On May 9, 1997, Attorney General, Charles Harnick, announced The Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996, setting forth new enforcement measures designed to prevent individuals from avoiding their financial responsibilities for support. The Family Responsibility Office (formerly the Family Support Plan) is responsible for administering approximately 170,000 cases which represents approximately $1.2 billion owed to mainly woman and children.
The main features of the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996 are as follows:
Driver's Licence Suspension
The Family Responsibility Office has the option to suspend the driver's licence of a defaulting payor, unless a satisfactory repayment agreement is made or the arrears are paid in full. Generally enforcement proceedings will not start until the defaulter has $3,000.00 of arrears accumulated.
Credit Bureau Reporting
When there have been no support payments received by the FRO within three months and the arrears are greater than $300, the defaulting payor will be reported to the credit bureau to make it more difficult for them to obtain loans or other credit while they owe money to families. As this report will stay on the payor's credit rating for seven years, the ability to obtain credit for car loans, mortgages and credit cards will all be impeded. Experience in Manitoba and some U.S. States show credit bureau reporting to be helpful in enforcing payments from the self-employed.
Third Party Garnishment
If a court finds that a third party is involved in sheltering a defaulting payor's assets or income from the enforcement of a support order, the court will be able to make an order against the third party.
Garnishment of Joint Bank Accounts
The Family Responsibility Office can seize up to 50% of funds held in a joint bank account in order to satisfy child support arrears.
Personal Property Security Act
Support Orders can now be registered under the Personal Property Security Act. When the defaulting payor attempts to sell an asset the child support order will be given priority over subsequent registered interests and unregistered interests. This measure will provide potential purchasers with notice that the payor owes child support and that unless the child support is paid before the asset is purchased that they will be liable personally for the arrears.
The Family Responsibility Office can now deduct the arrears owed under a support order from lottery winnings if the defaulting payor wins a prize of more than $1,000.
Writ of Seizure and Sale
The Family Responsibility Office can issue a writ of seizure and sale against a defaulting payor's property or assets. When an asset is sold, the support order will be given priority over subsequent registered and unregistered interests.
Voluntary Opting Out
Consenting parents will be able to opt out of the government's support enforcement program and deal directly with one another. Opting out frees consenting parents from government involvement. It also frees up time and resources within the governmental office, allowing better service to those individuals requiring it. A Family Responsibility Office client who has consented to opting out can opt back in at any time, without penalty.
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