As we head rapidly into the holiday season, many families in Alberta are feeling some level of financial strain owing in large part to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 crisis. One indicator of this strain is an increase in arrears in child and spousal support payments in the province. According to a recent article from the CBC, family support payments have been on the rise, even before the pandemic.

Alberta Family Support Arrears Have Been Increasing Since 2014

Based on statistics provided by Alberta’s Maintenance Enforcement Program, support arrears increased 6% between 2014 and 2019. These arrears range in amount from as little as $1 to as much as $2.5 million, but the average amount owing per case is $22,485.00. The total amount outstanding in the province is a staggering $609 million. With so many people facing reduced hours or layoffs in 2020 as a result of business closures, these numbers are likely to go up even more.

Maintenance Enforcement Program Says its Hands Are Tied in Certain Cases

The article focuses on one mother, in particular, an Alberta resident who earns an income of approximately $1800 per month through disability benefits. She suffers from chronic autoimmune problems and depression. She is raising a teenage son with special needs and says she has not received support from the child’s father in over a year. Records indicate the father is in arrears of nearly $30,000.

The mother has been making attempts to provide information to the MEP to force the father the pay, as they have in the past by suspending his driver’s licence. She has provided them with information including social media posts the father has made, in which he highlights a new car and new commercial snow removal equipment, as evidence that he has the means to pay. However, in communications with the father, the MEP has found they don’t have sufficient reason to enforce payments at this time.

The father claimed the car and the equipment were purchased by his mother in order to enable him to earn some form of income. He says that he is also receiving monthly subsidies, in the amount of $800 per month. Speaking with the CBC, the father said:

You can’t get blood out of a stone. I barely struggle to pay my rent and get ahead in life, to keep working.

For its part, the MEP told the mother it had spoken with the father and did not feel there was enough reason to proceed with enforcement measures at this time.

Unfortunately, many families may find themselves in similar scenarios this year.

MEP Enforcement Tactics

We have previously discussed how a person can seek out the assistance of the MEP for child or spousal support arrears. In most cases, this means keeping the MEP office up to date on any changes with respect to either party’s financial situation, or with respect to the child, if applicable. When it does have cause to move ahead with enforcement measures, the MEP has several options with which it can proceed. Depending on the situation, the MEP has the power to revoke a passport, suspend a driver’s licence or garnish a person’s wages. In some cases, the MEP might be able to work with the payor to arrange a payment schedule if the payor shows an intent to pay but has limited means.

Issue Not Likely to Resolve Soon

With COVID-19’s second wave in full swing and infection numbers higher than ever, it seems the situation will get worse before it can get better. In a statement, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said the provincial government is looking for ways to help improve matters:

Unfortunately, there are many factors that can result in a small percentage of parents being unable to meet their obligations, and there is even a smaller number of parents who refuse to make maintenance enforcement payments.

In those cases, the courts rely on stringent collections actions. Alberta’s justice system is facing numerous pressures as a result of the pandemic and prolonged economic downturn, however, the Government of Alberta is always exploring better ways to ensure parents are financially accountable for their children no matter their circumstances.

The family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman are exceptionally experienced with respect to child and spousal support awards following a divorce or separation. We will work with you to ensure that you receive a support award that accurately reflects the true financial positions of the parties. Contact our office today by calling us at 403-910-3000 or contact us online.

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