Support Collection During COVID-19
As Canadians continue to face lay-offs and salary reductions as a result of COVID-19, many are now unable to meet their existing court-ordered support obligations. Under the existing family law, courts consider a person’s annual income when determining child and spousal support. But what happens when that income is no longer received due to a COVID-19 related lay-off, or related salary reduction? The Family Responsibility Office (“FRO”), agency responsible for enforcing child and spousal support obligations, has attempted to provide an answer.
FRO recently provided an update in which it indicated that support payments are still expected to be paid during COVID-19, and employers are still expected to redirect a portion of salaries to FRO for support collection. However, if a payor’s circumstances have changed as a result of COVID-19, FRO is to be immediately contacted. FRO appears to be taking proactive measures to temporarily halt support collection measures without the need for a court order. This appears a sensible approach as courts are presently not open for all but urgent matters.
By now, most Canadians have heard about the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit introduced by the federal government, commonly referred to as the “CERB”. The CERB provides Canadians who have been laid off due to COVID-19 with $500.00 a week for up to 16 weeks. FRO has indicated that it will not garnish the CERB, however, it will continue to garnish EI.
The implications of this distinction are curious because the government of Canada has advised that anyone who became eligible for EI benefits after March 15, 2020 would automatically have their claim processed through the CERB. This could mean that if you are a support payor but claimed EI prior to March 15, 2020 then your income will continue to be garnished by FRO. However, if you were an EI claimant but claimed EI after March 15, 2020 then your application may not be garnished by FRO. This has the potential to create an odd and arbitrary distinction between pre and post-March 15, 2020 EI claimants, but certainly the relief offered by FRO is likely to be welcome news for many support payors.
FRO has also announced that it has canceled Driver’s License Suspension Notices for a payor’s failure to meet their support obligations during COVID-19, although, outstanding support account will continue to accumulate arrears.
Despite the relief to support payors that this news provides, it has been met with a mixed reception by support recipients. Global News recently ran an article identifying the troubles of single parents who may now be without their primary sources of income. Notably, the CERB does not provide anything for such persons and there is no sign of an upcoming relief package to support recipients from the Federal Government. If the provincial government continues to keep much of the economy in check by COVID-19 restrictions, then more will need to be done by the Federal Government for support recipients.