What can I do if my ex refuses to pay support?
Camille Boyer, Calgary family lawyer
So you have been to court, you got a court order and your ex-spouse still refuses to pay child support or spousal support. What can be done?
Even with a court order, some of our clients have former spouses who play games with support payments including outright refusing to pay, paying late, paying less or even disappearing. This can be incredibly frustrating when you depend on child support or spousal support to pay your bills.
In many family law cases the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program (“MEP”) is a critical part of receiving Court ordered support payments. MEP is a free program provided by the Alberta Government which can enforce court orders for child support or spousal support.
MEP requires a valid court order to enroll in the program, unless both parties are willing to enter into a Support Agreement directly with the program. MEP usually deals with Alberta court orders but can also enforce support orders from a reciprocal jurisdiction.
MEP’s authority to enforce a child support or spousal support order comes from the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Act, RSA 2000, c M-1 (the “Act”). Similar to the enforcement measures available for any court judgement or order in Alberta, the Act permits MEP to collect payment directly from a payor in the amount set out in the order. This means that the person who is supposed to pay support will pay MEP directly. MEP transfers this support money to the person who is supposed to receive it.
If a the person supposed to pay support does not make payments to MEP on time there are a number of sanctions and enforcement measures available to the MEP. For example, late or missed payments will accumulate arrears which accrue interest the this interests is also enforceable by MEP. Furthermore, MEP has the authority to garnish wages, remove funds from bank accounts, and even seize and sell assets in order to recover the child support or spousal support owed.
If MEP is unable to collect the support funds through garnishees it can resort to more intrusive sanctions. Such sanctions may include a report to the credit bureau, suspending the payor’s vehicle registration, drivers’ license, passport or hunting licence.
In some circumstances, MEP may request that the payor prepare a Statement of Finances. This is a form that sets out all the available income and assets available to the person who is supposed to pay support. If a payor fails to complete and return the Statement of Finances, the payor may have to attend court for a default hearing and testify under oath. If they do not attend the default hearing, MEP has the authority under the Act to apply for a warrant for the payor’s arrest.
The MEP program even has a webpage dedicated to finding defaulting payors who owe child and spousal support, as well as an anonymous tip line to report the whereabouts or assets of a person who owes child support or spousal support under the program.
Once a court order has been registered with MEP, it is strongly discouraged to try to make payments directly to the recipient of support. This is because it may not be tracked with MEP and the program will not have a record of the child or spousal support being paid which can lead to arrears. If a recipient repeatedly accepts direct payments of support after registering with MEP, this may result in being withdrawn from the program.
Once a court order on child or spousal support has been made, the recipient of support or payor may register the Order with MEP at any time. All Court Orders for child support or spousal support granted in Alberta are required to have the mandatory “MEP clause” which permits this manner of enforcement. Even if the parties never intend to register with MEP, the clause must still be in their Court Order.
Completing the forms to register with MEP is somewhat time-consuming but straight-forward. We have found some clients may struggle with the portion of the Application which requires an Affidavit of Arrears. This Affidavit requires that the applicant set out the total amount due under their court order since it was granted, the total amounts paid, and the difference owing. If a support order is registered soon after being granted, the Affidavit of Arrears is generally quite simple. However, if it has been many years since the order was granted, the arrears are substantial, or if a child support order deals with section 7 expenses, the Affidavit of Arrears can become complicated.
The family lawyers and paralegals at Crossroads Law have significant experience assisting people with MEP enforcement issues. We have helped hundreds of satisfied clients litigate, negotiate and enforce child and spousal support orders. Contact Crossroads Law today for a free consultation to discuss how we can assist you with enforcing your support order.