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Family Law Now Podcast – Episode 1: Top 10 Things You Should Know About Child Support

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Episode Info
On this episode, hosted by Russell Alexander with special guest Michelle Mulchan, two family lawyers discuss everything from the basics to the complexities of child support. Tune in to Family Law Now to learn more!

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10 Things You Should Know About Ontario Child Support in 2019

One of our most popular articles 10 Things You Should Know About Child Support was published nearly ten years ago in 2010. We challenged ourselves to provide deeper information for each topic. Family law can be a very tricky terrain to navigate. Understanding one’s responsibilities with respect to child support raises a lot of questions for parents and guardians, which we hope to outline and answer here.

father and child hands

  1. What is Child Support?

All dependent children have a legal right to be financially supported by their parents. When parents live together with their children, they support the children together. Parents who do not live together often have an arrangement in which a child lives most of the time with one parent. That parent is said to have custody of the child.

This arrangement can be written in a separation agreement or court order (sometimes called legal custody), or may occur without a written agreement or court order (sometimes called “de facto” custody). Either way, the parent with custody has the main responsibility for the day-to-day care of the child and has most of the ordinary expenses of raising the child. The other parent should help with those expenses by paying money to the parent with custody. This is called child support.

Learn more about Child Support:

Common Questions About Child Support in Ontario

Child Support in Ontario: An Introduction to Child Custody

Introduction to Ontario Child Custody: How do Decisions Get Made

Child Support 101: The Details of Ontario Child Support

 

  1. Parents and Guardians

Parent or guardian can be the birth mother or father, an adoptive parent, or step-parent, who has been married to someone with children, or who has lived as a couple with someone with children, and who has shown an intention to treat those children as members of his or her own family.

Learn more about Parents and Family Law:

Ontario Custody and Access: Who is Entitled to the Child?

Ontario Child Custody: Who is Considered a Parent?

When a Non-Parent Wants Custody of a Child

 

  1. Who Pays Child Support

Child Support is the legal responsibility of parents or guardians to provide financial support for all dependent children. When there is an arrangement in which a child lives primarily with one of the parents or guardians they are assumed to have “custody” of that child and bear the day-to-day expenses of raising them; however, they may be entitled to receive child support from the other parent. This entitlement to child support may continue even if the custodial parent remarries or starts to live with someone else.

The amount of child support is usually set according to the Child Support Guidelines. More than one parent can have a legal duty to pay child support for the same child. For example, if a parent with custody of a child separates from their marriage or common-law spouse who is not the child’s birth parent, both the child’s other birth parent and the step-parent may have a legal duty to pay child support.

Learn more about the legal responsibility to pay child support:

Who Pays Child Support in Ontario?

Top Four Questions About the Children of Common-Law Relationships

Can an Ontario Support Agreement or Order be changed?

Business Owners Beware: Court Can Force Your Hand to Compel Appropriate Child Support

Can a Parent Replace Child Support…with Gifts?

 

  1. When to Apply for Child Support

Applying for child support is usually done right after separation or when applying for a divorce but can be applied for at any time thereafter. It is usually best to deal with these matters as early as possible and when sorting out the custody of the children. In the beginning, parents and guardians may feel they don’t want or need the support but as time goes on and the expense of raising children increases the need may arise at which time they can apply, even after divorce or settlement of matters arising from the separation have been dealt with. Under some circumstances the court has awarded custody and support while the parents or guardians are living separately under one roof but the court usually doesn’t make an order until one of the parents or guardians have physically moved out.

If the social and emotional relationship between the step-parent and child have disbanded for a lengthy period of time, it is less likely that the court would order the step-parent to pay child support.

Learn more about application:

• Video: When Can a Parent Apply for Child Support?

• Video: When do the Child Support Guidelines Apply?

