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THE FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY OFFICE

By CARLY SHANE WAISGLASS, ASSOCIATE
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What is the Family Responsibility Office?

In Ontario, when a person is ordered by a court to pay spousal or child support, a Support Order is automatically filed with the Family Responsibility Office. The Family Responsibility Office (“FRO”) is a government agency under the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, and has authority under the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcements Act, 1996 (“FRSAEA”) and the Inter-Jurisdictional Support Order Act, 2002 (“IJSOA”). The FRO deals primarily with issues surrounding post-marital financial arrangements, including child and spousal support payments, and enforcement against non-compliant support payors. Whenever there is a family law case in the Ontario court system that involves a temporary or final court order containing child or spousal support, the court order will be automatically sent to the FRO for enforcement. Each case is assigned a specific number to keep track of all support payments made. The agency was created during Marion Boyd’s two-year run as the Attorney General of Ontario from 1993-1995.

What does the FRO do?

The Family Responsibility Office has several functions. However, the FRO’s primary duty is to enforce the financial obligations of spouses to each other. In short, the FRO is mandated to strictly enforce Support Orders in Ontario by collecting amounts and ensuring the right party is paid in accordance with the applicable Support Order. This process typically involves child support and spousal support payments as ordered by the court and stipulated in a Separation Agreement. The FRO however, does not make payments to a recipient when the payor misses a payment, change the terms of support orders, or get involved in child custody or access issues. The FRO acts as an intermediary between the involved parties by simply collecting payments from the payor spouse and disbursing them to the recipient spouse.

Depending on the case, the FRO may have the authority to request the payor’s employer to deduct the support payments straight from the payor’s income thereby eliminating the payor’s role in making the required payments on their own. Parties are also eligible to withdraw from the enforcement by the FRO, assuming that both parties give their consent to do so. If after withdrawing from the FRO, the support recipient wishes to receive payments again, they can use FRO’s services again by filling out another application and having both parties each pay a $50 fee. The only other way a support order can be terminated aside from the mutual withdrawal of both parties is if a new court order is obtained thereby terminating the previous support order. If one of the parties believes that the support amount should either be increased or decreased, the FRO does not have the authority to make those changes. Instead, the party looking to make a change would have to file a Motion to Change requesting a change to the current support payment amount. The FRO can only act on current, active support agreements subsequent to binding court decisions.

FRO’s Enforcement Powers

Pursuant to the FRSAEA, if you or your partner miss any support payments, the FRO can take action to enforce your court order or Separation Agreement and collect the funds. The FRO may use any enforcement mechanism necessary to enforce a Support Order if the payor defaults on their payment. The following measures are the most common enforcement methods employed by the FRO:

  1. Garnishing bank accounts;
  2. Garnishing funds to be received from the government (ex. funds such as employment insurance, Canadian Pension Plan, tax refunds, etc.);
  3. Reporting to the credit bureau;
  4. Suspending an individual’s driver’s licence;
  5. Suspending an individual’s federal licence, such as a passport;
  6. Placing a lien on the payor’s property;
  7. Placing a writ of seizure and sale against the payor;
  8. Initiating a Default Hearing;
  9. Seizing lottery winnings; and/or,
  10. Making an order against anyone who is helping the payor hide their income.

If the above-mentioned mechanisms fail to enforce payment, the FRO can have the defaulting payor brought back to court and found to be in contempt of the Support Order, which may result in a fine or up to 180 days of jail time against the defaulting party.

The FRO may also refuse to enforce certain support orders in certain situations. These situations may occur if the support order is ambiguous and unclear, if the support amount is nominal, and if the amount cannot be confirmed because it is expressed as a percentage rather than a fixed $ amount of the payer’s income. If the support payer is self-employed or is currently out of work, they must arrange to make payments directly with the FRO.

What if the Payor resides outside of Ontario?

It is important to note that pursuant to the IJSOA, the FRO may collect child or spousal support payments even if the payor resides outside of Ontario. Specifically, the IJSOA permits the FRO to collect child or spousal support payments where one spouse is living in Ontario and the other spouse is living in a “reciprocating jurisdiction” such as the United States, Hong Kong, Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.

If you are a support payor, it is important for you to ensure that the FRO has been updated with your most up-to-date contact information, and that you work out a payment plan if you fall behind on your payments.

How Chand & Co. Can Help

The Family Responsibility Office provides certain advantages in the management of support payments with spouses who have a habit of mishandling funds or missing payments. At Chand & Co., our experienced Family Law lawyers can help navigate your support payments by requesting that the payments be put through the FRO on your behalf, by updating your contact information with the FRO, by drafting new support orders, by altering existing support orders (where applicable), and by assisting you with your support obligations.

If you would like to discuss your support obligations or any enforcement measures available to you, we invite you to contact us for a consultation at 416-583-2377.

*DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this website are for general informational purposes only.  Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.*

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