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The matter came before the court when the father asked to have the arrears rescinded, and to have his support reduced to zero.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