Through their enforcement efforts, federal, provincial and territorial governments disburse about $2 billion annually to Canadian families to satisfy outstanding support debts. At the federal level, it is estimated that approximately $185 million in support payments was garnisheed in 2017 and 2018 under the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act (FOAEAA).
In addition to federal enforcement efforts, every province and territory in Canada has established an enforcement service, referred to as a Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP), which has legislative authority to register, collect and enforce family support orders or agreements for the benefit of family support recipients, whether they are former spouses or children.
Under existing provincial and territorial legislation, a support agreement or order may be automatically enrolled with the MEP for enforcement, such that the MEP acts as the third-party intermediary between the payor and the recipient. In Ontario, the MEP is called the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).
Existing enforcement tools have proven ineffective against a growing number of support payors, who have learned to hide their assets outside the reach of MEPs. In many instances, support payors can skirt their support obligations by simply refusing to file their annual income tax return, such that the MEP cannot recalculate their support obligation based on their current income, as mandated by the federal Child Support Guidelines.
Failing to file an annual income tax return also prevents the MEP from garnishing any income tax refunds available to the support payor to satisfy an unpaid support obligation.
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