Cases of child and spousal support by age group of the child beneficiaries
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By Louise Desjardins and Mary Bess Kelly
- Snapshot of cases enrolled in maintenance enforcement programs as of March 31, 2013
- Analysis of child support cases by the age group of the child beneficiary as of March 31, 2013
- Analysis of a cohort of cases involving youths aged 17 and 18, from 2008/2009 to 2012/2013
- Description of the Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs
- Detailed data tables
While married couples are still the largest family type in Canada, their proportion continues to decline. According to 2011 Census data, this family structure accounted for 67% of families in 2011, compared with 70% in 2001. During the same period, the number of couples in common-law unions grew by 35%, while the number of lone-parent families increased 16.5%.
The results of the 2011 General Social Survey reveal that approximately 5 million Canadians reported having separated or divorced in the 20 years preceding the survey. Approximately one-quarter of these persons (24%) had children aged 18 or under at the time of the divorce or separation (Kelly 2013).
When parents separate or divorce, whether they were married or in a common-law union, they must make provisions for their children, such as: where the children will live, the school they will attend, their medical care, their extracurricular activities, the time each parent will spend with the children and the arrangements for continued financial support.
The arrangements for financial support may be voluntarily agreed to by the parents or judge-ordered through the civil court system. Some support arrangements, if the arrangements are court-ordered or the agreement is registered with the court, may be enrolled in a maintenance enforcement program (MEP).
This Juristat article uses information from the Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs (SMEP), to examine cases registered in a MEP in eight reporting provinces and territories, namely Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories1. These provinces and territories collectively represent 22% of Canada’s total population.
The article first profiles the number of cases enrolled and examines the demographic characteristics of program participants, the support amounts due and received, and the proportion of payments collected by the MEPs. A second part examines the characteristics of cases enrolled in MEPs with regard to the age group of the child beneficiaries. A third part analyzes a cohort of enrolled cases involving children aged 17 and 18 over a five-year period.
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Differences among maintenance enforcement programs
Maintenance Enforcement Programs (MEPs) register cases, process payments, and monitor and enforce cases in order to ensure that recipients receive their payments of child and spousal support. The tasks and objectives are essentially the same for all MEPs across Canada, although these programs vary in a number of important respects because of differences in the needs and policies of each jurisdiction. These differences may relate to client profiles, enforcement legislation and practices, enrolment processes, handling and registration of payments, client responsibilities and case closure. Because of these differences, caution must be used when making comparisons across provinces and territories.
Among the provinces and territories that report to the Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs (SMEP), three have an automatic or 'opt-out' registration system: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. In these provinces, maintenance orders are automatically enrolled or filed with a MEP at the time of the order. To be removed from the caseload of a MEP, a recipient must request to be withdrawn from the program.
The six other jurisdictions that participate in the SMEP—Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut—have an 'opt-in' system, whereby registration is at the discretion of either the recipient or the payor. The only exceptions are cases where the recipient is entitled to social assistance or the payor owes money to the Crown, in which case enrolment in a MEP is mandatory.
Jurisdictions with ‘opt-out’ registration systems tend to have a relatively large number of cases to administer and enforce, since all new court orders are automatically enrolled. ‘Opt-in’ jurisdictions, on the other hand, tend to have a higher proportion of cases already in arrears when they are first enrolled, or where there has been some difficulty in obtaining payments.
End of text box.
Snapshot of cases enrolled in maintenance enforcement programs2 as of March 31, 2013
Almost all beneficiaries of support are children
As of March 31, 2013, there were just under 86,000 cases enrolled in eight provinces and territories reporting to the SMEP in which the recipient resided in one of these jurisdictions (Table 1).3 The payors were nearly all men, while the recipients were almost exclusively women, with proportions of 97% in both cases.4 The median age of the payors and recipients was similar, at 42 and 40 years respectively.
As in previous years, children were the only beneficiaries of support in 93% of cases. In another 3% of cases, both the ex-partner and children were the beneficiaries, while an ex-partner or ex-spouse was the only beneficiary in the remaining 4% of cases.
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of cases with child beneficiaries involved only one child, more than one-quarter (27%) involved two children, while the remaining 8% involved three or more children (Table 2). These proportions are almost identical to those observed in the previous two years.