 

  1. When Does Child Support End?

Child support must be paid if a child is still a dependant and they are under 18 years of age.  However, the following circumstances and criteria can terminate responsibility of child support:

  • the child has married;
  • they are 16 or older and have voluntarily left parental control;

There are situations where even if the child has turned 18 years of age they are still considered a dependant. For instance, any situation where the child is unable to support themselves due to any of the following:

  • they have a disability or illness;
  • they are attending school full-time;

In a situation where the child is 18 years of age or older and is living away from home because they are attending school, child support may have to be paid if the child’s primary residence is with the parent with custody. This circumstance usually requires child support to be paid until the child is 22 or receives a post-secondary degree or diploma.

In some of these situations, a judge can order the child support to continue past this point. If the judge decides child support must be paid past the age of 18, they will take into consideration how much the child has in earnings or income before determining the amount of child support to be paid.

Learn more about criteria for child support:

Does the Age of the Child Affect Child Support in Ontario?

What Happens if Kids Skip School?

How Long Does Child Support Continue in Ontario?

 

  1. What is a Child Support Agreement?

How the child support is paid and how much is paid, is determined with a Support Agreement. There are three different ways parents can obtain a Support Agreement such as:

  • In a situation where the parents can work together to form a Support Agreement, it is encouraged that they look at the Child Support Guidelines to find out the amount a judge would likely order. The paying parent will have to give complete and true information about their income. It is suggested that one parent should have a lawyer put the agreement in writing and that the other parent get a different lawyer to review it, before signing it. This way, both parents will know the agreement says what they intended it to say, while also protecting their rights and their children’s rights.
  • If the parents need help working out a Support Agreement then they can see a mediator who will help them come to an agreement they both can accept. The mediator is an unbiased party that does not offer legal advice. In this situation it is still recommended that the agreement is reviewed by both parent’s independent lawyers before signing, and filing with the court.
  • If the parents cannot agree on a Support Agreement then both parents should hire their own lawyer. The lawyers can then attempt to negotiate support terms that both parents can agree upon. If no agreement can be reached then they will go to court and ask a judge to determine support. The judge will then make a court order that states how much child support is required to be paid.

Learn more about paying for child support:

• Video: Ontario Child Support: How do you arrange for Support to be paid?

• Video: How Base Child Support is calculated

• Video: How are Child Payments Taxed?

 

  1. Access When Child Support is Not Paid

Even if child support is not paid, a parent should not keep the child from seeing their other parent. It is assumed that it is generally good for a child to have a relationship with both parents. Keeping the child from seeing their other parent is considered punishing the child and the law will not punish the child due to their parent failing to pay child support.

Parents who do not have custody are usually given “access” to the children so that they can spend time together and maintain their relationship. The only way access can be refused or limited, is if the parent’s behaviour is likely to cause harm to the child, or harm the child in anyway. The courts will not refuse access because the parent fails to pay child support, and the parent with custody should not refuse access for this reason either. There are ways to obtain child support from a non-paying parent without refusing access.

Learn more about Child Support and Access:

Can parents be kept from seeing their children if they do not pay their child support?

Child Support and Access Rights in Ontario

 

  1. Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

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.

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. 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.

Learn more about child support enforcement:

• Video: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

The Role and Power of FRO

 

  1. How Can FRO Collect Child Support?

The FRO (Family Responsibility Office) uses different ways to get the payments that are owed. It can:

  • get the payments directly from the parent who is supposed to pay support
  • have the payments automatically deducted from the parent’s wages or other income (other income includes things like sales commissions, Employment Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, income tax refunds, severance pay, and pensions)
  • register a charge (a lien) against the personal property or real estate of a parent who fails to pay the support that he or she owes
  • garnish (take money from) the bank account of a parent who fails to pay support
  • garnish up to 50% of a joint bank account that he or she has with someone else, or
  • make an order against another person who is helping a parent hide or shelter income or assets that should go toward support

The FRO can put more pressure on parents who do not make their support payments by:

  • suspending their driver’s licences
  • reporting them to the credit bureau so that it will be difficult for them to get loans, or
  • cancelling their passports.

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.

Learn more about the FRO:

Top 5 Facts About the FRO

Top 5 Tips for Dealing with the Family Responsibility Office

 

  1. How to Reduce Child Support

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.

FRO can be contacted by calling 1-800-267-7263 or you can also visit their website.

