The Family Responsibility Office (FRO) was established under the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act for the specific purpose of ensuring that support payments are made. FRO will enforce any support order issued by Ontario courts, and any support agreement in a domestic contract that is filed with the courts. Once a support obligation is registered with FRO, that agency acts as an intermediary for all payments: support payors pay support directly to FRO (usually, FRO garnishes the payor’s wages), and FRO then forwards those payments to the recipient parent. This is the case unless parties agree expressly, in writing, to withdraw from FRO.
The recipient spouse will not receive child support unless the payor spouse is making payments. But if payments are not being made, FRO has the authority to take steps to enforce them.
FRO can pursue one or more of the following steps to collect payment:
- Garnish a payor’s wages or any government money received, such as Canada Pension Plan benefits, employment insurance, income tax refunds, worker’s compensation, or old age security benefits;
- Garnish a payor’s bank accounts or garnish 50% of an account the payor holds jointly;
- Suspend the payor’s driver’s license;
- Report the payor to a credit bureau (making it difficult to get approval for a loan in the future);
- Suspend the payor’s passport;
- Suspend any federal license, such as a pilot’s license;
- Register a lien against the payor’s personal property;
- Issue a writ for seizure and sale of any property;
- Report the payor to any occupational or professional organizations to which he or she belongs;
- Seize lottery winnings;
- Start a default hearing; and/or
- Make an order against anyone who is helping the payor hide income.
If the FRO cannot enforce payment using any of these mechanisms, it can have the defaulting payor brought back to court and found in contempt of the support order. A finding of contempt may result in a fine or imprisonment.
A common method of enforcement, particularly when FRO cannot find any income to garnish, is suspension of the payor’s driver’s license. That suspension can then make it even more difficult for the payor to work and earn the income necessary to pay the support arrears. FRO is required to give 30 days’ notice before suspending a license.
Information for Child Support Payors
As a support payor, it is important that you ensure FRO has your up-to-date contact information, and that you contact FRO to work out a payment plan as soon as you fall behind on your payments, particularly if you receive an initial notice regarding the upcoming suspension of your license. Once you receive an initial notice of suspension, you have 30 days to either pay your arrears, contact FRO and enter into a plan for repayment, or apply for a refraining order.
A refraining order is a court order that temporarily prevents FRO from suspending your license, under terms the court considers just. In order to obtain such an order, Section 35(1) of the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act indicates that the payor must file a Motion to Change the support order, as well as a Motion for the Director of FRO to refrain from suspending the payor’s license. The refraining order may require the payor to start a motion to change the existing order, make ongoing payments, and/or make periodic payments on the arrears.
Note that if you miss the 30-day deadline given in the initial notice from FRO, you can no longer apply for a refraining order.
Only a court order can reduce arrears or change ongoing support obligations. FRO cannot reduce support payments or arrears owed; it can only work with you to create a payment plan. Therefore, if you wish to terminate your support payments, you should file a motion to vary the support order with the court that issued the original order.
A declaration of bankruptcy will not terminate your support obligations. If you declare bankruptcy, FRO will become a creditor against your estate and will continue to enforce ongoing support. They will deal with the bankruptcy trustee to reclaim arrears that accrued before bankruptcy.
Information for Child Support Recipients
If you are a support recipient and you have not received your payment as scheduled, contact FRO. They can inform you if the payment was made and was simply delayed getting to you, or if the payor is in arrears. If the payor is in arrears, you will fill out a Statement of Arrears to indicate how much is owed and submit this to FRO. You can also include in the Statement of Arrears any support the payor owes you from a time before the support order was registered with FRO.
Keep in mind that as a custodial parent, you do not have the right to limit, prevent, or otherwise interfere with your partner’s access visits with the children because he or she has stopped paying support.
Enforcing Support Across Provinces & Countries
FRO has reciprocal agreements with all other Canadian provinces and territories, every state in the United States, and over 30 other countries. Support orders from those provinces, states, or countries can be registered in Ontario under the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act and filed with FRO. They will then be enforced as though they were ordered by an Ontario court.
If the support order was made in Ontario but the paying parent does not live in Ontario or moves out of Ontario, FRO can similarly continue to enforce payment.
As a payor or recipient, it is important to understand your rights and responsibilities in regard to child support. For more information on enforcement and how an Ontario family law lawyer can help you, call Feldstein Family Law Group P.C. at (905) 581-7222.