Profile of child support beneficiaries

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by Paul Robinson

About 6% of children living in the five jurisdictions are enrolled in Maintenance Enforcement Programs
Nearly 50% of children enrolled in a MEP are youth
Median monthly regular payment due was $300 in 2007/2008
Just over half of families receive full payment in an average month
One-third of families received full payment every month of the year
Nearly two-thirds of families are owed arrears in the five jurisdictions
Alberta and Yukon MEPs took enforcement actions against two-thirds of all payors in 2007/2008
Some children are enrolled in cases enforced by an out-of-province program
Summary
Detailed data tables
References
Notes

Parental breakups affect a considerable number of Canadian children. Data from the 2005 National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth indicate that for the 2.8 million children1 between the ages 10 to 17 years on December 31, 2004, almost one-third (31%) experienced the separation of their parents.

When parents live apart, issues of financial support for the children come to the forefront, in addition to custody of and access to the children. Couples breaking up are much more likely to make arrangements for the payment of child support than spousal support (Martin and Robinson, 2008). Regular payment of child support is important to many families, as data from the Census suggest that lone-parent families, particularly those headed by a woman, tend to be more vulnerable financially than couple families. In 2005, for example, 24% of female lone-parent families lived in low income, compared to 11% of male lone-parent families and 6% of couple families. Moreover, earnings instability, that is the frequency of short term swings in family income, was more prevalent for lone-parent families, particularly those headed by women, between 1984 and 2004 (Morissette and Ostrovsky, 2007). For families in low income, a drop in income, even for a month, may result in economic hardship as these families have few options available for covering the income loss.

During the 1980s and 1990s, all provincial and territorial governments created Maintenance Enforcement Programs (MEPs) to provide assistance to payors and recipients of child and spousal support, and to improve compliance with support payments primarily for the benefit of the children involved in the parental break up (Statistics Canada, 2002). Through provincial/territorial legislation, the programs were given a number of administrative enforcement powers to secure payments before resorting to the courts. In 1987, the federal government enacted the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act (FOAEAA), which, among other legislative powers, allowed the government to redirect income tax refunds and federal payments from a non-compliant payor to the recipient.

Not all families receiving child support enrol in a Maintenance Enforcement Program. The decision to enrol in a MEP resides with the recipient of the support payment, usually the parent residing with the children (the child beneficiaries of the support are also considered enrolled in the program). Between 2001 and 2006 in the ten provinces, there were 517,000 new cases of divorce or separation with a child support arrangement in place (Martin and Robinson, 2008). Just over a third of these cases were enrolled in a MEP.

Text Box 1
Enrolling in a Maintenance Enforcement Program

To enrol in a Maintenance Enforcement Program, or to enforce child support through the court system, the divorcing or separating couple must first obtain a child support order (or register their separation or paternity agreement in court). The child support order sets out the frequency of payment and amount of support to be paid, and the MEPs have no discretion to change the terms of the court order or agreement.2

Between 2001 and 2006 in the ten provinces, about two-thirds of the new cases of divorce or separation with a child support arrangement in place had their arrangement registered in court. For cases that registered their child support arrangement with a court, 59% also enrolled in a Maintenance Enforcement Program.

This article examines the number of children and families touched by services of the five MEPs (Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories) currently reporting to the Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs (SMEP). Also discussed are the amount of support due to families owed child support, the proportion of these families receiving support, and the enforcement response by MEPs when payors default on their child support payments. The final section touches on reciprocating enforcement for interprovincial or international cases that involve two MEPs or child support agencies.

About 6% of children living in the five jurisdictions are enrolled in Maintenance Enforcement Programs

On July 1, 2007, nearly 70,000 children, youth and young adults (19 years and under, herein referred to generically as children) from 50,000 families3 were enrolled in the Maintenance Enforcement Programs of the five reporting jurisdictions. This represented 6% of all children living in the five jurisdictions. In almost all families (97%), the recipient of the support payment was female. Support is generally owing for children alone, although a small percentage (3%) of families were owed both spousal and child support.

Nova Scotia had the highest proportion of children enrolled in MEP (9%), while Alberta and Yukon had the lowest (5%) on July 1, 2007 (Table 1). Registration procedures may contribute to differences between jurisdictions. Nova Scotia is an 'opt-out' jurisdiction, where all new support orders from Nova Scotia courts are automatically filed with the MEP and enforcement starts once the recipient completes a registration package. In the other jurisdictions, which are 'opt-in' jurisdictions, the recipient is responsible for initiating the registration process.

