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More About the Family Responsibility Office: Some Common Problems, Addressed


More About the Family Responsibility Office:  Some Common Problems, Addressed

In one of last week’s Blog posts, I detailed some of the more specific elements and frequently-asked questions about the Family Responsibility Office (FRO), which is a government office in charge of processing child and spousal support orders, and providing enforcement support for recipients through various means.

To continue on that topic, I am addressing some question from spousal or child support recipients or payors that come up quite frequently:

1) What if the payor’s address is unknown? The FRO can enforce a support order even if it does not have the support payor’s current address or employer information (although it certainly helps!)    Even if the FRO does not have the payor’s current address, telephone number and employer information, the FRO will still register the recipient’s support entitlement, and can track support payments and arrears.

Incidentally, by law payors are required to tell the FRO about any changes to their personal information within 10 days of the change to avoid possible enforcement action.  If a payor does not provide this information within the time stipulated, If we don’t get this information from the payor or the recipient, we have a number of tools available to search for the payor’s address or employment information. Once we find the information we need, we can take enforcement action, if necessary, to recover any money owed.

2) What if the payor has left the province or the country?   In cases where there is a cross-border element, (e.g. the recipient lives in Ontario but the payor lives in another province or in the U.S.) the FRO can take various steps to enforce payment.   These arise through legislation including the Ontario Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act, 2002, which allows the FRO to enforce support orders involving Ontarians and people who live in other reciprocating jurisdictions.

For example, if the payor moves to another province, the Act specifically allows the FRO can ask the province to enforce the support order.  On the other hand, if the payor moves to another country, and provided there is a reciprocal enforcement agreement in place, the FRO can ask the government of that country to enforce the support order.   FRO has entered into enforcement agreements with every Canadian province and territory, as well as 31 countries. These different governments are known as ‘reciprocating jurisdictions’.

Finally, the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act, 2002 also allows the FRO to:

•Register and enforce support orders issued outside of Ontario;

•Make or change a support order when the recipient lives in Ontario and the payor lives in a reciprocating jurisdiction; and

•Make or change a support order when the payor lives in Ontario and the recipient lives in a reciprocating jurisdiction.

For example the FRO may file a Writ of Seizure and Sale against the support payor in Ontario, which allows the FRO to take any profits the arise on the sale of the payor’s assets, such as his or her home or cottage.  The FRO can also suspend the payor’s driver’s license if needed.

3) What if the payor is self-employed?   In the normal course, when the court issues a support order, it also issues a “support deduction order”, which gives the FRO the authority to ask the payor’s employer (or other source of income) to deduct the support payments from the payor’s income, and forward them directly to the FRO.   (And a payor is obliged to notify the FRO if he or she changes employers.)

However, those payors who are not on a regular payroll, or who are self-employed or unemployed, are responsible for making all payments directly to the FRO.  This can be arranged in one of several ways:  1) Pre-authorized debit (PAD) from a bank account; 2) Internet banking and telebanking; 3) Cheques or money orders; or 4) by mail.

4) Is it true that my car can be impounded for non-payment of support?

As I have detailed previously, the FRO has a wide variety of enforcement options at its disposal.  For example, in some circumstances the FRO can suspend the payor’s driver’s license for non-payment of support.   (Note that this consequence is not generally imposed after only one missed payment, but rather my result after the payor has continued to default on payments and is unwilling to work out a payment plan.  Moreover, this avenue is taken only after the payor is notified in writing in advance, and is given various options to avoid the suspension.)   However,  as part of the Ontario Road Safety Act, 2009 which is effective December 1, 2010, a driver who is found to be driving with a suspended licence under the Highway Traffic Act for (among other reasons) continuing to default on support payments, the police may impound the driver’s vehicle for seven days.   So – as a result of the combined operation of these two events – a defaulting payor may indeed find that his or her vehicle has been impounded.

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 roperty, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at



No Need to Disclose Affair When Negotiating Separation Agreements

No Need to Disclose Affair When Negotiating Separation Agreements

In D’Andrade v. Schrage, a recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the court tackled the question of how much personal disclosure is required whenever spouses negotiate their separation agreements, specifically whether they are obliged to disclose the existence of an extra-marital affair.

The husband and wife started living together in 1998, and got married in 2001.   At the time, the husband – who had been married twice before — was in his 60s, while the wife was in her 30s.  It was her first marriage.

Throughout their relationship, the husband had the wife sign a succession of domestic agreements, providing her with financial support but making it clear in a specific clause that any payments were gratuitous and were not to be considered as legal support or maintenance, and emphasizing that he was under no legal obligation to her whatsoever.  Essentially, this “husband’s discretion” clause gave the husband the power in the event of separation to use his judgment in giving the wife whatever financial assistance he considered was fair.  

The last of these agreements was entered into in 2007.   It provided that the wife released all her rights to spousal support, and to an equalization of net family property; it also set out her entitlements to various properties that they owned together.  

However, this 2007 agreement was different from all the prior ones in two respects:   for one thing, it inadvertently omitted the “husband’s discretion” clause that had appeared in every other prior version.  More importantly, the 2007 agreement had been negotiated and entered into at a time when – unbeknownst to the husband — the wife was having an affair, and was considering separating from the husband.  With the assistance of her lawyer, the wife negotiated with this potential prospect in mind.

The husband paid the wife almost everything she was entitled to under that 2007 agreement; however, he found out about the affair and did not go through with the obligation to buy her a home worth at least $250,000 as he had promised.

