In this final part of my three part mini-series on special topics in child support, let’s talk about what happens if you become unable to pay the child support payments you were ordered to pay or that you agreed to pay based on a written agreement.
Unfortunately, people end up in situations where they become unable to keep up with their child support payments. People lose their jobs due to layoffs or downsizing. People become ill, and their illnesses may affect their ability to work and earn an income. Suddenly, they find themselves not only dealing with their new life situations, but also the inability to keep up with their child support payments. As they fall further and further behind, the pressure (from the other parent or otherwise) starts to mount.
The Family Responsibility Office (“FRO”) is the authority in Ontario that collects child (and spousal) support payments and distributes the payments to the recipients of support, as well as enforces support orders or agreements. If the Court Order or the agreement is
filed with the FRO and you start to fall behind on your support payments, arrears will start to accumulate and the FRO will be keeping track. Eventually, the FRO will take steps to enforce the child support order or agreement that has fallen into arrears. The FRO can, among other things:
- Garnish wages or income tax refunds, GST/HST refund or any other funds you may be entitled to receive from the government;
- Place a lien on your property;
- Suspend your driver’s licence (or other licences) or your passport;
- In extreme cases, commence default proceedings in Court and seek an order for committal (read: you’re off to jail).
Once you realize that you are falling behind in your payments, I recommend taking steps early on before the FRO steps in. You can:
1. Try to negotiate a new agreement with the other parent on child support payments. Explain your new situation and provide relevant documentation (i.e. recent paystubs, recent Income Tax Returns or Notices of Assessment, medical records, etc.) to prove that your income has significantly decreased and that a change in child support is necessary. Sign a new agreement with the other parent or take steps to obtain a new Court Order on consent.
2. If that does not work, then start a Court procedure called a “Motion to Change” to explain to the Judge how your situation has changed since the agreement or Court Order and why your child support payments need to be changed. Be prepared to provide significant disclosure to the Court in order to prove the changes in your circumstances.
In the meantime, do not be shy about negotiating a payment plan with the FRO for your arrears while you try to renegotiate child support.
In this case, I am not talking about intentionally becoming unemployed or underemployed. This is bad news. If you decide not to work or not to work full-time or if you decide to hide your income, a Court may order you to pay child support based on the income you should be earning. This is called “imputing” income. The Court can look at the type of job you are doing or could be doing, your level of education and experience, whether you have a legitimate reason for not working (i.e. serious health issue that impacts your ability to work or earn an income) and order you to pay child support based on an imputed income.
“The information in this article is not intended as legal advice, and should not be considered as such. Family law varies from province to province and the outcome of your situation may also vary depending on the facts of your case. It is recommended that you seek the advice of a lawyer with respect to your family law matter. This article is for educational purposes only.”