The number of children enrolled in Maintenance Enforcement Programs decreased between July 1, 2005 and July 1, 2007 in three of the four jurisdictions reporting data over the three year period (excludes Prince Edward Island).4 The largest decrease was in Alberta, down 10%. The only increase was in the Northwest Territories, where the number of children enrolled grew by 5%.

Provincial social assistance rates and MEP policies towards recipients on social assistance also may affect the proportion of children enrolled in maintenance enforcement. Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Alberta have mandatory enrolment for recipients on social assistance, as all or part of the support payments received from the payor may be assigned to the government to defray social assistance costs. Although no recent data are available, historically, the Maritimes have generally had higher social assistance rates than western Canada, particularly Alberta (Roy, 2004).

Almost half of child support beneficiaries on June 1, 2006 in the four reporting jurisdictions (excludes Prince Edward Island) lived in Halifax, Calgary or Edmonton, the three Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) which accounted for 56% of the child population of these jurisdictions. Of all the CMAs, Halifax had the highest proportion (7%) of children enrolled in Maintenance Enforcement Programs (Table 2), although this proportion was smaller than other regions in Nova Scotia. In Alberta, Edmonton had more children enrolled in maintenance enforcement than Calgary (6% of children in Edmonton, compared to 4% in Calgary).

Nearly 50% of children enrolled in a MEP are youth

Children enrolled in maintenance enforcement are older than the child population as a whole. For almost all children whose parents are separated, the separation event occurs after their birth.5 Median age at enrolment for children is roughly 10 years for reporting jurisdictions, and support payments typically continue until the child reaches the age of majority (18 or 19, depending upon the jurisdiction). At that point, children may no longer be eligible for support, although some child support obligations continue through the young adult years. Also, when child support obligations end for a case, if arrears are owing, the case may remain open and the MEP will enforce on the outstanding arrears.

Consequently, whereas a third of the child population are youth (12 to 17 years), nearly 50% of children enrolled in MEP are in this age group (Chart 1). The result is that almost 10% of youth in the five provinces and territories were enrolled in a MEP on July 1, 2007 (Table 3). This proportion is highest in Nova Scotia (12%) and lowest in Alberta and Yukon (8%). On the other hand, 4% of children 11 years or under living the five jurisdictions are enrolled in maintenance enforcement.

Chart 1
A disproportionate number of beneficiaries enrolled in MEP are youth

Description

Chart 1 A disproportionate number of beneficiaries enrolled in Maintenance Enforcement Programs are youth

Note: Chart includes data for Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs and CANSIM table 051-0001.

Median monthly regular payment due was $300 in 2007/2008

In 2007/2008, median monthly regular payment due was $300 in the five jurisdictions (Table 4). Although not used in all cases, the amount of child support due is calculated using the Child Support Guidelines. Court orders for support made under the Divorce Act generally use the federal child support guidelines. Some jurisdictions also have similar provincial child support guidelines for orders authorized by provincial legislation. The guidelines primarily consider the income of the payor, the number of child beneficiaries and the province/territory where the payor lives (to account for differing tax rates across jurisdictions), to determine the amount of support. In two-thirds of cases of sole custody, the amount of the child support award for the case was equal to the table amounts specified in the guidelines (Department of Justice, 2002). The child support award was less than the table amount in only 5% of cases.

The amount of payment due varies among jurisdictions. For example, families in the Maritime provinces tend to have lower amounts due than families in Alberta and the territories. Median earnings for residents employed on a full-time basis were lower in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia than in the other reporting jurisdictions over the 15 year period between 1990 and 2005 (Statistics Canada, 2008). Payment due also depends on the number of beneficiaries in the family. Families with one child receiving support have lower amounts due than families with two or more child beneficiaries.

For most families, the monthly amount of regular support due does not change much from year to year. For families enrolled in both July 2006 and July 2007, the monthly amount due was the same for 92% of families.6 Most changes in regular payment due occur through variations orders, which reset the payment amount, either higher or lower.

Just over half of families receive full payment in an average month

In an average month in 2007/2008, 57% of families in the five reporting jurisdictions received the full amount of regular payment that was due (Table 5).7 The proportion varied from 46% in the Northwest Territories to 58% in Alberta. Another 8% received a portion of the monthly amount due. For just over one-third of families, no payment was received in an average month.

