Ontario agency struggling to get child support payments
Published Friday, March 18, 2016 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, March 18, 2016 10:43PM EDT
Kim Williams has spent two decades fighting to get more than $40,000 in court-ordered child support payments from her former partner.
The Ontario mother’s struggle began when her son, Jermaine, was nine years old.
“I just feel alone. My son feels abandoned,” she told CTV News.
Williams works at two different jobs, for 18 hours a day, just to stay afloat.
But so far, Ontario’s Family Responsibilty Office -- the provincial agency tasked with getting money from court-ordered “payors” -- has been unsuccessful.
“(My son) feels like they don’t want to help him, they don’t want to help us,” Williams said. “It’s hard.”
Complaints against the FRO have risen in the past five years. Last year, there were 1,200.
But the FRO says it’s doing all it can to get money from delinquent payors. And for 2014-15, it collected a total of $678.1 million -- the most money it’s ever collected in a single year.
The FRO has also improved how it responds to clients. Wait times for its general inquiry phone line have been reduced to under two minutes, down from eight to 12 minutes. Clients can also receive information from an automated line 24 hours a day.
The agency also opens cases faster than ever -- within 30 days of receiving orders from the courts. That means it can collect payments sooner.
But advocates like Barb Cohen, a family lawyer, say the FRO can still be slow to act, even when provided with critical information on payors.
“Sometimes I’ve communicated with the FRO that this person has changed jobs and they’re with this employer, and no action is taken,” she said.
Another advocate, family lawyer and mediator Christopher Arnold, said some of the FRO’s tools to get money can be counter-productive, like cancelling a driver’s licence.
“So taking a deadbeat’s driver’s licence can interfere with their ability to go to their job and get the money to pay the support,” said Arnold.
One FRO client, who did not want to be identified, declared bankruptcy after her fight to get money for herself and her disabled son.
“I keep believing that at some point the system is going to do what they’re supposed to do, but I’m starting to lose hope after six years,” she said.
Key Numbers Behind the FRO Workload
Ontario’s agency responsible for getting court-ordered child support payments deals with a huge number of cases and paperwork. Here are the big numbers from 2015.
180,000 cases the FRO deals with at any one time, and they involve about 380,000 recipients, payors and third parties.
16,500 Initial Support Deduction Notices sent to the employers and other income sources of people who owe money. It’s a 10 per cent increase from the previous year.
26,500 Initial Federal Support Deduction Notices issued -- a 19-per-cent increase from 2014. The notices help the FRO get tax refunds and other federal payments heading to the payor.
7,700 driver’s licence suspension warnings issued, a 25-per-cent increase.
2,500 requests for driver’s licence suspensions as a result of non-payment. That’s 43-per-cent more.
6,000 Federal Licence Denial requests sent out -- 46 per cent more than the previous year. They include the denial or cancellation of passports.
1,000 Lump Sum or Periodic Garnishments, a 21-per-cent increase. The FRO can force the withdrawal of funds directly from a payor’s bank account.
$900,000 in lottery winnings seized from payors. In the previous year it was less than $200,000, although it would depend on how many payors get lucky and how much they win.
70,000 writs of seizure and sale of property that were in place or in progress by the end of 2015.
7,500 court appearances made by FRO lawyers in support-enforcement related matters. They include getting warrants of committal so the most delinquent payors can be put behind bars.
84,000 -- the average number of cases reported to credit bureaus every single month.
With a report by CTV’s Omar Sachedina in Ottawa