Deadbeat parents and spouses are currently in arrears to the tune of $23.2 million in Newfoundland and Labrador, a CBC News investigation has discovered.
Some of those who have had personal dealings with support enforcement say they were astounded by that number.
Elaine Balsom is a single mom who has past experience with the system.
“I was shocked to hear that,” Balsom said. “Definitely that’s a huge amount. It’s enormous ... I thought it would be high, but nowhere near that.”
There are currently nearly 6,800 open files involving support payments in the province. Nearly all of the payers are male — 97 per cent of them — and about 42 per cent of all cases are in arrears.
Craig Scott, the director of the support enforcement program, said Newfoundland and Labrador collects 88 per cent of support arrears that are regularly due every month. He said that ranks among the best in Canada.
According to Scott, the province collects and distributes roughly $37 million in child and spousal support payments annually through the program.
The province has 10 full-time enforcement officers chasing payments. Each officer handles roughly 670 cases.
“That’s quite a heavy case load, but we’ve attacked our case management system in a manner that provides the most efficient route for them to work through their daily routines to be able to collect money as quickly as humanly possible,” he noted.
Scott acknowledged that adding more front-line workers may help recovery efforts.
“We could always use some extra hands, and potentially that would lead to more collections, but the reality is that we're all under the microscope of government's budgetary processes,” Scott said.
'Wide variety of tools' to get payments
According to Scott, the province has a “wide variety of tools” to get payments.
Those include bank garnishments, wage attachments, the seizure and sale of assets, taking lottery winnings and suspending driver’s licences.
People have been jailed for arrears of child support in Newfoundland and Labrador, but the Department of Justice says it does not track statistics on how many or how often that happens.
Alberta and Ontario are the only provinces that publish debtors’ photos and ask the public for any information about their assets or employment.
Legislation enacted in 2006 permits that to happen here in Newfoundland and Labrador, but Scott said they’ve heard from other jurisdictions that it’s not really a reliable tool. He said there are also potential privacy concerns if incorrect information is posted.
“We’d rather take alternate courses of action,” he said.
Nationally, a CBC News investigation has found that the amount of money owing to spouses from their deadbeat partners is $3.7 billion and growing by more than $100 million each year.
- 'Deadbeats' across Canada owe more than $3.7B in support
- INTERACTIVE | Family support arrears across Canada
Yvette Walton is executive director of the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
She explains why, in general terms, parents — mostly fathers — don’t always make support payments.
“His life may move on,” Walton said. “He may take on another relationship, they want to marry and resent that money having to go to a previous family.
“Things change, he may simply resent paying after a while because the family has broken up and so the relationship isn't good between the two parents and there's simply a failure to pay and quite often it's not paying every month, paying some months and not paying others.”
Single parent Elaine Balsom says it’s important for everyone to work to bridge the $23-million gap.
"It's important that they step up to the plate and remember your children are the ones that are going to suffer, and it's not their fault,” she said.