Child and Spousal Support enforcement is almost the exclusive jurisdiction of a Government Agency called the Family Responsibility Office (“FRO”). The Family Responsibility Office is both a blessing and a curse. It is free, it is imbued with vast powers, including suspending a defaulting payors’driver’s license, seizing their passport and even incarceration. The negative aspect is it is a Government Agency underfunded, understaffed and can move quite slowly.
We are often asked the likelihood of the courts actually jailing someone for not paying support. Debtors prisons featured vividly in the novels of Charles Dickens are a thing of the past. However, the courts retain the ultimate power when their authority is being held in contempt.
In a decision rendered by our former partner, Justice Marvin Kurz of the Ontario Court of Justice,(he has since been elevated to the Superior Court)in Garrick, our former partner finally pulled the trigger in sending a defaulting payor to jail for 90 days.
The court had given Mr. Garrick no less than 25 chances to make payments. Mr. Garrick, a convicted fraud artist, tried every complaint known to man in an attempt to convince the court that he simply could not pay. Mr. Garrick, a trust fund baby, found eventually that he wore down the patience of Justice Kurz.
Curiously, Mr. Garrick who professed a complete lack of funds and inability to pay the child support arrears in excess of $55,000.00, once the court actually sent him to the “can” was miraculously able to find the money within a few days and as such spring himself free from the iron clutches of society.
So in conclusion, it can happen, but it is a rare event. Conversely, we have found that the seizing of a defaulting payor’sdriver’s license far more frequently imposed and having the desired effect.
On the reverse side of a driver’s license suspension, we are frequently consulted by defaulting payors upon receiving a warning letter from FRO that the payors’ driver’slicense is soon to be suspended.
The court canon application make an Order stopping FRO from suspending ones’ license, but with one warning.
These suspension notices have a fixed period of time within which one can apply to the court for some relief. Often, these defaulting payors have lost their job or perhaps even a recipient child is no longer eligible for support. The court will listen and the court will make the appropriate Order. However, if one waits to see a lawyer and apply to the court after the expiration of the notice period, you have placed yourself in a terrible position. The court no longer has the jurisdiction to exercise its discretion in freeing one up from the suspension Order. All you are left with is a begging position in front of a representative of the Family Responsibility Office seeking a break. You would have moved from the generally rational and empathetic ear of a Judge to at times the bureaucratic and tin ear of a FRO representative. Moral of the story, do not wait, as soon as you get such a notice, run to hire a qualified family law lawyer.