The coronavirus pandemic has brought far-reaching economic shock waves across the country. Over one million jobs have been lost in Canada due to COVID-19 in the month of March alone. As this crisis continues and more jobs and businesses evaporate, support payors and support recipients are going to feel the financial strain.
If you are a support payor pursuant to a court order, child and spousal support must still be paid despite the current state of affairs. Each region has its own notices and practice directions regarding support issues. Since April 6, 2020, the Notice to the Profession for the Central East Region which includes Whitby, states that the following matters are eligible for a hearing in writing or virtually before a judge:
- 14B motions requesting consent Orders on issues such as support – a Support Deduction Information Sheet ("SDIC") is required to assist in completion of a Support Deduction Order ("SDO"). If one or more than one party is represented by counsel, a draft Order is to be submitted with the SDO.
- Consent Motions to Change (Form 15D), if a party is represented by legal counsel then the SDIC and SDO are to be filed.
- Case Conferences upon request by 14B, if granted, are limited to 30 minutes unless permitted otherwise by the triage judge and only 1 or 2 pressing issues can be conferenced which includes financial issues that do not meet the stringent urgency test.
Before proceeding with motions to the Court, first determine if you are eligible for any Federal government relief programs such as the CERB or Wage Subsidy Program. Eligibility may allow you to at least continue partial payments. Though, keep in mind that under Section 11 of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, CERB payments cannot be garnished by the Family Responsibility Office ("FRO") at this time.
The next step would be to explain your financial situation to the person you are paying support to. Cooperate as much as possible in an attempt to agree to a temporary reduction of support and/or to pay out any arrears with a modified payment plan if and when you are able to regain employment. Once an agreement is made, request a consent motion for an Order to reflect the temporary agreement regarding support arrangements during this time.
The Family Responsibility Office ("FRO") has confirmed that they will not be sending any new notices of driver's licence suspensions and are in the process of cancelling notices that were previously sent in order to reduce the number of urgent refraining motions. This means that motions to vary or stop support payments will unlikely be considered "urgent" enough to be heard by the court at this time unless the payor is in "dire financial circumstances".
In Theis v. Theis, 2020 ONSC 2001, the support payor mother brought an urgent motion requesting that her share of the sale proceeds of the matrimonial home be released. She was a small business owner who was forced to shut down due to provincial restrictions and her revenue had dropped to zero. Unfortunately, she failed to provide evidence of "dire financial circumstances" warranting an urgent motion including her:
- her previous income before the restrictions;
- her total income now from all sources;
- her personal and business expenses;
- the extent of her resources more generally;
- an updated sworn financial statement; and
- the results of any applications for federal relief funding and timelines.
As a result, due to the dearth of evidence in her motion materials, no finding of dire financial circumstances could be found and her motion was dismissed.
The key take-away is try to negotiate a temporary settlement and bring a motion on consent or as a last resort bring an urgent motion if you have enough evidence to demonstrate dire financial circumstances.