British Columbia Family Maintenance Enforcement Program
The British Columbia Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) is a Provincial Government service established by the British Columbia Ministry of Justice in 1989. The program monitors and enforces maintenance orders and agreements for child support and spousal support . The program has a caseload of about 45,000 individual cases. Currently, the program assists approximately 43,000 families and 66,000 children, and collects and disburses over 190 million dollars (CAD) in maintenance payments each year.
The Canadian courts acknowledge the ongoing financial responsibility of separated spouses to their children and to each other, and regularly issue maintenance orders, which are court orders requiring one party (the payor) to provide payments to another party (the recipient) for the support of the children and/or the other party. By providing services to both payors and recipients, the FMEP ensures that the terms of these maintenance orders are fulfilled. The FMEP’s services are available on an opt-in basis to most parents who live in British Columbia and who have valid maintenance orders or agreements filed with any court in Canada, the United States, or in other countries with which British Columbia has reciprocal agreements. Parents who are in receipt of income assistance through provincial government benefits are required to enrol in the FMEP.
Federal and provincial legislation, including the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act (the Act), the Family Law Act, and Federal Child Support Guidelines, provide the FMEP with authority to enforce maintenance payments. Under the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act, the FMEP is responsible for monitoring and enforcing all maintenance orders and agreements that are filed with the program.
Both payors and recipients have the option of enrolling in the FMEP, and there is no cost for the program’s services if support payments are made each month. Many maintenance payments are made on time, but clients often register with the FMEP with the goal of having a third party track payments.If a payment is not made, the FMEP contacts the payor to request voluntary payment and to make a plan for payment of arrears.
If payors fail to comply with maintenance payments, the FMEP will issue administrative enforcement as well as court enforcement to ensure collection of unpaid maintenance. Administrative enforcement actions include Notices of Attachment, which require the garnishment of wages and other sources of income or the interception of federal payments (such as employment insurance benefits and income tax returns), reporting arrears to the credit bureau, refusing to issue or renew a payor’s driver’s license, and placing a lien on a payor's land or personal property. Court enforcement mechanisms involve requiring a payor to attend in Court to explain the non-payment of maintenance and ultimately, incarceration for the willful failure to pay court ordered maintenance. Cases are assessed individually in order to determine which type of enforcement is appropriate. This decision depends on factors such as the payor’s history and the amount of money owed. Under section 11.1 of the Act, the FMEP has the authority to charge payors interest on late and unpaid maintenance. This interest goes to the recipient.
Most of the payors and recipients enrolled in the FMEP live in British Columbia, although cases where one parent lives outside BC account for 21% of the FMEP’s caseload. These cases involve cooperation with maintenance programs in other jurisdictions, as well as with international partners, to collect and disburse maintenance payments. The province of Alberta accounts for more than 50% of the program’s reciprocal cases in Canada, while the State of Washington accounts for over one third of the FMEP’s reciprocal cases with the United States.
The Director of Maintenance Enforcement manages the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program. The Director, acting in a position established by the Act, is a civil servant appointed by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
Under a service contract managed by the Director of Maintenance Enforcement, the FMEP is delivered by Themis Program Management Consulting Ltd., a Canadian company registered in British Columbia and a subsidiary of Maximus Inc.
The FMEP enforces child support for about 66,000 children, an average of 1.5 children per case. Approximately one third of the children on the FMEP caseload are below 11 years of age, and one in four children is over the age of majority. The percentage of older children on the FMEP caseload reflects the widespread need for ongoing financial support from parents through high school and post-secondary school. Most parents registered with the FMEP are in their early 40s; the average age of payors is 44, and the average recipient age is 41.
Payments and Disbursement
The average child support order registered with the program requires payment of $404.00 per month. Following registration, payors are required to send all maintenance payments to the FMEP, rather than send payments directly to the recipient. Payors are encouraged to make payments electronically. Payments are recorded by the FMEP and then disbursed to recipients, usually on the day they are received. Payments are disbursed to recipients though direct deposit to bank accounts. Between April 2011 and March 2012, an average of 2,059 payments was processed daily, amounting to a yearly total of over 525,000 payments.
As an incentive for prompt payment, where a payor misses or is late making a payment twice in a calendar year, the program charges a default fee. The fee is equal to one month’s maintenance up to a maximum of $400.00, and is paid to the provincial government.
For the past three years, the FMEP has been run on a cost-neutral basis to the government, as the total cost of operating the program is less than the total amount recovered from the offset of funds collected for recipients who are receiving income assistance and from the collection of default fees.