In total, just over 112,000 children and young adults were beneficiaries of support in MEP cases in the eight jurisdictions. The children and young adults had a median age of 14 years; the vast majority of them (96% or 108,000) were aged 25 or under, and 80% were aged 18 or under, representing 89,600 children.5
Child and young adult beneficiaries in MEP cases constituted 5% of the overall population aged 25 and under in the eight jurisdictions. However, the age distribution differed considerably between these two groups. Children aged 12 to 17 represented 22% of children and young adults in the general population, while they represented 39% of children and young adults covered by a MEP. Similarly, children aged 6 to 11 represented 27% of young people enrolled in a MEP, but 21% of the overall population aged 25 and under (Chart 1).
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Calculation of support payments
Federal Child Support Guidelines, as well as provincial/territorial guidelines, are used in calculating the amount of child support due for orders under the federal Divorce Act or provincial/territorial legislation.
The guidelines first consider the living arrangements of the child or children. For most separated or divorced parents (85%), the children live primarily with one parent (Statistics Canada 2012a). Also considered are the income of the payor, the number of child beneficiaries and the province or territory where the payor resides (to account for differing tax rates across jurisdictions).
Spousal support is awarded on a different basis than child support. Where children are involved, child support takes precedence. Beyond that, the question of entitlement to spousal support has to be determined before any amounts are contemplated.
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The median monthly support payment owing is $345
Generally, the amount increased with the number of child beneficiaries and according to whether or not it included a support payment for the former spouse. Thus, the median monthly amount owing for cases that involved only one child beneficiary was $272, while for cases involving a former spouse and three or more children it was $1,800.
Moreover, since the payor’s province or territory of residence is taken into consideration because of different tax rates (see text box 2), the amount for a given group of beneficiaries may vary from one jurisdiction to another. As in the previous two years, median monthly amounts due for cases with a single child beneficiary were lowest in New Brunswick ($200) and highest in the Northwest Territories ($429).
MEPs collect most of the total amount due
Over the course of a given year, MEPs collect money for payments due and arrears, either directly from the payor or from other sources, including wage garnishments or interceptions of federal payments such as income tax refunds. Payments due are primarily for regular monthly child or spousal support, but may also include special payments, such as those for tuition or extra-curricular activities, scheduled arrears payments, and penalties. In 2012/2013, more than $382 million was collected from payors and other sources in the eight reporting jurisdictions, representing 87% of all payments due.
In an average month, full support payment is collected from nearly two-thirds of payors
When examining monthly payments of support in 2012/2013, the findings show that in an average month, full payment was collected from almost two thirds of payors (63%), partial payment was collected from another 8% while more than one-quarter of payors (29%) did not make any support payment (Chart 2). These proportions have remained stable over the years.6
Close to one-half of payors with regular support obligation owe arrears
In cases where payors do not make their payment each month, arrears begin to accumulate. In the eight reporting provinces and territories on March 31, 2013, 45% of payors with a regular support obligation had arrears, meaning they had an outstanding balance of more than double the regular monthly payment.7 The median amount of arrears owing per payor was $4,308.8
Support obligations may begin before enrolment in a MEP. If defaults on payments have already occurred, payors may already owe arrears upon enrolment. As of March 31, 2013, slightly less than half (46%) of payors with outstanding payments already had some arrears when they enrolled.9
Enforcement or tracing activities taken against nearly half of payors
If support payments are not forthcoming, MEPs can undertake a variety of actions to enforce current payments or arrears. There are two main categories of enforcement actions: administrative enforcement (for example, wage garnishments and restrictions imposed on motor vehicle licence holders) and court enforcement (primarily default hearings). In addition, when the payor cannot be located, MEPs undertake tracing activities such as searching jurisdictional databanks to locate the payor. In 2012/2013, enforcement or tracing activities were taken against just under one-half (47%) of payors in all cases administered by the eight provinces and territories.
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Highlights for maintenance enforcement programs in 11 jurisdictions
Using supplementary aggregate information from the Maintenance Enforcement Survey (MES), basic survey results are available for all provinces and territories in Canada, excluding Manitoba and Nunavut.10 The survey findings indicate the following:
- There were about 396,000 cases enrolled in MEPs across Canada (excluding Manitoba and Nunavut) as of March 31, 2013, representing a small increase (1%) from the previous year.
- About 59% of cases with a regular payment owing in March 2013 had an amount due between $1 and $400. About 8% of all cases had regular payments owing of more than $1,000.
- For each month in 2012/2013, an average of just over two-thirds of payors (67%) registered with a MEP had fully paid their regular monthly support payment.
