Deadbeats in Nova Scotia owe nearly $65M in parental, spousal support
'We've completely given up on even trying to contact Maintenance Enforcement,' says one mother
Deadbeats in Nova Scotia owe their children or former partners nearly $65 million, according to information obtained by CBC News.
The arrears have built up over the years because of people who fail to follow court orders requiring them to pay regular support payments to their families.
Approximately 58 per cent of court-ordered child and spousal support cases in Nova Scotia are in arrears.
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Debbie, whose real name is being withheld to protect her identity, has a former partner who's a deadbeat dad.
"It's very frustrating especially when the money we receive helps to go toward my son," she said.
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Debbie lives in a small townhouse in Dartmouth with her six-year-old boy. The court order against her ex is relatively small — less than $150 a month — but it's money she relies on to buy their son clothing and other necessities.
Debbie has been part of Nova Scotia's Maintenance Enforcement Program for three years. At one point, an officer garnisheed her ex's wages but then he switched jobs — something she said she tried in vain to tell the government.
"I left the information I was supposed to leave," she told CBC News.
"I also mentioned that I called many times and that I had information about his new employment and that they needed to call me back as soon as possible and no phone call."
She said she has "completely given up" on trying to contact anyone at the Maintenance Enforcement Program, part of the provincial Department of Justice.
"It even got to the point where I called the help line to speak with someone who promised that she'd get someone to call me right away and never received a phone call in return," said Debbie.
Instead, she said she waits months to get his GST cheque and income tax refund, which were also garnisheed.
Jobs moved last year
Debbie blames the former NDP government's decision to close offices around the province and move 25 maintenance enforcement jobs to New Waterford last year. The majority of staff refused to transfer, meaning the government had to replace them and train new enforcement officers and assistants.
"We knew going into the move that we could expect a bump in our statistics," said Judy Crump, the director of the Maintenance Enforcement Program at the Department of Justice. She did not elaborate on the possible impact of moving the jobs out of Halifax.
"Statistics Canada is now looking at that data and will report that eventually. We are looking at it in-house and looking at it very closely," said Crump.
"I can say we are working very diligently to maintain our stats during this period."
There are 22 enforcement officers in Nova Scotia responsible for more than 500 cases each. Five years ago, there were 25 officers.
The program can garnishee wages, place liens on properties, request suspension of motor vehicle licences and passports and — in rare cases — send payors to jail.
Rollie Thompson, a professor of family law at Dalhousie University, said the program in Nova Scotia — like similar systems in Canada — is underfunded and people who chase work in places such as Alberta are harder to find.
"The result of all of that is that it makes it harder to enforce maintenance. At the same time, you're not increasing the number of people chasing those people," he said.
Crump said while many former spouses are in arrears going back many years, 85 per cent of the money that was due and owing for the 2012-2013 year was collected.
She said the government is reviewing policies and practices to see how the program can be improved. That review is expected to be completed by April.