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Child and spousal support enforcement

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People who are separated or divorced can find it difficult to collect court-ordered spousal and child support payments. Federal guidelines on child support emphasize the need for children to benefit from the financial means of both spouses after a separation.

About one-half of all support obligations for spousal and child support payments in Canada—court-ordered and voluntary—are now registered with ‘maintenance enforcement programs’ (MEPs). Although MEPs are intended to help people collect these payments, more difficult cases may still end up in court. More than 90% of MEP cases involve support for children.

Nearly 407,800 cases were enrolled in MEPs in March 2006—data are excluded for Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and Nunavut. The types of clients and their obligations, enforcement powers and practices, enrolment procedures and payments processes all differ from one province or territory to another. And not all cases are automatically enrolled in an MEP.

Most MEP cases with monthly support payments involve amounts of $400 or less. Fewer than 5% require a monthly payment over $1,000. Most cases—anywhere from 56% to 78%—are in compliance with their regular monthly payments.

As of March 31, 2006, from 46% to 72% of support cases had payments in arrears when the parties enrolled, be it months or years earlier. However, many of these cases have paid all or some of the amounts owed. MEPs in seven provinces collected $604 million in regular payments, excluding arrears, in the year ending March 31, 2006. Most of the money was for the benefit of children.