In a previous blog, we noted the difficulty presented to payors of child support by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout. In particular, we identified that many individuals were losing their jobs and incomes due to the COVID-19 outbreak, yet were unable to seek any assistance from a court in varying their child support obligations. Court applications have been limited to emergency applications, with child support variations not fitting with this definition of “emergency”.

The significant difficulty that arises from this issue is that the Maintenance Enforcement Program has been continuing to enforce child support orders for payment. Job loss or decreased income mattered very little, as Maintenance Enforcement is typically obligated to enforce upon existing orders and will not deviate from enforcing the child support amounts without a variation order setting out otherwise.

Changes to the Maintenance Enforcement Program due to COVID-19

However, in a release this week, the Maintenance Enforcement Program has recognized the hardship that some payors are being put through as a result of COVID-19 related job loss. In a statement from the Law Society of Alberta, it was announced that:

The Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) recognises COVID-19 may impact a payors’ ability to meet their court ordered child support obligations. Similarly, it is recognised recipients are also impacted by COVID-19, and still have monthly obligations for the child(ren). Therefore payors making no payment is not an option.

To assist payors, the MEP will offer a temporary payment arrangement for less than the ordered amount or a temporary decrease in their current payment arrangement. This applies to payors contacting MEP looking for assistance during the pandemic due to loss of income as a result of COVID-19 diagnosis, self-isolation, loss of job (or reduced hours) or impact of childcare/school closure. Assistance to these payors will be temporary, and it is the responsibility of these payors to keep in touch with MEP month-to-month.

If you have payor clients that are impacted by COVID-19, it is important they contact their MEP Case Officer for assistance as soon as they know they will need it.

What is clear is that MEP is prepared to relax their enforcement of orders by engaging with those paying child support to arrange for lower payments. However, it is not clear whether these arrangements for “less than the ordered amount” or a “temporary decrease” in current payments include a complete cessation of payments for those who have lost their jobs and have no income at all.

It is a welcome announcement that MEP will recognize the detriment to upholding orders in the face of rampant economic hardship, but it is of little assistance to those who now without an income to still be required to pay child support of some amount, or otherwise face enforcement actions such as a suspension of their driver’s license or vehicle registration.

As the scope of the relaxation of payment is not entirely clear, it will likely be clarified as more and more people begin contacting MEP to seek relief from their current orders.

If you require advice or help in respect of your child support order in these unique and difficult times, the lawyers at Mincher Koeman LLP are able and prepared to help you.

Our exclusive focus on family law helps our clients navigate the emotional and financial challenges a family law matter can present. Our team remains fully operational, and we have implemented various technologies that allow us to continue to advise clients seamlessly during this time. If you have a family law issue that you need assistance with, please contact us online or phone at (403) 901-3000 to talk with one of our lawyers today.

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