A father was paying child support for two of his children when the living arrangement for the children changed. (Photo: iStock).
How aggressive is a government agency allowed to be when going after child payment debts?
That is what the next case explored, which dealt with a dispute between the Family Responsibility Office and a father. The FRO is a service of the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services that has the duty to enforce court-ordered child support payments on parent(s) who are in debts by taking action such as issuing a lean against property or suspending a driver’s license.
In the case at hand, a father was paying child support for two of his children when the living arrangement for the children changed and they moved in with him during the course of 2015. The parents agreed that child support payments to the mother were to stop effective July 6, 2015, and the father’s lawyer wrote to FRO in late August 2015 to inform them of the change.
The judge didn’t grant the termination of child support right away, as he wanted more details on the agreement. In the meantime, the FRO decided to start an enforcement action against the father in and later issued a notice to suspend his driver’s license, despite having been informed by the his lawyer that the parties had agreed to stop child payments and that the issue was at court. The FRO’s position was that as long as the court order for child support existed, they had to enforce it.
Once the father was advised by the FRO that a notice to suspend his driver’s license was being issued he went to court for a refraining order, which is an order that stops the suspension temporarily.
The court granted him the refraining order in December 2015, and he then asked to have his legal expenses reimbursed. He claimed that he was owed money because the agency didn’t properly use its discretion and also because the FRO failed to properly communicate with him and his lawyer.
The court agreed with the father on both issues.
The action the FRO took in this case was seen as aggressive and unreasonable by the court, because they had discretion and could have waited for the outcome of the court case before taking enforcement action. The court also found that “FRO failed to provide timely and meaningful responses to the inquires of the payor’s [dad’s] counsel.”
The court ordered the FRO to reimburse the father in the amount of $7,500 without delay.