- Over a ten-year period, the proportion of payors fully paying their regular monthly support payments remained stable, with an average of 66% making full payment each month in 2002/2003, compared with 67% in 2012/2013, for the six jurisdictions that reported over this time period: Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
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This part of the article looks at the characteristics of cases enrolled in a MEP in eight provinces and territories as of March 31, 2013 according to the child’s age group. It will examine the main differences between child support cases involving younger children and those involving older children. Since a case may involve multiple children belonging to different age groups, cases retained for this analysis include those with a single child and those with more than one child when the children are all in the same age group, in order to avoid having a case classified in two different categories. With this strategy, it was possible to retain 85% of support cases in the eight reporting jurisdictions. Moreover, the distribution of cases by the child’s age group corresponds to the distribution presented in the first part of the article.
The type of order or arrangement varies according to the child’s age group
In more than two-thirds (69%) of MEP cases enrolled with children, the order for child support was made pursuant to provincial or territorial legislation, while in 28% of the cases the child support order was made under the federal Divorce Act. The type of order was unknown in 4% of cases.
The proportion of child support cases for which the support order was made under a provincial or territorial law or agreement was highest for the 0 to 5 age group at 91%, while it was lowest for young adults aged 18 to 25 (45%) (Chart 3). Conversely, in one-half of cases dealing with young adults, the order for support was based on the Divorce Act.
This situation is possibly due, in part, to changes in the family structure of Canadians over the past decade. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of common-law couples rose 35%, more than five times the 6.7% increase for married couples (Statistics Canada 2012b). Provincial and territorial laws apply to child support arrangements when common-law couples separate, while the federal Divorce Act sets out rules about child support when married couples divorce.
The median regular payment for March 2013 decreases with time enrolled in each age group
As seen in the previous part, the median regular payment amount increases with the number of child beneficiaries. However, when length of enrolment for the case was taken into account and regardless of the age of the children, the median regular payment amount due was typically lower for cases enrolled longer (Text table 1). For example, for each age group of children, the median amount of regular payment due for March 2013 was higher for cases enrolled between 0 and 5 years than for cases enrolled 11 years or more.
|Age group of children||Length of enrolment|
|All cases||More than 1 year to 5 years||More than 5 years to 10 years||11 years or more|
|median amount of regular payment (in dollars)|
|All age groups||Total||325||371||323||259|
|3 children or more||593||700||591||390|
|0 to 5||Total||306||300||Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act||Note ...: not applicable|
|1 child||280||275||Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act||Note ...: not applicable|
|2 children||466||452||Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act||Note ...: not applicable|
|3 children or more||660||610||Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act||Note ...: not applicable|
|6 to 11||Total||345||394||299||233|
|2 children||515||547||450||Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act|
|3 children or more||668||659||700||Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act|
|12 to 17||Total||327||426||350||251|
|3 children or more||648||800||600||521|
|18 to 25||Total||305||386||359||277|
|3 children or more||389||675||431||323|
... not applicable
x suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act
Note: Includes non-ISO and ISO-out cases. Excludes cases for which the amount of payment is unknown, cases for which the age of the child is unknown as well as cases where multiple children were in different age categories.
Source: Statistics Canada, Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs, 2012/2013.
The proportion of support payments assigned to the government is higher in cases involving children less than 6 years of age
Sometimes part or all of the support payment is collected on behalf of the recipient by the government. This happens when the government provides, or has provided, social assistance benefits to the recipient. The support payment is used to reimburse those costs; these cases are referred to as assigned cases.
On March 31, 2013, slightly more than 1 in 10 cases (13%) in eight reporting jurisdictions had their support payments assigned to the government. Of the cases involving children under age 6, the proportion of cases assigned (24%) was almost twice the proportion of assigned cases overall, and three times the proportion for cases involving young adults aged 18 to 25 (8%). Lone mothers with young children may have a more precarious financial situation. According to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), among female-headed lone-parent families with children under age 6, employment income accounted for somewhat more than half of total income (54.9%), while it accounted for almost three-quarters (73.8%) for those with children between 6 and 17 (Statistics Canada 2013).
Furthermore, the median age of recipients in assigned cases with children under age 6 was 27 years, compared with 46 years for recipients in assigned cases who had responsibility for young adults aged 18 to 25 (Table 4).
The median amount of special payments is higher for cases involving children aged 0 to 511
In addition to the regular monthly payment, the support case may include supplementary amounts to cover special expenses provided for in the order or agreement. These special expenses may include the child’s health care expenses not covered by insurance (such as orthodontics or counseling), daycare expenses, expenses related to extracurricular activities, or costs related to the child’s postsecondary education.
