Nova Scotia·CBC Investigates

A $490K child support battle that revealed government failures is finally ending

Angela Power's ex-husband racked up almost $500,000 in child support arrears, evaded Canadian authorities and was eventually thrown in jail. The case revealed failures in Nova Scotia's maintenance enforcement program. After fighting for years, Power has finally been paid much of the money she is owed.

Enforcement in N.S. child support arrears up 30% since height of dispute between Joseph and Angela Power

After more than eight years of fighting over child support, Angela Power is happy she's reached a settlement with her ex-husband. Joseph Power racked up almost $500,000 in child support arrears, plus interest. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

Even behind a mask, Angela Power's smile radiates as she walks out of her local bank in Halifax and rips up a stack of collection notices and bills.

"I have excavated my children out from under $100,000 worth of student debt, so that feels like freedom," she said.

After more than eight years of fighting over child support with her ex-husband, who moved to Denmark, was deported, hid from Canadian authorities and was later thrown in jail for avoiding payments, a settlement has been reached.

Joseph Power owed more than $490,000 in child support, plus interest, related to their two kids. His ex-wife said she received a "large chunk of what was owed" in early September, and expects the rest will be paid over the next year, and "then we'll be done."

Power used the settlement money from her ex-husband to pay her two children's student debt bills. In total, she paid off nearly $100,000. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Joseph Power said in a statement to CBC he is pleased an agreement has finally been reached, but adds "this case has set a dangerous precedent for family law in Canada."

Nova Scotia's maintenance enforcement program eventually took aggressive steps to enforce payment from Joseph Power — something his ex-wife pushed for years. She still has an active lawsuit against the province, alleging the program did not enforce orders in a timely manner.

In the height of the Power vs. Power court battle, a series of reports by the provincial ombudsman, auditor general and an internal review prompted sweeping changes within the Justice Department program. Since 2018, child support arrears in Nova Scotia have dropped from $63 million to $52.7 million, the lowest amount in 15 years.

Enforcement actions have increased by 30 percent in the same timeframe. Currently, there are 44 active cases before the court. In contrast, there were no court proceedings in 2015 for defaults in payment.

"There has been a real focus over the last few years on strengthening the program so that families are getting the money they need as quickly as they can," said Kristen Tynes, executive director of the maintenance enforcement program.

She said five new permanent positions were added in 2017 to improve the delivery of services and support the enforcement and collection of maintenance payments. 

Court battle

Angela Power's fight for child support has gone on for so long that her two children are now in their 20s.

Joseph Power's descent into arrears didn't happen instantly. He made regular monthly payments of $700 for eight years. 

In 2013, Angela Power provided the court with documentation showing he had a higher income than reported. A judge increased his payments to $3,242 per month as a result.

Joseph Power soon stopped paying and was found in contempt. He moved to Denmark, where he stayed for four years, claiming he could not afford the increased payments. Eventually his passport was stripped and he was deported back to Canada in 2019.

But authorities could not locate him for almost two years. He even called into court hearings and refused to reveal his location to the judge, which triggered a Canada-wide arrest warrant. 

Angela Power's lawyer, Igor Yushchenko, said the fact he wasn't caught at the border is "outrageous." 

"If you are deported from a country and come to another country and can freely walk, fly and do whatever you want, I think there's something wrong with the system," said Yushchenko.

Joseph Power, shown in 2017, was recently released from prison after coming to a child support settlement with his ex-wife. (Skype)

Joseph Power was eventually arrested in Montreal in November 2020 and sentenced the following month in Halifax to 4½ years in prison. He was released in early September once the settlement was finalized with his ex-wife.

"I've given everything I have, and my current wife has given up everything she has to settle this — something we attempted to do long ago. As I had claimed all along, and contrary to allegations, the matrimonial home was found to be our only asset," Power said in his statement to CBC.

"It took months of my incarceration for parties to accept that the claims of my alleged wealth were unfounded works of fiction."

But Justice Elizabeth Jollimore didn't offer sympathy in her sentencing decision last December. 

"If Mr. Power has no money now it's because in all those months when he wasn't paying child support, the money was being spent," said Jollimore.

"Too often when a parent disagrees with the amount of child support ordered, the parent pays nothing rather than paying what they think is appropriate. This prejudices the child, benefits the parent, and displays the parent's disregard for the child and disdain for the other parent."

Provincial challenges

In the Atlantic region, Nova Scotia still has the highest amount in child support arrears. New Brunswick sits around $45 million, while Newfoundland and Labrador reports $25 million, and P.E.I. has $12 million in outstanding child support.

A major challenge for every province and territory is the fact child support enforcement is the responsibility of the jurisdiction where the payor lives. That means if a payor moves out of the province where they've been court-ordered to pay, the government typically does not take action to collect those arrears. Rather, the responsibility falls on the reciprocal jurisdiction.

Tynes tells CBC her department is constantly working with provincial counterparts to improve that access.

"We have working groups, we have regular meetings with our colleagues across the country always looking at how we can streamline and improve processes so that it doesn't matter if a recipient is in Nova Scotia and a payor is in Alberta — that we can facilitate those payments," she said.

Lasting impact

Nova Scotia justice officials won't go as far to give Angela Power credit for its recent success rates. 

Power pestered the province's maintenance enforcement program until she was kicked out in 2014. The department said she broke the rules by taking steps to enforce orders against her ex-husband on her own, rather than leaving it to bureaucrats. An ombudsman's report later sided with Power and ordered that she be reinstated in the program.

Yushchenko believes that pressure made an impact on how cases are now enforced.

"In this situation, Angela was the main person who told [the province] what to do and how to do it," he said.

"And this case clearly indicates that by using the maintenance enforcement program and court application, the result can be achieved. You know, in some situations that might even be imprisonment."

Despite the emotional and financial stress, Angela Power said the long battle was worth it.

"I stood up for my children, myself, and I stood up for other women and other children. And that is my legacy," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela MacIvor is CBC Nova Scotia's investigative reporter. She has been with CBC since 2006 as a reporter and producer in all three Maritime provinces. All news tips welcome. Send an email to cbcnsinvestigates@cbc.ca

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