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What Happens If You Don’t Pay Child Support?

What if you don't pay child support?

A common and often asked question about child support is, what if you don’t pay child support? What happens if I don’t pay child support? What if your ex-partner or spouse is a “deadbeat” parent and just isn’t making their child support payments?.

Child support payments in Ontario are enforced through the Family Responsibility Office (“FRO”). FRO is given a broad range of authority to take certain actions if necessary to enforce child support payments. They will enforce court orders and domestic contracts which have been filed with the court. As such, if a parent is not making their child support payments, FRO can take the following actions.

Child Support Enforcement

The most common method of enforcement is by way of garnishment. If child support payments are not being made, FRO has the authority to garnish wages at the source. This is the most effective way to enforce payments. Other methods of enforcement include:

  • Garnishing government money owed to the payor, which includes income tax refunds, employment insurance, Canada Pensions Plan benefits or worker’s compensation;
  • Garnishing bank accounts;
  • Suspending the payor’s driver’s license;
  • Suspending the payor’s passport and other federal licenses, such as a pilot’s license ;
  • Reporting to Payor the credit bureau;
  • Placing a lien on personal property;
  • Issue a writ of seizure and sale for property owned; and
  • Seizing lottery winnings

Can you go to jail for not paying Child Support?

Yes. One of the enforcement methods allows FRO to begin what is called a “Default Hearing”. At the Hearing, the payor will need to explain why they ae behind on their payments. Then, the judge will make a default order, which may require the payor, among other things, go to jail for up to 180 days.

Cancelling Child Support Arrears

Parents who are obligated to pay child support sometimes find themselves unable to make their support payments. When this happens, they go into arrears and their child support obligations accumulate. However, the payor can bring their matter to court in an attempt to have their arrears reduced or cancelled.

Section 37(2.1) of the Family Law Act states that “In the case of an order for support of a child, if the court is satisfied that there has been a change in circumstances within the meaning of the child support guidelines or that evidence not available on the previous hearing has become available, the court may,

(a) discharge, vary or suspend a term of the order, prospectively or retroactively;

(b) relieve the respondent from the payment of part or all of the arrears or any interest due on them; and

(c) make any other order for the support of a child that the court could make on an application under section 33.

Although there is no set test or procedure a court must follow, there are several factors which guide the court when assessing whether to grant relief by relieving child support arrears. Such factors include:

  • The nature of the obligation to support, whether contractual, statutory or judicial
  • The ongoing needs of the support recipient and the child;
  • Whether there is a reasonable excuse for the payor’s delay in applying for relief;
  • The ongoing financial capacity of the payor and, in particular, his ability to make payments towards the outstanding arrears;
  • The conduct of the payor, including whether the payor has made any voluntary payments on account of arrears, whether he has cooperated with the support enforcement authorities, and whether he has complied with obligations and requests for financial disclosure from the support recipient;
  • Delay on the part of the support recipient, even a long delay, in enforcing the child support obligation does not, in and of itself, constitute a waiver of the right to claim arrears; and
  • Any hardship that may be occasioned by a retroactive order reducing arrears or rescinding arrears, or by an order requiring the payment of substantial arrears.

It is important to note as well that child support and parenting time are separate issues. You cannot refuse to pay child support because the other parent will not let you see your children.

Nussbaum Law is a Toronto based law firm that exclusively practices family and divorce law.