Collection of Spousal and Child Support in Alberta



Elizabeth Stock for The Lawyers Weekly

In Alberta, Payment of Child Support and Spousal Support are Enforced

Part of a Family Lawyer’s job is to help people in a custody battle deal with child support. Specifically, in Alberta a written agreement is made in order to attain legitimate child and spousal support. Family Lawyers understand that a Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) may also be used to keep the agreement as fair as possible, especially when an ex-spouse misses a payment or two. This is why Family Lawyers strive to create the child and spousal support agreement in a similar format to a MEP.

Wording of the initial child and spousal support agreement is an important aspect that Family Lawyers typically consider. If a MEP is acquired then the court will interpret the child and spousal support agreement according to how they understand it. For this reason, Family Lawyers are taught how to clearly word documents so that every party understands exactly what the arrangements of the agreement are, without question or distress. Essentially, Family Lawyers tend to guarantee that you receive exactly what is payable to you, in any case you find yourself.


Alternative Means of Communicating You Need Child Support and Spousal Support

Before consulting a MEP, Family Lawyers normally suggest that recipients, who are supposed to receive the payments but are not, first talk to the payee. This strategy may help the relationship of the divorcees become a rational and positive one. In this case, regular payments are usually resolved and received quicker than through a MEP, as MEP payments need to be processed before sending out to the recipient. Accordingly, in Alberta, Family Lawyers try to help you contact your ex-spouse without causing any trouble or unnecessary harm.

Elizabeth Stock’s article about child support from The Lawyers Weekly explains how child support and spousal support may be ensured during monthly payments. However, Alberta Family Lawyers understand that you may need guidance in determining whether or not a MEP is the best solution for your specific situation. Canadian-Lawyers.ca offers a FREE online legal directory that helps you locate an experienced Family Lawyer who will help you make the most effective decision in receiving successful payments for child support and spousal support.

The experiences of parties collecting spousal support and child support in Alberta range from those who receive voluntary payments, on time and in full each month to those who have never received regular payments of support, who are owed significant arrears and have continuous difficulty collecting. There are a number of steps recipients of Alberta support can take to try to ensure that they are among those who successfully collect support.

In 1985, Alberta established the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) to help Albertans collect support payments. All Provinces of Canada (and many other countries) have similar legislation and will enforce Alberta support payments. While it is possible to enforce the payment of Alberta child support without MEP, for most people, MEP provides the most cost effective, long term method of enforcing support.

The first step required to enforce support is to distill the terms of child support and spousal support into a Court Order or written agreement, (agreements must be in the format prescribed by the MEP regulations.) While not all parties will need to use Alberta MEP to collect support, it is advisable to describe the terms of support payments in a format which is acceptable to MEP so that the recipient always has the option to use MEP, should it become necessary.

Family court orders or Alberta MEP agreements must clearly identify who pays support, who receives it, the amount and frequency of payments, whether the payment is for spousal or child support, the start date and, often, the end date. If the wording is poor it may result in the family court order being unenforceable by Alberta MEP or MEP adopting an interpretation which was not intended by the parties. Alberta MEP has no power to vary the language in an Order or MEP agreement, so Orders must be very clearly worded.

Once an Order has been granted by a judge and filed with the Court or an MEP agreement has been properly executed, the recipient may apply to have Alberta MEP enforce payments. It is usually advisable to ask the payor to make voluntary payments in the form of post-dated cheques or direct deposit before registering with MEP. This allows the parties the opportunity to establish or maintain goodwill and voluntary payments may be received faster than MEP enforced payments.

If payment becomes a problem, a recipient should call, apply online or write to Alberta MEP to enroll. Once enrolled, Alberta MEP will contact the payor, ask for payments to be made to MEP and for financial information. The payor may pay voluntarily by direct deposit or post-dated cheques. MEP will keep track of arrears and ongoing payments. The recipient will receive payments about 10 days after the payor forwards money to MEP. There is currently no registration fee.

When a payor fails to pay MEP, MEP has tools of enforcement available. The most common include Alberta payroll garnishee, a Federal garnishee (MEP collects the payor's tax refund), registration at Land Titles or the Personal Property registry, denial of Federal licenses (passports), motor vehicle restrictions and driver's license cancellations.

In recent years, Alberta MEP has begun imposing penalties and interest. Starting in 2005, they began charging $25 per month per late payment, $50 for stop payments and insufficient funds transactions and $200 for failure to reply to their request to complete a financing statement. As of October, 2008, they began charging interest on arrears, $50 for service of documents, $200 for re-registration and a penalty of $50 for recipients who collect support directly and not through MEP.

Recipients of child support should watch for information regarding the new Maintenance Enforcement Re-Calculation Program, which is expected to open at the end of 2009. This sister agency to MEP has been mandated to set up a program to make annual adjustments to child support orders or MEP agreements to reflect annual changes to the payor's income. Although this program is still in the planning stage, it has been announced that where payor's do not cooperate with providing updated financial information, the program plans to notify payor's of automatic adjustments and then to impose those adjustments should no actual income information be provided. The proposed adjustment is 10% per year. Otherwise, adjustments will be made using the actual income reported on the payor's tax return in the preceding year. This program will work well for payor's who are employed and who report all income on their tax return. It will not necessarily work for self-employed payor's or payor's who do not report all income. An enrollment fee of $75 has been proposed.

Alberta MEP is a busy agency and often takes time to act. This can be frustrating to recipients and may give payors a false sense that they have gotten away with non-payment. Generally, MEP does catch up to payors and, in most cases, will get money for the recipient. This is good for spouses and children who require the support. With arrears being difficult to reduce (and not reduced by bankruptcy and death), the introduction of interest and penalties, payors need to pay or apply for a variation of the existing Order or MEP agreement if they are unable to pay. Of course, it would be best for everyone if support was paid on time and in full in the first place.

Elizabeth Stock is a lawyer with Bell and Stock LLP in Calgary, Alberta.


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