The Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) and Cost Awards

The purpose of this blog will be to provide a brief overview of the purpose behind the FMEP as well as discuss the type of cost awards the FMEP will enforce.

The FMEP is a free service provided by the BC government. The FMEP enforces support orders and agreements on behalf of the person who is owed support (“Creditor”).  Once someone is enrolled in the FMEP, all support payments must be sent to the FMEP. The FMEP processes the payments and sends them on to the Creditor.

To enforce a support order or agreement, the FMEP can take all legal steps the Creditor could take on their own. The FMEP can also take other steps the Creditor cannot, like restricting the driver’s licence of the person who owes support (the “Debtor”) or taking away their passport.

If support payments are missed and arrears are owed, the enforcement steps the FMEP takes depend on how much arrears are owed, the current situation of the Debtor, and the actions the FMEP thinks have the best chance of success in the circumstances.

The FMEP can garnish wages, redirect money from government institutions, file liens on the Debtor’s property, place restrictions on the Debtor’s licence or passport and even put the Debtor in jail.

As can be seen from the above the FMEP can be a very forceful tool in enforcing payments under maintenance orders.  However, what type of court costs will the FMEP enforce?

First, what are court costs?  There are costs associated with going to court.  They can include court filing fees, legal bills, attendance at court, “disbursements” (i.e., photocopy charges, printing etc.) and other related matters.  The general rule of costs is that absent any special circumstances or considerations, a successful litigant can obtain an order for his or her costs.  This means that if you win your case, the other party may have to pick up a significant portion of your court costs.

The FMEP will enforce maintenance payments and included in the definition of maintenance under the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act is fixed costs awarded under the regulations in favour of the director or a creditor.  Section 15 of the Family Maintenance Enforcement Regulations (the “Regulations”) say that the court can award costs if the court believes the default under the maintenance order could have been avoided.  This would lead to the conclusion that the FMEP will only enforce court costs that stem from s.15 of the Regulations.