North

'Deadbeats' in N.W.T. owe $10M in child support

More than 1,000 people have registered for help collecting child support payments through the territory's maintenance enforcement program. Just 4 people are on staff to help them.

Maintenance enforcement officers handle 250 cases each

Some single parents in the Northwest Territories say the territory's child maintenance enforcement system is broken. 

More than 1,000 people have registered with the Department of Justice for help with collecting child support payments. 

The program forces an automatic garnishment of wages of one parent to be handed over to the other, but a monthly cheque doesn't always arrive and according to Statistics Canada, parents in the system owe about $10 million in support.

Just four maintenance enforcement officers are on staff to help collect it, each expected to handle about 250 cases. 

If child support is unpaid for a stretch of time, drivers' licenses can be revoked and bank accounts seized.

On average, parents who are behind on their support owe about $19,000, but one delinquent owes $238,000 in child support. 

Another father who pays child support through maintenance enforcement says the system can make life difficult for the payers, reducing the chances they'll be able to pay. 

"Some people have lost their license and their mobility rights," says Mark Bogan. "They can't get good jobs."

In the worst case scenario, the debtor is summoned to court where a judge can sentence them to jail time. 

Twenty debtors have been summoned to appear in court this fall.  

Mother in a dilemma

One mother in the territory, whose identity CBC has agreed to protect for fear of reprisal, says she's facing a dilemma.

"I can either keep asking him for money and saying please give me money every month and not get any or I can get child support from him and go the legal route."

But she says taking her children's father to court will cost her a few thousand dollars — money she says she doesn't have.

"At this time it seems more likely that I'm just going to carry on and support my kids financially all on my own," she says. 

"I feel like it's more of a hassle to enter into the court system and enter into the maintenance enforcement program and especially when I think he's working an under the table job. That is something I'd likely have to investigate myself."

The problem of unpaid child support appears to be growing. 

In the last six years the amount outstanding has ballooned by almost $3 million.

Consistently over the last five years, 75 per cent of maintenance cases in the territory are in arrears.

The CBC contacted the the Department of Justice for an interview. A representative was not available for comment.

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