Learn more about reducing child support:

Varying Child Support – How long is Too Long to Wait

Could Trucker Dad Avoid Child Support Due to Dizziness?


Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers has been providing answers and solutions to child support questions for over twenty years. If you need assistance determining whether you should be receiving child support for your child or collecting your support from the other parent, or if you believe that you should no longer be paying child support, we are here to help.

Family Responsibility Office to Pay $7,500 in Costs for its “Aggressive Enforcement Action” Against Dad

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Family Responsibility Office to Pay $7,500 in Costs for its “Aggressive Enforcement Action” Against Dad

In a case called DeBiasio v DeBiasio the father was in arrears on his support payments of $1,800 per month for his three children, one of whom lived with him. Eventually, when the other two children also moved in with him in July of 2015, he started negotiating with the mother to change his child support obligations. Together, they signed a court form in late August asking for a court date for them to formally change the child support on consent.

However, the matter of the father’s arrears had already been sent to the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) for enforcement, and it had started to take the authorized steps to force him to pay. To this end, he received a letter from a FRO caseworker around this same time, advising that he was being reported to the Credit Bureau.

This meant that – to the father’s frustration – both the FRO’s enforcement steps and the parents’ court-supervised attempts to settle issues around child support were proceeding in tandem, but independent of each other.

The court motion stalled for unrelated reasons; meanwhile, the father learned that the FRO had taken steps to garnish his wages. When his lawyer wrote to the FRO to advise that the consent motion was pending, the caseworker claimed that her hands were tied since the order to pay child support was still “on the books”. Soon after the father learned that the FRO was taking steps to have his driver’s license suspended. Some of his lawyer’s many attempts to correspond with the FRO directly garnered no response.

Eventually, the father managed to get a court order, directly the FRO to refrain from taking additional steps against him.

The father then asked the court to order the FRO to pay his legal costs – and succeeded.

Here, the court’s task was to balance the FRO’s mandate to enforce all support orders that are filed with it, against the individual interests of the father. Since the Director of the FRO has some leeway in choosing the manner of enforcement in any given situation, the test is whether the Director had exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner in the father’s particular case.

After reviewing a few prior cases in which the Director of the FRO had been ordered to pay costs, the court noted that they tended to arise in cases where there were “aggressive enforcement actions on the part of the FRO” despite the existence of a real and substantial dispute between parties that they had taken steps to resolve with the court. This was precisely the case here. As the court put it:

In this case it was made clear to the FRO caseworker that there was a dispute over the amount of arrears owing. It was made abundantly clear that there had been a material change because of the move of the children. While I understand that FRO has a mandate to enforce, it seems to me that insisting on enforcement by way of licence suspension, when it is likely that the matter will be before the court within a very short period of time, is an unreasonable exercise of the Director’s mandate to enforce.

Having been made aware of the scheduled consent motion, the FRO should have allowed the process to go forward before taking any further enforcement action. Its failure to do was unreasonable. The court also chastised the FRO for failing to provide an adequate level of communication, since it repeatedly failing to respond to the communications from the father’s lawyer. This, the court found, was in breach of the FRO’s duty to provide timely and meaningful responses to paying parents and their lawyers.

The court ordered the FRO to pay the father $7,500 in costs.

For the full text of the decision, see:

DeBiasio v DeBiasio, 2016 ONSC 2253 (CanLII)

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

4 Ways To Enforce Child and Spousal Support Orders in Ontario – video

 

Wednesday’s Video Clip: 4 Ways To Enforce Child and Spousal Support Orders in Ontario

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.

This video reviews some important points to consider including tips for working with FRO (the family responsibility office).

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 – 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.

The FRO uses different ways to get the payments that are owed. It can:

• get the payments directly from the parent who is supposed to pay support

• have the payments automatically deducted from the parent’s wages or other income (other income includes things like sales commissions, Employment Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, income tax refunds, severance pay, and pensions)

• register a charge (a lien) against the personal property or real estate of a parent who fails to pay the support that he or she owes

• garnish (take money from) the bank account of a parent who fails to pay support

• garnish up to 50% of a joint bank account that he or she has with someone else, or

• make an order against another person who is helping a parent hide or shelter income or assets that should go toward support

The FRO can put more pressure on parents who do not make their support payments by:

• suspending their driver’s licences

• reporting them to the credit bureau so that it will be difficult for them to get loans, or

• canceling their passports.

