How do I change child support paid to MEP during COVID 19?
By Amanda Marsden, Calgary family lawyer
The Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program (“MEP”) is a provincial government program that is responsible for collecting court ordered child support and spousal support. The Maintenance Enforcement Program acts on behalf of Alberta spouses who have a court order and who register with the program. Once a court order on child or spousal support has been registered with the Program, MEP begins collecting the support payments and pays them out to the recipient spouse.
Under normal circumstances, even when there is a job loss or change in income, the spouse paying child support or spousal support is responsible for getting a variation order from the court before the Maintenance Enforcement Program will change the amount that they collect. In other words, MEP will continue to enforce the original support order until such time as they get a new order from the court. This poses significant difficulty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, courthouses across the country, including those in Alberta, are closed except for urgent matters, including some family law issues like restraining orders as a result of domestic violence. This means that the courts are typically not hearing any child support or spousal support applications.
As a result of the economic crisis in Alberta caused by COVID-19 and the drop in oil prices, many parents and former spouses are losing their jobs or receiving less income. Given this unprecedented situation, the Law Society of Alberta has released the following statement:
The Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) recognises COVID-19 may impact a payors’ ability to meet their court ordered child support obligations. Similarly, it is recognised recipients are also impacted by COVID-19, and still have monthly obligations for the child(ren). Therefore payors making no payment is not an option.
To assist payors, the MEP will offer a temporary payment arrangement for less than the ordered amount or a temporary decrease in their current payment arrangement. This applies to payors contacting MEP looking for assistance during the pandemic due to loss of income as a result of COVID-19 diagnosis, self-isolation, loss of job (or reduced hours) or impact of childcare/school closure. Assistance to these payors will be temporary, and it is the responsibility of these payors to keep in touch with MEP month-to-month.
If you have payor clients that are impacted by COVID-19, it is important they contact their MEP Case Officer for assistance as soon as they know they will need it.
Obviously, this type of response was much needed during this time. However, it remains to be seen what type of reduction in child support payments MEP will allow. Also, this news will do little to comfort those who are receiving child and spousal support, who may also be laid off and now facing a reduction in support payments.
When circumstances change financially the Family Law Act and the Divorce Act permit a variation in child support or spousal support. However, a separation agreement may limit how and when a variation may occur. Although the courts are closed, it remains open to former spouses to renegotiate spousal support and child support payments, in the face of changing financial circumstances. Renegotiating support payments now, rather than waiting until the courts reopen, will also prevent having to potentially pay back an overpayment of support later.
During the COVID-19 shutdown of the court system, former spouses are mediating and arbitrating their disputes remotely. This involves hiring a third-party mediator or arbitrator who can set up a videoconference instead of having the parties attend meetings in person. The Alberta courts are currently accepting consent orders and arbitration awards. Therefore, a child support or spousal support consent order reached in mediation can be filed with the court and sent to the Maintenance Enforcement Program which will then change the amount of support collected.
If you have lost your job or are now earning less, you can calculate how much child support to pay using our child support calculator. Also, if you require the negotiation of a change in child support or spousal support with your former spouse or the Maintenance Enforcement Program, the Calgary family lawyers at Crossroads Law can help. Give us a call to set up your free consultation.