If your child’s co-parent has claimed that they cannot afford to pay their child support obligations, what are your options? Under these circumstances, it is important to remember that child support is the right of the child, not the receiving parent. This means that parents cannot negotiate a lower monthly rate than the minimums prescribed by the Federal Child Support Guidelines. Any such agreement would be considered invalid by the courts.  Instead, there are two primary avenues for enforcing a child support order.

First, the recipient parent’s best avenue to enforce a support order is to register their separation agreement or court order with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP). This is a public organization that assists parents with enforcing both child and spousal support orders. The FMEP can enforce the orders by “attaching” it to the debtor’s income, including wages, tax returns, rental revenues, etcetera. The organization’s Director may also seek a court order to direct the payment of security for future support obligations from larger sources of funds, e.g. an inheritance. If the debtor parent refuses to pay, the FMEP Director may, among other remedies, report them to the credit bureau, seek a seize-and-sell court order, or instruct ICBC to refuse their license and vehicle registration issuance or renewal.

To enroll in the FMEP, you must submit an application which provides details about the paying parent and a copy of your support agreement or court order. The application can be found here. Upon completion, the EMEP will provide a Notice of Enrollment to the paying parent. The key advantage of the FMEP is that it is free. The disadvantage is that the receiving parent cannot undertake any enforcement proceedings themselves while they are registered in the program.

The recipient parent’s second enforcement avenue is to privately seek court enforcement remedies under section 230 of the Family Law Act. Specifically, they may request that the debtor parent pay security for future support obligations, plus legal expenses, up to $5,000 dollars in damages for the delayed payments, and a fine of up to $5,000.  If the debtor further fails to comply with these payments, the court may make an order for their imprisonment for up to 30 days. Importantly, this imprisonment will not discharge the debtor’s support obligations; it is simply an enforcement mechanism. Of course, this is a draconian option that the courts will rarely apply.

For debtor parents experiencing genuine financial difficulty that is impeding their ability to meet their support obligations, they may respond to enforcement action by applying to the courts for a variation order under section 152 of the Family Law Act or section 17 of the Divorce Act. On proof of a material change that renders the original order inappropriate, the court may vary the obligation amount, suspend enforcement proceedings, or make an order it deems otherwise appropriate.

For more information regard child support and their enforcement, please contract our office at (250) 753-2202.