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.

Top 5 (or so) Little-Known Facts About the Family Responsibility Office

deadbeat

Top 5 (or so) Little-Known Facts About the Family Responsibility Office

I have written before about the role and mandate of the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). While that blog piece outlined the general duties (which includes the collection, distribution and enforcement of child and spousal support payments), there are some aspects of the FRO’s role with which many people may not be familiar.

Here are some facts about the FRO that may surprise you:

1) The FRO is not just about support.

The FRO’s role is not limited to enforcement child and spousal support obligations: It also enforces private written domestic contracts such as separation agreements, marriage contracts, cohabitation agreements, paternity agreements and family arbitration agreements (provided these have been filed with the Ontario Court of Justice or the Superior Court of Justice (Family Court) beforehand.

2) But, there are some things the FRO will not touch.

There are certain support-related aspects that the FRO will not get involved with. These include:

a. bringing motions to the court to change the amount of support owing; and

b. getting involved with any issues relating to entitlement to support, or custody or access.

3) The FRO can actually reduce the support owed, sometimes.

Under the governing legislation, the FRO has the discretion to reduce or even terminate the amount of support that it will enforce in narrow circumstances, namely where:

a. one or more kids ceases to be eligible for support;

b. where the parents agree in writing that a “terminating event” has occurred with respect to their kid or kids; or

c. where the parent entitled to receive support fails to respond to the FRO within 20 days.

4) The FRO can cast a wide net.

Given that it has enforcement agreements with every Canadian province and territory, with every state in the United States of America, and with 31 countries, the FRO can enforce child and spousal support payments even in situations where one party lives outside Ontario. This is specifically authorized under the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act, 2002.

5) It has some tricks up its sleeve.

Among the more usual enforcement actions that the FRO can take against you if you are in default of your payments (e.g. garnishing your wages), there are some perhaps-unexpected ones. These include:

a. suspending your Canadian passport;

b. suspending certain federal licenses (e.g. a pilot’s license or maritime or navigational license);

c. reporting you to your professional or occupational organization; and

d. even seizing your lottery winnings!

6) It has a “Most Wanted List” (sort of).

The FRO, through the Ministry of Community and Social Services website, maintains a public list of what it calls “missing, irresponsible parents who have defaulted on the payments owed to their kids”. Located at www.goodparents.pay, it can display a wide array of information about defaulting payors, including:

a. name

b. physical description (height, weight, hair and eye colour)

c. approximate age

d. last known address

e. usual occupation/trades, and

f. language(s) spoken.

7) Even bankruptcy doesn’t do it.

It may seem tempting to declare bankruptcy to avoid the long arm of the FRO; however, your support arrears merely become a claim that is made against your estate, with the FRO dealing directly with the bankruptcy trustee like any other creditor.

Do you have questions about how the FRO can help you get the support to which you are entitled?

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 our main site.

 

If You Are Getting Too Much Support, Are You Required to Speak Up?

overpayment

If You Are Getting Too Much Support, Are You Required to Speak Up?

In a recent case called Gray v. Gray, the Ontario court considered whether a mother had an obligation to essentially take proactive steps to cut off her own child support, in a situation where the father had been overpaying for years.

In this case, the couple had two children together. When he was still a relatively young man, the father became disabled with chronic pulmonary disease. He went on the CPP Disability Benefit and received a subsistence income of about $14,000 annually. Based on this income, he had been paying the mother $211 per month since 1999 in child support. The mother, meanwhile, was gainfully employed the entire time.

In 2013, the father asked the mother to consent to an order terminating his support obligations, but she refused. He was therefore forced to apply to the court, which he did on a self-represented basis and with great difficulty, since he lived in a remove community which was 4.5 hours from Thunder Bay, the nearest city.