Overall, approximately 14% of child support cases in six jurisdictions provided for these types of payments.12 The proportion was highest for cases involving children aged 6 to 11 where in almost one out of five cases (18%) such payments were due, while it was the lowest for cases involving young adults aged 18 to 25, at 6%. During the year 2012/2013, the median amount payable for all cases was $1,273. However, the median amount was largest for cases involving young children (aged 0 to 5) at $1,920. Overall, more than three-quarters of these special payments (78%) had been paid to recipients (Table 5).
For slightly more than 1 in 10 children, the case is sent to an out-of-province MEP
The enforcement of a support order can involve parties living in different jurisdictions, such as another province or territory, or another country. These cases are known as interjurisdictional support order cases (ISO).
As of March 31, 2013, approximately 9,000 children were involved in a case sent by a MEP to another province or territory (ISO-out cases), representing 12% of child beneficiaries.13 These are cases sent to the jurisdiction where the payor resides, on behalf of the MEP where the child resides. The proportion of children involved in these cases was the highest in Yukon (35%) and the lowest in New Brunswick and Alberta (9%).
By their nature, interjurisdictional enforcement cases can pose challenges when it comes to collecting support amounts. In cases where a regular support payment was due in March 2013, 65% of non-ISO cases received the full amount whereas this proportion was 48% for ISO-out enforcement cases, a difference of 17 percentage points.14 ISO-out cases involving children aged 0 to 5 and those involving young adults aged 18 to 25 represented the lowest proportions of full payment received, at 42% and 41%, respectively. The highest proportion of full payment was for cases with children aged 12 to 17, at 52% (Chart 4).
Most re-enrolled cases involve children aged 12 to 17
As of March 31, 2013, slightly more than 1 in 10 cases (12%) had been re-enrolled in a MEP. These cases, which involved the same parties, had already been enrolled in previous years, but for some reason, had been closed and subsequently reactivated.
Close to one-half (43%) of child beneficiaries in these cases were aged 12 to 17. These were followed by children aged 6 to 11 (30%), while young adults aged 18 to 25 accounted for nearly one-fifth of re-enrolled children and youths (18%). Children under age 6 accounted for 9% of re-enrolled children.
A median of seven years elapsed between the closure of the case and its re-enrolment when it involved a young adult aged 18 to 25, which is more than double the median interval for all re-enrolments, namely three years (Chart 5).
When a child beneficiary reaches the age of majority (either 18 or 19 years of age, depending on the jurisdiction) the support payments intended for him or her do not necessarily end. Depending on the terms of the court order or support agreement, these payments may continue past the age of majority, to provide the child with access to postsecondary education for instance.
Generally, young people obtain their high school diploma at age 17 or 18.15 Since these students would probably have applied for admission to a postsecondary institution during their last year of high school, they were included in the cohort analysis.
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Creation of the cohort of youth beneficiaries aged 17 and 18
For this part of the article, a longitudinal data file was created by linking annual data from the SMEP over a five-year period, from 2008/2009 to 2012/2013.
Six jurisdictions are represented in the longitudinal file: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The other jurisdictions were excluded because they do not report data to the SMEP, or because they began to report data after 2008.
The cohort includes non-interjurisdictional (non-ISO) and interjurisdictional-out (ISO-out) cases and involves 12,780 youths who were aged 17 or 18 during 2008/2009.
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The majority of youths aged 17 and 18 in 2008/2009 are still receiving support five years later
More than half (56%) of young people receiving support in 2008/2009 in six reporting jurisdictions were still receiving payments five years later in 2012/2013 (Chart 6).16
In most closed cases, the case is withdrawn because the support obligation ends or the order expires
The cases that were closed or withdrawn (44%) before 2012/2013, were done so mainly because the order expired or the support obligation ended; these reasons were cited in 47% of closed cases. Another 29% of cases had been withdrawn by the MEP for a variety of reasons: the payor’s or recipient’s place of residence was unknown, the beneficiary was receiving the payments directly, the case had been transferred to another jurisdiction or for an unknown reason. Just over one case in five (21%) had been withdrawn by the beneficiary or the payor. The remaining cases had been closed because of the death of the payor or the beneficiary (2%) or had been closed by a social services agency (1%) (Table 6). The distribution of the reasons reported in the survey bore little relation to the case’s length of enrolment.
