'Deadbeats' in New Brunswick owe $44M in support
26 provincial enforcement officers carry an average 530 cases each
Kids and ex-spouses across the province are owed $44.8 million in outstanding spousal and child support payments, a CBC News investigation has found.
The dues have been piling up while 60 per cent of family support order cases in the province are in arrears.
Nancy Hartling operates Support to Single Parents, a Moncton non-profit support agency.
Hartling says she sees 200 to 300 recently divorced people a month, many of whom are struggling with their exes or the province’s Family Support Orders Service (FSOS) — the office tasked with collecting these payments — to get the money a court order says they are owed.
“Anybody out there who is a parent knows, if your children need things and you can't get them, that stresses you and when you're stressed then you, of course, your children feel that.”
Individuals who are behind in their payments are commonly referred to as "deadbeats."
Enforcement officers have a host of tools to help them compel people to pay up, such as driver’s licence and passport suspensions, access to personal bank accounts or reporting defaults to creditors.
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But no enforcement tool is effective if an officer doesn’t have time to look into the case: each of the 26 officers in the province have, on average, 530 cases to oversee.
The provincial government says it is diligent, having collected $51 million in 2012-2013.
Lori-Jean Wallace, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, stated in an email sent on Wednesday that, “Our enforcement officers are closely monitoring their files and take a progressive approach to enforcement.”
The Family Support Orders Service has brought the number of cases in arrears down year over year to 7,692 in 2013 from 8,115 in 2008. Dues have added up in spite of the progress, increasing every year to $44.8 million from $39.9 million in the same time frame.
“The whole program has the tools that they need to collect arrears from payors; I don't believe that those tools are being utilized enough and I don't believe that they are being utilized early enough.”
Across Canada, outstanding payments total $3.7 billion.
Rollie Thompson, a law professor at Nova Scotia's Dalhousie University, says leaders need to put money where their mouth is.
“Politicians who talk big about families and children are the same people who aren't prepared to improve the staffing of maintenance enforcement programs,” he says.
“The complications of enforcing in a declining economy with people moving around — it's a big job. And what happens is, we have always underfunded maintenance enforcement.”