When child support payors blatantly manipulate the legal system, it's time for the federal government to protect these families from ongoing abuse.
By Doreen Nicoll
Published August 12, 2015
My divorce was finalized in August 2006, following a 22 month separation and a 19 day divorce trial. Since I was given sole custody of our five children, I was also awarded child support.
Child support is calculated using: the number of children; the province or territory where the paying parent lives; and the paying parent's annual income before taxes. Child Support Guidelines used by family court judges and lawyers are available online.
In Ontario, the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) receives direction from the court to collect, distribute and enforce court-ordered child support payments. Approximately 380,000 Ontarians use this service each year.
Once a year, parents exchange their most recent tax returns. My judgment 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."
Tax information is exchanged in case the income of the paying parent, also called the payor, has changed. An increase in income means an increase in child support payments, unless there are extenuating circumstances. A decrease in income means lowered child support payments for the next year. In my case, "On July 1st annually, child support shall be adjusted according to the Guidelines."
Since my divorce, I have never received my ex-husband's tax return voluntarily or on time. (This is ironic because my ex is a chartered accountant and his tax return is filed on time each year.) Hence, I go for years without annual adjustments to my child support. Unfortunately, I'm not alone in this situation.
Abusive men use the court system to continue their reign of power and control. Refusing to follow court orders is very common. It's very expensive to bring a motion forward to access tax information that was court ordered. So, I wait because the other thing abusive men like to do is take their ex-partners to court on a regular basis. I'm there every two years.
At a case conference in 2008, my lawyer was given tax information for 2006 and 2007. At a case conference in 2011, my lawyer was given my ex-husband's 2008, 2009, and 2010 tax returns. In 2012, my ex-husband's 2011 tax information was included as part of the motion he initiated. It took a year to settle that motion, which meant my lawyer was able to get my ex-husband's 2012 tax return. I'm still waiting for his 2013 and 2014 tax returns.
Approximate child support payments that were in arrears up to and including 2012 totaled $37,539. Arrears child support for 2013 and 2014 are yet to be determined, but it's a sure bet that his salary has not decreased or I would have been notified immediately.
The FRO has been doing exactly what they were mandated to do - collecting child support payments based on direction from the court. In my case, the FRO should be getting a yearly update from the court to increase the amount of child support collected, but that can't happen without my ex-husband's tax return.
Cases like mine are not included in statistics dealing with fathers in arrears with their child support payments. That's because technically my ex-husband is not in arrears because the FRO is collecting the amount stated on the most recent court order. It just happens that the 'most recent' court order is out of date because the amount collected is not based on the most current tax information.
For several years now I've been advocating for a change that would enable the FRO to access the tax returns of payors who refuse to adhere to court ordered dates of exchange. Then, adjustments to child support could take place in a timely manner and without cost to either party.
I've been told by lawyers that I don't understand the system - tax returns fall under federal jurisdiction while the FRO is provincial. I do understand this. In fact, while I have been advocating for this simple change, the Wynne government introduced Bill 14. When implemented, Bill 14 will allow separated parents to establish and regularly update support payments through an online portal, without going to court.
The service will calculate child support based on the Child Support Guidelines using information from income tax returns with the parties' consent. I simply want this service extended so the FRO can access the tax returns of payors breaching court ordered exchanges. This simple step will prevent abusive ex-partners from using the court system and FRO to continue financially and emotionally abusing their ex-partners and their children.
I've had minimal response from the Wynne government regarding this issue. Perhaps it's time that women across Ontario, and the country, make this a federal election issue. In Canada, mothers are given sole custody in 79.3 percent of court-ordered custody arrangements. Fathers get sole custody in 6.6 percent of court-ordered custody arrangements. Joint custody makes up the remaining 12.8 percent. When payors blatantly manipulate the legal system, it's time for the federal government to protect these families from ongoing abuse.
What's needed is a federal government that will give the provincial bodies the authority to access the tax returns of persistently negligent payors. Ask candidates if they're party is willing to take this courageous stand. Remind them it's in the best interest of Canadian children.
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