At the end of the five-year period, the regular monthly payment due in March had somewhat diminished. The median amount due went from $450 in March 2009 to $382 in March 2013; a decrease of 15%. The greater the number of children involved in a case in 2012/2013, the lesser the decrease in the median payment due. Furthermore, the reduction in payments due when the case involved a spouse as well as children was twice as large as when the case involved only children (Text Table 2).
|Median amount due in 2008/2009||Median amount due in 2012/2013||Change in amount due|
|Spouse and children||1,337||896||-33|
|Number of child beneficiaries|
|3 children or more||562||514||-9|
Note: Includes non-ISO and ISO-out cases in 2008-2009. Only includes cases with a regular payment due in March 2009 and in March 2013 as well as cases for which the type of beneficiary or the number of children were known.
Source: Statistics Canada, Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs, from 2008/2009 to 2012/2013
In the eight reporting jurisdictions, close to 86,000 child and spousal support cases were enrolled in a maintenance enforcement program (MEP) as of March 31, 2013. Slightly more than 112,000 children and young adults were beneficiaries of support in these cases and 80% of them were aged 18 or under. Children aged 12 to 17 represented the highest proportion of children enrolled in a MEP, at 39%.
In 2012/2013, MEPs collected just over $382 million from payors or from other sources, representing about 87% of total payments due.
In more than two-thirds (69%) of MEP cases enrolled with children, the order for child support was made pursuant to provincial or territorial legislation, while in 28% of the cases the child support order was made under the federal Divorce Act.
For families on social assistance, support payments received may be assigned to the provincial government to offset social assistance costs. The proportion of cases where support payments were assigned to the government was the highest for cases involving children under age 6 (24%) and the lowest for cases involving young adults aged 18 to 25 (8%).
The majority of MEP cases (56%) involving youths aged 17 and 18 in 2008/2009 were still enrolled five years later.
The Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs (SMEP) is conducted by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics at Statistics Canada, with funding from Justice Canada. The SMEP gathers microdata on maintenance enforcement cases, including the date of enrolment of the case, the age and sex of recipients and payors of support, payments due and in arrears, processing of payments, and tracing and enforcement actions taken by maintenance enforcement programs (MEPs).
Currently, nine provinces and territories report data to the SMEP (Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut). Four of these jurisdictions have reported to the SMEP since 2005/2006: Nova Scotia, Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Statistics Canada. CANSIM table 051-0001.
Statistics Canada. CANSIM table 477-0026.
- Data for Nunavut were not available for 2012/2013.
- Survey results indicate that most of the characteristics of MEP cases have remained very stable from one year to the next. Therefore, this section concentrates on the most recent year for which information is available, 2012/2013.
- Includes non-interjurisdictional support order cases (non-ISO cases), where the payor and the recipient typically reside in the same jurisdiction, as well as interjurisdictional support order out cases (ISO-out) which are cases that have been sent to another Canadian jurisdiction and are registered there for enforcement because the payor resides and/or has assets there.
- Excludes cases where the type of beneficiary was unknown.
- When a child reaches the age of majority, he or she does not necessarily stop benefitting from support payments. Typically the age of majority is when a child is considered an adult and varies between 18 or 19 years, depending upon the province or territory. Support payments can stop at that age or once the child has completed postsecondary studies, depending on the terms of the court order or support agreement. The results presented here exclude a small proportion of cases for which the age of the children was unknown.
- For more details on support payment patterns and payor characteristics, see Kelly, Mary Bess, 2013.
- Nearly 23% of cases enrolled on March 31, 2013 did not have a regular payment due in March 2013. About three-quarters (73%) of these cases carry arrears. Most of these cases in arrears (63%) have been enrolled in MEPs for more than 10 years. For many of these cases, the support payment obligations have likely expired, but the case remains open to collect on arrears.
- The unit of analysis is MEP cases (a case is comprised of 1 payor and 1 recipient and the financial obligations that are being monitored and enforced by the maintenance enforcement program). In most instances, payors are involved in a single case, however a very small proportion of payors (5%) are involved in two or more cases.
- The proportion excludes cases where arrears on enrolment were unknown. Data for Prince Edward Island are also excluded.
- Manitoba does not report to the Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs (SMEP) or the Maintenance Enforcement Survey (MES), and data for Nunavut were not available for 2012/2013.
- Through the years, amounts that were considered special payments when the case was first registered in a MEP may have been integrated into the regular payment due. This may impact the proportion of cases with special payments or the amount for cases with older children.
- Proportion excludes Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.
- This proportion excludes ISO cases where the payor resides outside Canada.
- Unlike the proportions provided in the first part of the article, the proportions presented here apply only to the March 2013 payment.
- See CANSIM, table 477-0026.
- There was no substantial difference between the results for youths aged 17 and those aged 18. Therefore, the results in this part of the article cover youths of both ages.