CBC News recently discovered an unsettling fact about Canadian child support: a major percentage of court-ordered child support across the country is simply not being paid. In fact, there is currently $3.7 billion in unpaid child support. About one third of child support cases in Canada are in compliance, another third are in partial compliance, and one third are in default.
The numbers specific to Ontario are even worse, as 80% of all child support cases in the province are in arrears. Perhaps more disturbing is the inability of the Ministry of Community and Social Services to track down these missing payments and absentee payors through its Family Responsibility Office (FRO).
If only 20% of custodial parents and children of divorce in Ontario are receiving the support they are legally owed, one can only wonder how the situation became so dire. CBC News spoke with Toronto family lawyer and mediator Judy Huddart about the issue and she described the statistics on unpaid child support as “hugely concerning” but “not that surprising.”
Huddart says the FRO is unable to keep up with the arrears for several reasons: “I think its partly a question of how much resources they’ve devoted, but I think its also a question of the fact that there are just so many people out there, amazingly, who aren’t paying for their children.”
Among the tools of enforcement available to the FRO, wage garnishing in cases of negligent support payments can help ensure custodial parents get the child support they are entitled to. Another option is to collect any money that would have otherwise been paid out by the government to the payor, such as tax refunds. The government can also penalize any absentee parents who fail to pay court-ordered support by suspending their driver’s licenses.
However, the larger problem preventing many of these methods from properly being carried out is that the FRO cannot locate many of the parents who are behind on child support payments. According to the auditor general report, there has been significant improvement in tracking unpaid child support since 2009 thanks to an updated computer system.
An alternate solution for divorcing parents to consider is mediation. Attempting to settle outside of the court system often leads to fair support and custody arrangements with higher compliance rates, since both parents are involved in determining the outcome.