According to other research, there appear to be three primary reasons payors miss child support payments. First, some payors may not have the financial ability to pay because of changed financial circumstances, such as, for example, periods of unexpected unemployment. Second, factors associated with the divorce and separation process may deter payment. For example, the payor may not agree with the access and visitation arrangements, or custody arrangements, and may be unwilling to make payments. Finally, social and psychological factors may affect the payor's willingness to pay, for example the payor's lack of involvement with the children, or disapproval or mistrust of the other parent (Alderson-Gill & Associates Consulting Inc. 2003, Burke & Associates Inc. 2006, Juby et al, 2007).

Over the three years since 2005/2006, compliance on regular support payments due has improved for the four jurisdictions (excludes Prince Edward Island) reporting data each of these years. The proportion of families receiving the full amount of regular payment due in an average month has increased by three percentage points.

One-third of families received full payment every month of the year

As indicated earlier, lone-parent families tend to be more financially vulnerable. For many support recipients, then, it is not only what happens in an average month, but what happens throughout the year, the regularity of payments received, that is important. If a payor is often late or makes payments sporadically, the support recipients may suffer financial consequences.

One-third of families received the full amount of the regular payment due every month of the year in 2007/2008 (Chart 2). Just over 60% of families received their regular payment in full for at least six months of 2007/2008, while 84% received some support during the fiscal year.

Chart 2
About one third of families received their payment every month in 2007/2008

Description

Chart 2 About one third of families received their payment every month in 2007/2008

Note: In Prince Edward Island, payments made directly from the payor to the recipient are not categorized as payments received, unlike in other jurisdictions. Therefore, cases making direct payments are counted as non-compliant, even though they may actually be in full or partial compliance. Nova Scotia and Yukon maintain a policy of allowing direct payments to be made and received by their clientele throughout the case duration, and since some of these direct payments are not reported until after the survey data are collected, some payors are reported as not having paid, even though they actually have. About 1% of cases each month report a payment, or payments, being made in a previous month.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs.

With some payors missing payments each month, reporting MEPs collect significant amounts each year as arrears payments. For 45% of families enrolled in the five reporting MEPs, the total payment due for 2007/2008 was received, either as 'on time' payments or as late payments. Almost two-thirds of families received at least 75% of what was due.

Nearly two-thirds of families are owed arrears in the five jurisdictions

On July 1, 2007, a majority of families (64%) enrolled in a reporting Maintenance Enforcement Program were owed arrears (Table 6).8 Yukon had the lowest proportion of families owed arrears (63%) and the Northwest Territories the highest (75%). For families with arrears owing, the median amount owing was $4,210. Nearly 12% of families with arrears were owed more than $25,000 and 1% were owed more than $100,000.

For most families in the reporting jurisdictions, their arrears situation changes from year to year. Arrears balances change not only because of default on payment obligations and arrears payments collected, but also because of adjustments made to amounts owing (for example, the recipient may forgive a portion of arrears owing). For families from four reporting jurisdictions (excludes Prince Edward Island) owed arrears on July 1, 2006, about 55% had a larger amount owing on July 1, 2007, while 40% of families saw the amount of arrears owing decrease, with about one third of these families with no arrears on July 1, 2007.9 For families with an increase in arrears, the median amount of the increase was $2,100. For those families with a decrease, the median amount was $916.

Alberta and Yukon MEPs took enforcement actions against two-thirds of all payors in 2007/2008

If support payments are not forthcoming, MEPs can undertake a variety of actions to enforce current payments or existing arrears. There are two main categories of enforcement actions: administrative enforcement (for example, wage garnishments, motor vehicle license interventions) and court enforcement (primarily default hearings). Administrative enforcement powers are derived from both provincial and federal legislation.

In 2007/2008, administrative enforcement actions were taken against approximately two-thirds of payors in all cases administered in the Alberta and Yukon MEPs (other jurisdictions are excluded because they don't report complete data on some of the commonly used administrative enforcement actions) for which these MEPs had primary enforcement responsibility.10 Common actions used in the two jurisdictions included demands (for information or payment), initiation of garnishments, tracing, interception of federal funds, motor vehicle license interventions and federal license denials.

