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John Schneider, most known for his starring role in the “Dukes of Hazzard” film, has been sentenced to three days in jail and 240 hours of community service for failure to pay delinquent alimony, known in Ontario as spousal support arrears. Schneider was ordered by the court to pay over $150,000 USD in spousal support arrears to his estranged wife Elvira by March 2018. Under the deadline, Schneider was also supposed to transfer property to Elvira and resolve any tax liens on the property, which he failed to do.

Failure to pay spousal or child support can also attract severe consequences in Ontario. For example, under the Family Law Act and the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act a support payor can be arrested and brought before the court if the court reasonably believes that the payor is leaving Ontario to avoid their support or other responsibilities under the Act.

Consequences for failure to pay support in Ontario are not limited to situations where the payor tries to “skip town.” The Family Responsibility Office (FRO) has a broad set of enforcement powers under the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act. Failure to pay child or spousal support in Ontario can result in the FRO, among other things,

  • taking a part of your wage, bonus, commission, disability or retirement or other pension, benefits, annuity, and/or tax refund;
  • taking money held in your bank account, including up to half of the money in a joint account held between you and one or more persons;
  • taking from lottery winnings of $1,000 or more of the amount owing, or the entire winnings if less than the amount owing;
  • reporting you to a credit bureau, bank, and/or professional organization (e.g. skilled trade organization, Law Society of Ontario, etc.) making it difficult to get a loan or find work in your field;
  • suspending your driver’s license and/or cancelling your passport;
  • applying for a court order to prevent you from selling assets that may prevent the enforcement of your support obligations;
  • placing a lien on your property or real estate (e.g. house, car, motorcycle, cottage, etc.);
  • posting your picture, name, aliases, age, description, last known location, usual employment and/or occupation, and any spoken languages online to help track you down; and/or,
  • requiring you to file a financial statement, attend a financial examination, pay any deterrent charges or default fees, and/or attend a default hearing.

If a payor fails to file a financial statement or appear before the FRO after receiving notice to do so, a warrant may be issued for their arrest. A court may also order that a payor can be imprisoned for up to 180 days (6 months) for failure to pay arrears. Furthermore, being imprisoned for failure to pay arrears does not eliminate the arrears owed, prevent arrears from growing, nor prevent other methods of enforcement listed above. If someone helps a payor hide their income for the purposes of avoiding the enforcement of their support obligations, a court may make an order against the person just as they would the payor, excluding imprisonment.

Therefore, it does not seem as though John Schneider would necessarily be better off if he owed support arrears in Ontario as opposed to California. Similar, or perhaps even more severe, consequences for his failure to pay $150,000 in support arrears could possibly result in Ontario. We’ll just have to wait and see if jail time and community service are enough of an incentive for Schneider to pay the support arrears owed.