Looking at the facts, the court determined that both children had ceased to be eligible for support back in 2006 – i.e. 8 years earlier. Yet the mother had nonetheless continued to accept the disabled father’s monthly child support payments, even though they amounted to a good portion of his income.

Given that support recipients are legally entitled to have support amounts increased when new facts are discovered retroactively, the court pointed out that reverse is also true. It added:

The law of child support has evolved to the point where it is presumed that a parent knows when he or she is obligated to support his children and the amount of that support.. Thus it is incumbent upon the parent who has knowledge of the facts to act upon that knowledge. …

It would appear that “what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.” A mother who is aware that her children no longer qualify for support should act upon that knowledge. …

The court accordingly determined that the father had overpaid by about $16,000 over the years, starting in 2006. Finding no good reason to do otherwise, it ordered the mother to repay this mount, and also directed the Family Responsibility Office takes enforcement steps as necessary.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Gray v. Gray (2014), 2014 ONSC 1959

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 our main site.

74-Year Old Mine Worker Hides Almost $175K in Salary – Should He Pay Retroactively?

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74-Year Old Mine Worker Hides Almost $175K in Salary – Should He Pay Retroactively?

In a recent Ontario case, the court had to grapple with deciding whether an elderly husband who had made an unusually high income in one year – but who was now living on very limited means in a basement apartment – should have to pay retroactive support to his unemployable wife.

The couple was married for almost 20 years. At the time of their separation, the wife was 51 and the husband was 74. Since that time, the wife had developed various medical issues including possible Parkinson’s disease, which likely rendered her unemployable. She was currently living with and taking care of her elderly father, doing the cooking, laundry, cleaning. She had no pension and no savings to speak of, and lived very frugally.
The parties reached a simple negotiated separation agreement requiring the husband to pay about $800 per month to the wife. It was based on his declared income of about $36,000 per year.

However, about a week after signing the separation agreement, the husband received a job offer to temporarily work the “tool crib” at the local Mine. However, the position lasted longer than initially expected and for the year 2012 he earned almost $173,000 including his pension.

The wife learned of the husband’s job indirectly, because (as the court put it), they had “the same circle of friends. Her lawyer’s request to the husband for financial disclosure went unanswered, and the wife was forced to apply to the court for retroactive spousal support as part of their divorce.

The court considered the various factors that allowed it to order retroactive spousal support – including (among other factors) the wife’s past need and the husband’s ability to pay, as well as the underlying basis for support, any delay in claiming it, any undue hardship to the support-paying husband, and also any blameworthy conduct on his part.

In this case, the husband had an obligation under the separation agreement to disclose any change in his financial circumstances within five days. The wife had asked the husband for such disclosure but he had ignored her lawyer’s requests. She was accordingly left with no alternative but to go to court.

There was also evidence that the husband had reckless spending habits. The court described it this way:

It became clear during the course of the evidence that the [husband] has never met a dollar that he did not care to spend. Even after being unemployed for a considerable period of time and earning a substantial income in 2012, the [husband] did not see fit to put aside any money for himself let alone for his estranged spouse. In his words, he worked in a “high paid trade and they spent a lot of money on trips and other things”. …

Finally, the husband also claimed to be heavily in debt, but had no proof. The court added that the husband “went on to say that the balance of the money was spent on lifestyle expenditures for meals and restaurants, buying rounds in the union hall and some gambling in Sault Ste. Marie.” His lack of financial disclosure was also “worthy of criticism”, it found.

Nonetheless, after evaluating these circumstances, the court added that the now-76-year old husband was living in his sister’s basement apartment, and would never again be employed in any meaningful way. His assets consisted of an old truck worth about $2,000, and about $37,500 per year in pension.

This being the case, he could not now and would never be able to afford to pay the retroactive spousal support that was being claimed by the wife. The court accordingly declined to make the order. (However, in light of other circumstances, including the terms of the separation agreement, it did order the husband to pay the wife about $1,000 per month, going-forward).

Should the husband have been ordered to pay up retroactively, in this case? What are your thoughts?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Dufour v. Dufour, 2014 ONSC 166 (CanLII) http://canlii.ca/t/g2nh8

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.

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