Some children are enrolled in cases enforced by an out-of-province program

Children enrolled in a provincial or territorial Maintenance Enforcement Program do not necessarily have their case enforced by that MEP. In some instances, when the payor lives in another jurisdiction, either inside or outside Canada, the case is enforced by the program where the payor lives or has assets, on behalf of the program where the children live. Cases involving two MEPs are called Interjurisdictional Support Orders (ISO) cases.

Approximately 9% of child support beneficiaries enrolled in the five reporting MEPs on July 1, 2007 had their cases enforced by an out-of-province program. These cases are referred to as ISO-out cases. The proportion of children in ISO-out cases was lowest in Prince Edward Island and highest in the Yukon. A small percentage of these children were involved in international cases, where the payor lived outside of Canada (Table 7). In most instances, the enforcing agency was in the United States (82% of children involved in international cases), with most of the other cases involving the United Kingdom or Australia.

The five MEPs also enforce cases on behalf of 10,800 children living outside their jurisdiction.11 These cases are referred to as ISO-in cases (Chart 3). In Alberta, the number of children involved in ISO-in cases (where the children live in another jurisdiction but payor lives in Alberta) was more than double the number of children involved in ISO-out cases, (where the children live in Alberta and the payor lives elsewhere). In Nova Scotia, the reverse is true. This may reflect recent migration trends, which show Alberta has been a key destination for interprovincial migrants since the late 1990s due in large part to the oil sands projects attracting mostly male workers to Alberta (Dion and Coulombe, 2008).

Chart 3
The ratio of children from ISO-in cases and ISO-out cases varies between jurisdictions

Description

Chart 3 The ratio of children from Interjurisdictional Support Orders-in cases and Interjurisdictional Support Orders-out cases varies between jurisdictions

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs.

Summary

Maintenance Enforcement Programs (MEPs) were set up by every provincial and territorial government to assist payors and recipients of child and spousal support and to secure payment for beneficiaries through the use of enforcement actions when the payor fails to meet his or her obligations (Statistics Canada, 2002).

On July 1, 2007, close to 70,000 children from 50,000 families were enrolled in the five reporting MEPs, which are Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Children enrolled in MEPs represented about 6% of all children living in the five jurisdictions. The proportion of children enrolled in the reporting MEPs is highest in Nova Scotia and lowest in Alberta. Almost half the children enrolled in MEPs are youth between the ages of 12 and 17.

In an average month in 2007/2008, the median regular payment due for families enrolled in a MEP was $300. The monthly amount of regular payment due was received in full by 57% of families in 2007/2008 and about one-third of families received payment regularly without interruption.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Proportion of children enrolled in Maintenance Enforcement Programs on July 1, 2005, 2006 and 2007

Table 2 Distribution of child support beneficiaries enrolled in Maintenance Enforcement Programs by sub-provincial region, June 1, 2006

Table 3 Proportion of youth enrolled in Maintenance Enforcement Programs on July 1, 2007

Table 4 Median amount of regular payment due in an average month, 2007/2008

Table 5 Proportion of families receiving regular payment due in an average month, 2007/2008

Table 6 Proportion of families owed arrears, July 1, 2007

Table 7 Children enrolled in Maintenance Enforcement Programs and involved in ISO-out cases, July 1, 2007

For more information about child and spousal support please refer to the annual report: Child and Spousal Support: Maintenance Enforcement Survey Statistics, 2007/2008. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-228-X

References

Alderson-Gill & Associates Consulting Inc. 2003. Background Paper — Research on Compliance with Child Support Orders and Agreements in Prince Edward Island. Department of Justice, Canada.

Burke & Associates Inc. 2006. Final Report — Maintenance Enforcement Program Client Survey 2006. Alberta Justice.

Department of Justice, 2002. Children come first: a report to Parliament reviewing the provisions and operations of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. Vol. 1. Ottawa.

Dion, Patrice and Simon Coulombe. 2008. "Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada, Part II — Portrait of the mobility of Canadians in 2006: Trajectories and characteristics of migrants." Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 91-209-X. www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-209-x/2004000/p2-eng.htm.

Juby, H., J-M. Billette, B. Laplante, and C. Le Bourdais. 2007. "Non-resident fathers and children." Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 28, no. 9, 1220-1245.

Martin, Chantal and Paul Robinson. 2008. "Child and Spousal Support: Maintenance Enforcement Survey Statistics, 2006/2007." Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-228-X. www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-228-x/85-228-x2007000-eng.pdf.

