Child support payments can be an ongoing source of contention between parents after a divorce or separation. Often, arguments centre on missing or late payments.
So, what happens when someone falls behind on child support?
Talking to your ex
Support delinquency starts with one missed or partial payment. And while that isolated incident may not seem significant, the fact is that it can trigger a snowball effect. Thus, addressing the situation right away can be crucial in keeping the problem from getting worse.
Talking to your ex is a good place to start. Perhaps there is a simple explanation or some confusion that is quickly cleared up. For instance, some people incorrectly think they can withhold payment as a punishment for infringements on parenting time, but they cannot.
After a missed or partial payment, a direct conversation can be the easiest way to clear up any misconceptions or confusion.
If delinquency continues, enforcement actions can be necessary. The Family Responsibility Office enforces support orders in Ontario in a variety of ways, including:
- Garnishing the person’s bank account
- Deducting support from government payments, including tax refunds
- Reporting the person to the credit bureau
- Suspending their drivers’ licence
- Putting a lien on their property
- Reporting them to a professional organization of which they are a member
- Scheduling a default hearing, which could lead to jail time
These actions can have a tremendous impact on a delinquent parent’s financial, personal and professional life. But in the best-case scenarios, they motivate a parent to do what is necessary to fulfil their support obligations. But do remember this: The statutory mandate of the F.R.O. is simply to enforce; if both sides agree, it can stop enforcing. Still the F.R.O. has no jurisdiction at all to actually change an order. Only the court can change an order.
Other options to consider
Whether these enforcement actions are effective or not, parties may also need to consider modifying a support order to ensure it is fair and reflects the current situation.
For instance, if a lot has changed in your ex’s financial circumstances or your child’s needs, the existing order may no longer be reasonable. Modifying the order could get parties back on track by establishing an appropriate support arrangement. And don’t forget that it is the law of Ontario that you have to annually disclose all of your income. It is no longer a defence to say – “She didn’t ask me for my Notice of Assessment.” The support payor has to disclose each and every year; if those special and extraordinary expenses are part of the order, then the support recipient likewise has to disclose annually.
Unfortunately, unpaid support is not an uncommon problem: Billions of dollars in child support remain unpaid in Canada. If you are among those who are not receiving the money courts have ordered your ex to pay, you should know what options you have to get the support you – and more importantly, your child – deserve.
Nothing in this blog post should be construed as Colman supporting Canada and Ontario’s current child and spousal support laws. Don’t curse the messenger … please. It is beyond doubt that there is ample room to reform support laws (including enforcement). Here is a LINK to one such call for reform that I wrote many years ago.