A record-breaking amount of money was collected this year for families with a dead-beat spouse.
“Spousal support and child support court orders are granted by the Provincial or the Supreme Court but… even though you’re court ordered, the payment is volunteered by the other party,” said Sylvia Lane, the poverty law advocate for the Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society.
If someone who has a court order to receive payments is not getting them, this is where the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program comes in. It has recorded a $10.5-million jump in collection from last year, which is the largest annual increase to date.
“The success of this program meant that, last year alone, more than $190 million went directly to families that might not have otherwise received their support payments – for some families, this could make difference of whether or not there's food on the table,” said Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond.
The program monitors and enforces family support court orders for more than 45,000 families across the province.
“If the payment is not made on time, an option for collection is through the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program. The court order is sent to Family Maintenance and they can enact it,” explained Lane.
“I will be forever grateful. FMEP really did help out in difficult times. Thank you for being there,” said a FMEP client in a statement released by the government.
Another client also expressed their gratitude, “I would like to let you know that your services served me and my family greatly. I am so happy that FMEP is there to help others in need. You probably don’t get much gratitude from your work,” said the client.
However, for some the program is not always successful.
“It is a good program but like any other program, it does have its limitations – even with family maintenance, there’s no guarantee of payment.” explained Lane.
According to Lane, FMEP can put a lien on any government funds such as tax returns, GST, HST, passport applications, drivers license renewal and they can even garnish wages but it cannot guarantee that everyone is going to receive payments.
“If it’s a person who works for cash or is self-employed, or doesn’t file any income tax, it makes it more difficult. It is up to the person that files for family maintenance to update maintenance of any change of address for the payer, any change of employer for the payer,” said Lane.
When asked if the FMEP is something that is used in the Peace Region, Lane explained that she has seen the program at work before.
“We have a high rate of divorce and separation here in Fort St. John so statistically it would not surprise me if that coincided with being a high rate of family maintenance enforcement request for collection,” said Lane.
In Fort St. John, 490 people are separated and 850 are divorced, according to Statistics Canada.
“Some people find it very frustrating to deal with family maintenance in the simple fact that the footwork for finding the person has to be on the recipient not on family maintenance,” explained Lane.
When asked for a comment, Fort St. John legal aide advised the paper that they only have one staff member and that person does not handle the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, therefore, no comment was available.
The South Peace Community Resource Centre and Dawson Creek legal aide were not available for comment.