The American media recently reported on a doctor in Maryland who was stripped of his license to practice medicine in the state for failing to pay more than $100,000 in outstanding child support. While local counsel reportedly states that this is an extreme measure, this case highlights the fact that support enforcement bodies have different weapons in their arsenal to enforce unpaid support awards.
Unfortunately, all too many of us are familiar with stories of ‘deadbeat’ parents – those who shirk their child support obligations and often act under the (mistaken) belief that if you don’t have a job, you’ll be able to get away with not making support payments (subscribing to the 'you can’t get blood from a stone' school of thought).
Yet in Ontario, the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996, (the 'Act') establishes the Family Responsibility Office ('FRO'), whose Director has broad authority to enforce support orders through a wide array of different mechanisms. All court orders for support must state that the order will be enforced by FRO unless it is withdrawn from FRO's enforcement.
The Director of FRO can then enforce a support order by:
Deducting amounts owing from any of the payor's income sources. Such income sources include:
- A wage or salary,
- A commission, bonus or piece-work payment,
- Payments made under a contract,
- A benefit under an accident, disability or sickness plan
- A disability, retirement or other pension
- An annuity,
- Vacation pay, termination pay and severance pay,
- An employee loan,
- A shareholder loan or dividends on shares if the corporation that issued the shares is controlled by the payor or his or her relatives,
- Income tax refunds, or
- Other lump sums payments received under the Act;
- Suspending the payor's driver's licence;
- Registering the support order against land owned by the payor as a charge on the property and forcing the sale of the property;
- Registering a lien and charge on any interest the payor has on personal property held in Ontario;
- Garnishing up to 50% of the money held in a joint account by the payor and another person;
- Garnishing lottery winnings (cash or prizes worth more than $1000);
- Disclosing information regarding the unpaid support obligation to a professional or occupational organization, the governing body of a self-governing or regulated profession or the entity that is responsible for licensing or registering individuals for occupational purposes (which would be slightly different from the enforcement mechanism in Maryland where it appears the enforcement agency itself stripped the payor of his licence);
- Arresting and imprisoning a person who still won't pay.
Clearly then, simply remaining out of the workforce does not protect payors from their obligations to make support payments. If you are a recipient of support, know there are ways to enforce support orders even if the payor doesn't work. Yet owing support need not leave a payor in an impossible financial situation; in many cases the Director of FRO will work with the payor to devise a plan that will work for all parties involved. Instead of avoiding the problem, address it head on to prevent the severe punishments that the FRO has at its disposal.