A solution to the dilemma of child support payors who blatantly disregard court orders by refusing to share tax returns.
By Doreen Nicoll
Published April 22, 2014
The Family Responsibility Office (FRO) is the provincial body that collects child support based upon a court order. The amount collected is based on the number of children being supported and the payor's income.
Charts have been developed to simplify this process. Generally, the charts are a guideline applied to children under the age of majority, but the amount can be altered at the discretion of a judge to fit family dynamics.
Special expenses like child care, shared custody, a child over 19 years of age with an illness, disability or attending university are all reasons that adjustments can be made.
The FRO is a provincial body that enforces court orders. It cannot change any of the terms in the support order or domestic contract. Only the courts can do that. And, here in lies the dilemma. A date for the exchange of income tax returns is stated in the final order issued by the court.
My original order issued August 2, 2006 stated: "Each year, no later than the 1st of June, each party shall provide the other the information required by s.21 of the Guidelines, including a complete copy of their income tax return filed for the immediately preceding taxation year, all attachments and any notices of assessment that have been received."
This ensures that if there is a change in income for the payor, it is taken into consideration and the support payments adjusted accordingly either up or down. To date I have never received my ex-husband's tax return voluntarily.
What usually happens is that every two years my ex-husband takes me back to court - it's called Legal Bullying, but that's another editorial. Our divorce was finalized in August 2006 and I have been to court three times since then, so far.
While we're at the case conference my lawyer brings up the fact that I have not received a tax return since the last time we appeared before a judge. The judge usually calls for a recess so that my ex-husband, a chartered accountant, can produce his tax returns. He pulls them out of a briefcase and that's when it becomes apparent that his income has gone up.
Both our lawyers enter into a complicated process of recalculating his current payments, as well as calculating the amount that is owing in arrears.
The most recent order, issued November 2012, states: "For as long as child support is to be paid, the payor and recipient, if applicable must provide updated income disclosure to the other party each year, within 30 days of the anniversary of this order, in accordance with section 24.1 of the Child Support Guidelines."
I'm still waiting for his 2012 tax return. I don't think that his income went down or I would have had the tax return in my hands the day after he filed.
I understand that I am not alone in this situation. Anyone dealing with an abusive ex is probably in the same boat. The FRO is doing exactly what it was intended to do - collecting the court ordered amount. The payor is breach of the court order.
Yet there is little that can be done short of the recipient making a motion, which generally takes a year from beginning to end and costs around $15,000 if they do not self-represent. Self-representation is extremely difficult when the other party is abusive and perceives a power imbalance.
So, I would like to suggest a solution to this dilemma of payors who blatantly disregard court orders by refusing to exchange tax returns. I understand that the FRO is a provincial body and that tax returns fall under federal jurisdiction.
However, this situation could be altered so that the tax return of a persistently tardy payor was made available to the FRO on the court-appointed date of exchange so that the standardized chart could be used to calculate any decrease or increase to the child support currently being collected.
In cases where there are no complications or extenuating circumstances, this seems like a cost effective solution to enforcing a court order and ensuring that the correct child support is collected.
Where there are objections or other complications, the payor could return to court to ask for a variance at the discretion of a judge for a fraction of the cost of a full motion.
Let's remember that we are talking about child support and our children's futures are hanging in the balance.
Doreen, these topics need much more coverage in our local media and I have certainly slacked in being part of this discussion. Our family court system is a failure in so many ways. Everyday I hear very disturbing accounts of what parents who are separating are going through.
I do want to correct something in your first paragraph however because it's something our mediator put in our agreement and it's false and I have been bound by it for two years now.
The last sentance in the first paragraph should read something like:
The amount collected is based on the number of children being supported and the payor's (or both if access to the children for the payor is 40% or more) income.
It's an important line item to keep in mind for those going through a separation now as the court systems are finally looking at recognizing a default 50/50 access schedule instead of the past defacto every other weekend and a visit during the week. More and more families are recognizing the importance of this on their own outside of court but where this isn't mutual, many great dad's are being denied important access in the best interest of their children.
Should you seek a petition or other means to pursue what you are asking for above, I would support you 100%. What you have dealt with in court should be dealt with outside of court for minimal costs. I too have done much of this on my own as I could not afford a lawyer. It is a lot of work but is doable.
Payments have been put in place to ensure both parents are able to provide for their children equally while the children are in their care. Obviously there are parents out their abusing the payment system on both sides and it's absolutely disgusting that something like what you have described above is allowed to cost you anything.
Abusive ex situations need to come to a halt. You should be able to sue for court costs and it shouldn't even be something you should have to initiate. The judge should realize what your ex is doing and demand he re-imburse you for time and costs. It's right there in your agreement and if he wants to mess around, somebody at a higher level needs to step back for a second and think of how this in a round about way, is affecting the kids. By abusing you, he is abusing them because one can only be so strong and hide so much from the kids.
