The Family Responsibility Office
Child support and spousal support enforcement are handled by a government entity called the Family Responsibility Office, or the “FRO.”
The FRO has a great deal of power. Typically, when a child support or spousal support order is issued, the court sends a copy of this order to the FRO. It is the FRO’s mandate to enforce the order. The enforcement takes place by immediate garnishment of the payor’s source of income (yes, they will contact your employer). The payments are withdrawn from the source of income and deposited into the recipient’s bank account.
Family Responsibility Office’s Enforcement Powers
When a payor goes into child or spousal support arrears (i.e. is getting behind on support payments), the FRO has the authority to (non-exhaustive list):
- Seize the payor’s bank account;
- Suspend the payor’s driver’s license;
- Suspend the payor’s passport;
- Seize the payor’s assets;
- Shave the payor imprisoned, in the most serious cases.
Reciprocal Jurisdictional Enforcement of Support
Further, the FRO has reciprocal enforcement agreements with a number of countries throughout the world.
These agreements provide that the reciprocating countries will cooperate with the FRO in Canada to locate the payor, seize his wages, salary, or even have him or her arrested. In other words, one cannot run from the FRO unless he or she chooses to relocate to a non-reciprocating jurisdiction.
Effect of Bankruptcy on Owing Support
Personal or corporate bankruptcy will not relieve a payor from their child or spousal support obligations. The only way to eliminate or manage support arrears is to negotiate with the recipient or convince the court of the payor’s inability to pay.
Support Enforcement Litigation
Such litigation can become quite complex, particularly with self-employed individuals.
Typically, the support payor will allege that they earn substantially less income than what is set out in the order. The support recipient will take the position that the payor is earning cash, hiding income, or is purposely underemployed to avoid their support obligations. The payor is then placed in a position where he or she must prove what they do not earn, i.e., prove a negative.
My general practice is to attempt to achieve a settlement before commencing the court process.