Nova Scotia takes tougher stance on prosecuting delinquent child-support cases

Nova Scotia is stepping up its efforts to collect millions of dollars in child- and spousal-support payments owed to parents in the province.

Province has taken legal action against 19 people, stepped up other enforcement tools

Christina Lynk says the father of her two daughters hasn't paid child support since August 2015. (Submitted by Christina Lynk)

Nova Scotia is stepping up its efforts to collect some of the millions of dollars in child- and spousal-support payments owed to custodial parents in the province.

The province has taken legal action against 19 people and that number is likely to increase.

"We are taking more applications to court as a result of our efforts," said Judy Crump, director of Nova Scotia's Maintenance Enforcement Program, on Wednesday.

About 84% success rate

As of March 31, $62.1 million in uncollected payments was owed to spouses and children in Nova Scotia.

Crump said $11.4 million of that number can't be paid currently.

"It could be that a payer is on income assistance," she said.

"By law, we're unable to garnish income assistance. It could be that payer is incarcerated ... or it could be that the court has ordered suspension of enforcement of those arrears at the present time."

Nova Scotia's maintenance enforcement program is trying to improve its success in getting non-custodial parents to honour court orders. (CBC)

Overall, the program's 22 enforcement officers were able to collect about 84 per cent of the outstanding money owed to children and spouses in this province, she said.

Collection tools

Maintenance-enforcement tools including suspending drivers' licences, revoking passports and garnishing wages are being used more often, Nova Scotia Department of Justice figures show.

For example, wages were garnisheed 2,573 times in 2015-2016, up from 2,145 in 2014-2015.

In 2015-2016, the Department of Motor Vehicles suspended the licences of 113 drivers, a 1.19 per cent increase over the previous year.

'I'd like them to take some action'

Truro resident Christine Lynk says the father of her two daughters owes her $32,000 in child support and the maintenance enforcement program isn't doing enough to get him to pay. They don't even return calls, she complained.

"My ex is supposed to pay child support, he's court-ordered to, but he never, ever does because he runs from province to province," Lynk said.

And she says it's hard to get the enforcement staff to do anything about it. 

"He's never paid anything voluntarily. They have taken a few pays from him when they did catch him one time," she said.

"I'd like them to take some action. If someone's not there physically, mentally, emotionally, then they should be paying for the children that they have."

No payment in over a year

Lynk, who's a home-care worker, received her last child-support payment in August 2015.

"No one has told me why he doesn't have to pay, why the arrears aren't building up. I have no idea," she said.

While Crump can't speak about specific cases, she said there are now fewer complaints from the public saying they are unable to reach staff.

"For those people that aren't able to get through … we want to do better when we hear that," she said.

The program is ramping up after its regional offices were moved to a central location in New Waterford in 2013. Very few experienced staff made the move.

Improving numbers

"It did take us some time to train new staff and get them an understanding of a very, very complex program," Crump said.

Last year, enforcement officers made 5,000 collection calls to people who failed to pay support.

"That's a huge increase over the year before and the years before," Crump said. "The numbers of enforcement actions that we're taking now are increased over the time period before the move to New Waterford. "