Thank you for sharing something so personal. By sharing stories like this, other's can feel like they are not alone and together, we can create the change that is needed in the system.
I envy those couples that maturely realize they were merely different and needed to go their separate ways, put together an agreement on their own and quite often I hear them not even asking for any money back and forth except for schedule 7 expenses. These are also the parents who realize that 50/50 or close to it depending on their schedules, is what's best for the children for so many reasons if they can be civil and have great communication between households.
Comment edited by lawrence on 2014-04-22 12:34:31
By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2014 at 17:19:38
It is sad to know that the body responsible for collecting child support does so little.
By fmurray (registered) | Posted April 22, 2014 at 19:03:43
Thanks, Doreen. The idea in your article is a good one.
I have to say I'm grateful to FRO for getting my ex to pay some of the back support that he owed.
Lawrence, if only all parents were like you. Some just want to walk away from their responsibilities.
If FRO had access to tax returns, it would save the parent with custody a lot of grief and expense (not to mention taking time away from work).
By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 16:52:10
You should be grateful you found someone foolish enough to marry somebody who works for the "Women at the Centre for Social Justice" whatever that is.
This has nothing to do with Hamilton municipal issues. Take your whining somewhere else.
By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2014 at 14:20:16 in reply to Comment 100581
Anything involving the social, emotional, and physical well being of anyone who lives, works, plays, or visits this city is a Hamilton municipal issue and these and other similar family issues are one of our biggest municipal concerns.
Broken families are the sprouts of so many of our society's problems and their roots are comprised of political, legal, and outdated human responses to the real issue of the power and control that makes up abuse and corruption.
No one absolutely no one, should ever be aloud to be controlled or for that abuse to be exalted through such commentary.
We all have a responsibility to stand up to verbal and physical abuse and I am grateful both for those standing up for others who can't for whatever reasons, speak up for themselves, and that all issues are covered in this space because this is far more important than LRT or two-way road conversions at the end of the day.
This article is a great way to begin the conversation and to open some eyes but I believe what's between the lines, and I have three close friends and many other friends and colleagues dealing with extremely abusive ex's - men and woman, is what will really hit home with both those who have no idea what it's like to be in their shoes, and bring some comfort to those going through similar trauma's. There is power in knowing you are not alone. I have been through a divorce and hearing others's stories was what helped me and continues to help me through life as a single parent.
Articles like this have the ability to help others find the strength to tell their own stories.
I am inspired by change brought on by the voices of the people such as projects like Yes We Cannon. What if our next citizen-led, council-backed project was Abuse at Bay?
If you won't stand up for the parents and are content on labelling them as the cause of their own dismay (and hey I'll admit I am the cause of many of my own problems), than at least you might think of the innocent children not only caught in the middle, but very likely through the inaction of society, forming their own beliefs and actions inspired by these controlling behaviours. Left to believe themselves, in the care of an abusive parent, that treating another person in a controlling fashion is perfectly okay thereby continuing these abusive trends.
Comment edited by lawrence on 2014-04-24 14:27:00
By Crapitalist (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 07:22:36 in reply to Comment 100581
Yeah, because a woman getting interested in social justice couldn't possibly have anything to do with having been married to an abusive man. The only whining I see here is from you.
By Doreen (registered) | Posted April 25, 2014 at 16:49:49
Thank you for the thoughtful comments.
If any readers would like to help promote this campaign to enhance the role of the FRO, then please write to your MPP and also to:
Premier Kathleen Wynne, Minister Ted McMeekin, Minister Madeleine Meilleur, Minister Piruzza, Minister Sousa.
Please copy Andrea Horwath, Tim Hudak, MPP Bill Walker, MPP Monique Taylor, MPP Rod Jackson, MPP Cheri DiNovo, MPP Victor Fedeli, MPP Michael Prue.
It's time to take care of the most vulnerable in our society and ensure that every child in Ontario gets the best possible start in life.
We also need to join forces to end financial bullying of sole custody parents by their abusive ex-partners.
Thank you for your time and effort.
Comment edited by Doreen on 2014-04-25 16:53:08
By anon (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2014 at 18:30:36
There's a flipside here that causes as much pain - and is due to a variant of the legal abuse problem.
There's no meaningful enforcement arm for visitation.
I understand the importance of the FRO. But when you show up for visitation and the kids aren't where they're supposed to be or when you're on the phone and can hear your former spouse listening to the conversation... who do you turn to? The answer is "you go back to court". Over. and. over.
Why don't we simply do a better job of taking care of our kids and making the world a place for them?
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