Court), as the case may be.  The FRO does not have the ability to make these kinds of changes.

• Ending the obligation to pay support is also subject to certain processes.  At some point, the payor spouse may form the opinion that he or she should no longer be responsible for paying support.  For example, although Ontario laws do not stipulate an automatic end date for child or spousal support payments, the entitlement to child support generally ends when the child turns 18 years old (or for a longer period if he or she is attending school full time).  Also, a court-imposed support order or a domestic contract may set a “terminating event” date, which stipulates an end date for the support.  This can include a child’s graduation from university, for example.  In cases where no end date is stipulated, the payor and recipient spouse must agree on an end date, or else may have to appear before a court to have a date determined.

• Effective November 21, 2011, all support payors and recipients are assigned a dedicated case contact person, whose role is to become familiar with the specifics of the individual case and who can answer questions.  These case contact persons replaces the call centre staff.  Additional initiatives are also in place as of late 2011 to allow for more timely and case-specific assistance and information to new payors and recipients under the auspices of the FRO program.

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.