The wife came to court arguing that the 2007 agreement should be enforced, and that – because the “husband’s discretion” clause was missing – the issue of the amount of support she should get was now wide open. In opposition, the husband claimed that the 2007 agreement should be set aside; he argued that the wife had a duty to negotiate and execute the 2007 agreement in utmost good faith.   Specifically, he claimed that the 2007 agreement was invalid and should be set aside because when the wife signed it, she was having an affair and was contemplating separation.  

The court found for the wife, holding that the agreement should be enforced.

First of all, the court confirmed that in principle it had the power to set aside any domestic contract under the Family Law Act, in cases where one party had failed to disclose significant assets or debts, or failed to understand the nature or consequences of the domestic contract.

Next, respecting the omission of the “husband’s discretion” clause in the 2007 version of the agreement, the court found that there was no evidence that there was a fraudulent or innocent omission on the part of his lawyer who did the drafting.    The contract could not be set aside on that basis alone.

The court then considered – but ultimately rejected – the husband’s argument that the wife’s failure to disclose her affair and possible intention to leave was evidence of a lack of good faith and therefore fatal to the agreement’s validity.   To the contrary, it found that not only was there no concrete evidence to show that the wife had actually decided to separate from the husband when the 2007 agreement was signed, but also that it was unreasonable to expect that as part of the negotiating process either party must disclose their respective thoughts about the likelihood of separating, or their involvement in any extra-marital affairs.  On this point, the court wrote:

“To require spouses to disclose their thoughts about the likelihood of separation or their involvements in extra-marital sexual activity before signing a marriage contract could have serious implications for the survival of marital relationships. If the obligation to disclose is limited to thoughts of separation, the question becomes how serious those thoughts of separation were. Does there have to be evidence that the decision to separate has been actually made? If there does, the evidence in this case does not reach that threshold. Among other things, it was Mr. Schrage who actually made the decision that he and Ms. D’Andrade should separate. If this is not the threshold then what is? Is it any thought of separation or only serious thoughts of separation? If it is the latter, how “serious” is serious enough?”
(The court also found that the wife’s lawyer had no duty toward the husband, and therefore was under no obligation during negotiations to disclose the wife’s possible intentions, either.)

Finally, the court emphasized that domestic contracts are financial arrangements; they are not aimed at enforcing personal obligations, such as the duty to remain faithful.   As such, the only duty of fairness that arises on parties that is the one in connection with disclosing their individual financial situations.

As a result, the court upheld the 2007 agreement in this case.

For the full text of the decision, see: D’Andrade v. Schrage, 2011 ONSC 1174

Support Obligations Reduced for Alcoholic Father

Support Obligations Reduced for Alcoholic Father

In an Ontario case called Ashley v. Ashley, the court agreed to reduce the amount of child support arrears a father had to pay, because of his alcoholism and anxiety.

The father had never made any child support payments whatsoever, despite being ordered to do so in 1993. The child support arrears since that time totalled $93,000. The mother had been on social assistance in the years after 1993, largely because of the father’s default in paying support and because she was unable to work due to certain medical conditions.

The father’s complete failure to pay had stemmed from his acknowledged alcoholism, which spanned more than 20 years. Although at the time of the original 1993 order he had been able to work as a carpenter to some extent, he had since become completely debilitated by his own alcoholism and had not worked full-time for many years. He also claimed that he suffered anxiety attacks and chest pains, which he felt were caused by the stress of the court proceeding and the steps taken to enforce the child support arrears he owed.

In short, he asserted that his medical condition had deteriorated since 1993, that he was wholly unable to work, and that the prospects of him ever being able to work in the future were bleak. Relying on this change of circumstances, he applied to the court for an order that he should not be liable for any of the $93,000 in child support arrears.

The court reviewed the father’s circumstances. It accepted that he had indeed been an alcoholic for many of his 49 years, and had not worked full-time for most of the years since the original order was made. His income as filed with tax authorities was zero for virtually 11 years straight; in other years he earned only very minimal amounts. He obtained liquor in exchange for doing odd jobs for friends, and lived in a house owned by a common-law partner, from whom he received money for entertainment purposes. He contributed to her household by doing repairs and minor improvements on her home.

The court also recognized that alcoholism is a disease, and did not fault the father for having it. It conceded that his ability to earn income was directly impaired by his alcoholism, and that his circumstances had deteriorated over the years since the first order. Indeed, he would never be capable of earning income until he dealt with his addiction.

Still, the court criticized the father for relying on it to resist paying child support arrears on the one hand, while repeatedly rejecting the recommended treatment for alcoholism, on the other. His refusal to obtain treatment – while within his legal right – nonetheless disregarded the rights and interests of his children.

In the end, however, the court was forced to take a pragmatic approach: to leave the current arrears order in place would be “artificial, ineffective, and ignor[ing] reality,” it said. Simply put, it could not force the father to repay $93,000 when his alcoholism left him with no realistic ability to earn anything close to that amount, either now or in the future.

The court therefore agreed to vary the initial order, but on specific terms: First of all, the arrears were rescinded except for $20,000, which the father still had to pay. He was ordered to start paying the first $10,000 commencing in July of 2010; however, his obligation to pay the remaining $10,000 was suspended until March of 2011, at which point he had to prove that he had attended an alcohol treatment program. If he failed to attend, then was obliged to pay off the $10,000 in monthly instalments starting immediately.

There are numerous factors that can affect the obligation to pay child support. Russell Alexander and our staff are available for consultation on this and other family law topics.

For the full text of the decision, see Ashley v. Ashley, 2009 CanLII 69101 (ON S.C.)

Additional information on family law issues can be found on our web site

10 Things You Should Know About Child Support

The parent with custody of a child 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.

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