Morisette, René and Yuri Ostrovsky. 2007. "Income Instability of Lone Parents, Singles and Two-Parent Families in Canada, 1984 to 2004." Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11F0019M —No. 297. www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11f0019m/11f0019m2007297-eng.htm.

Robinson, Paul. 2009. "Child and Spousal Support: Maintenance Enforcement Survey Statistics, 2007/2008." Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-228-X. www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-228-x/85-228-x2009000-eng.htm.

Roy, Francine. 2004. "Social Assistance by Province, 1993-2004." Canadian Economic Observer, November 2004. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-010-X. www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-010-x/01104/7614-eng.htm.

Statistics Canada. 2008. "Earnings and Incomes of Canadians Over the Past Quarter Century, 2006 Census." Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 97-563-X.

Statistics Canada. 2002. "Maintenance Enforcement Programs in Canada: Description of Operations, 1999/2000." Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-552-X. www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-552-x/85-552-x2000001-eng.pdf.

Notes

  1. This figure excludes about 240,000 children in this age group who lived independently or whose person most knowledgeable about the child and his/her spouse was not a biological, adoptive or step parent in 2004/2005. Also excluded are children who did not live in Canada in 1994/1995 (primarily immigrant children, who have moved to Canada recently).
  2. To vary the terms of a court order for support, the payor and recipient must return to court and obtain a variation order. Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba offer a recalculation service that allows for a regular administrative review (usually annual) of the payor's financial circumstances and possible "recalculation" of the payment terms in the order, without going to court.
  3. In this report, the term children receiving support is limited to all children involved in Non-ISO or ISO-out cases and living at an address within the same province or territory of the Maintenance Enforcement Program in which the child's case is enrolled. As a result, about 17,000 dependent beneficiaries are excluded from the report.
    There are also more families enrolled in MEP than is indicated in the report. Not included are the just over 13,000 families where the age of all dependent beneficiaries was either unknown or over the age of 19 on the reference date, families with only a spousal beneficiary of support, families with unknown beneficiaries, and families that lived outside the jurisdiction. Also not included were families involved in ISO-in cases.
  4. Prince Edward Island began reporting to the SMEP in March 2007, and is excluded from any trend analysis in the report.
  5. According to the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY), about 900,000 children aged 10 to 17 on December 31, 2004 experienced the separation of their parents. For 89% of these children, the separation event occurred after their birth. This figure excludes children in this age group who lived independently or whose person most knowledgeable about the child and his/her spouse was not a biological, adoptive or step parent in 2004/2005. Also excluded are children who did not live in Canada in 1994/1995.
  6. The analysis is limited to just over 37,000 families that had a regular amount due in both July 2006 and July 2007. Families that were enrolled but did not have an amount due in either July 2006 or 2007 were excluded.
  7. For families on social assistance, payment received may be assigned to the provincial government to offset social assistance costs, rather than to the family. In an average month in 2007/2008, 6% of families receiving support had all or part their payment assigned, ranging from 5% in Alberta to 9% in Nova Scotia.
  8. Some arrears owed are classified as Crown arrears, meaning the arrears are owed to the government rather than the family receiving support. This can be due to MEP fees charged to the payor that have not been fulfilled or default on payments due when the payment was assigned to the government.
  9. The analysis is limited to the 28,400 families with arrears owing on July 1, 2006 that remained enrolled on July 1, 2007 in the four reporting jurisdictions.
  10. The analysis is limited to these MEPs because they report almost all administrative actions taken to the SMEP. For other jurisdictions, data on some administrative actions taken by the MEPs are not reported to the survey. Primary enforcement responsibility is all Non-ISO/ISO-in cases enrolled. In these cases, the payor resides in the jurisdiction and the MEP is responsible for enforcing payment. For ISO-out cases, where the recipient lives in-province and the payor resides in another jurisdiction, the reciprocating jurisdiction (i.e. the jurisdiction where the payor resides) usually handles the enforcement.
  11. To avoid double counting, these children are excluded from all other analysis in this report other than the discussion of ISO-in cases. A number of children living in Nova Scotia and enrolled with the Nova Scotia MEP, for example, have their cases enforced by the Alberta MEP, where the payor likely lives. In this report, the children are counted as enrolled with the Nova Scotia MEP.
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