Statistics Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

A description of maintenance enforcement services

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.

The task of processing and ensuring that child and spousal support is paid is essentially the same for all maintenance enforcement programs (MEPs) across Canada. MEPs register cases, process payments, and monitor and enforce cases. Once the order terms expire and cases are fully paid, they no longer need to be in a program and are closed. Each jurisdiction has developed its own maintenance enforcement policies and procedures to address local needs. The following provides an overview of these jurisdictional differences.


All support recipients with an enforceable court order or agreement 1  can avail themselves of the services of a maintenance enforcement program. However, not all cases of child and spousal support that exist in a province or territory are administered by maintenance enforcement programs (General Social Survey, 2006).

About half of the jurisdictions have adopted an automatic or “opt-out” registration system.This includes Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba. In these six jurisdictions, maintenance orders are automatically enrolled with a maintenance enforcement program at the time of the order. To be removed from the caseload of a MEP, a recipient must ask to be withdrawn from the program. 2  In many jurisdictions, the payor has to agree to the withdrawal. This request can be denied if the recipient is collecting social assistance. 3 

Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have an “opt-in” program, whereby registration is at the option of either the recipient or payor. The only exception is cases where the recipient is entitled to social assistance, in which case enrolment is mandatory.

“Opt-in” jurisdictions tend to have a higher proportion of cases already having arrears when they first register, or where there has been some difficulty in securing payments. Conversely, “opt-out” jurisdictions tend to have relatively more cases to administer and enforce because all new court orders in the jurisdiction are automatically enrolled.

Payment processing

Much of the visible activity of MEPs involves the processing and disbursement of payments to recipients. In most jurisdictions, payors can make payments by cheque, money order, credit card, telephone or Internet banking, or by pre-authorized payment. Payments may also come directly from an attachment of wages, a garnishment and attachment of assets (e.g. bank account), or a federal interception of federal monies owed to the payor, such as an income tax refund.

Eight MEPs use a “pay-to” system to process payments; where the payor makes his/her payment payable to the MEP, which functions as a clearinghouse for the payment before disbursing it to the recipient. Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut use this approach. The remaining jurisdictions use a combination of “pay-to” and “pay-through”. The “pay-through” approach refers to a system where payors forward their payment to the MEP; the MEP records the payment and forwards it to the recipient.


The MEPs are required by their legislation to monitor and enforce cases that are registered with them. They must enforce the terms and amount of the order or agreement, and have no discretion to change the terms in any way. Should circumstances change, the parties are encouraged to seek legal advice. One option that might be considered is to pursue a variation in the order or agreement through the courts.

As an option to court variations, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba offer a recalculation service. British Columbia as well offers a recalculation service through limited court registries as part of a pilot project. Recalcuation services allow 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. This avoids a court process that may deter payors or recipients from seeking variations.

MEPs aim at securing regular and ongoing payments. The MEPs resort to enforcement activities when they are unable to secure support payments. There are a number of enforcement mechanisms that can be used to collect support payments. Enforcement mechanisms can be seen as a graduated process that intensifies with the complexity of the case.

Overall, there are two distinct areas of enforcement: administrative and court enforcement. In general, most MEPs will first attempt to obtain payment through administrative means. Administrative enforcement can range from telephoning the payor and trying to informally negotiate a payment, to a more formal enforcement process whereby the payor has the funds garnished from his or her wages. Court enforcement remedies range from a summons to appear, to a fine or jail.

The federal government provides assistance to the enforcement efforts of the MEPs. The Family Law Assistance Services Section of the federal Department of Justice provides access to federal databases in order to search for payors, 4  and allows for the interception of federal funds 5  and the denial/suspension of federally administered licenses including passports (Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act). Under the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act (GAPDA), federal employee salaries and pensions are subject to garnishment.

Because MEPs operate under unique provincial/territorial legislation, they differ in the nature and scope of their enforcement powers. Garnishments and attachments, for example, may be restricted by a provincial law that limits the percentage of a paycheque that can be attached. In some provinces, this is set at a 50% maximum, while in others it may be 40%.

Deterrent penalties and service fees have been introduced by MEPs in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Examples of these penalties include the following:

  1. Nova Scotia charges penalties and fees for non-sufficient funds (NSF) cheques, the issuance of a garnishment, and the revocation of motor vehicle privilege. There is also an annual administrative default fee of $213.
  2. In New Brunswick, pursuant to the provincial Support Enforcement Act proclaimed in 2008, fees are charged to payors on some enforcement actions taken by the MEP, including tracing (both provincial and federal), issuing garnishments and holding a default hearing. A fee is also charged for NSF items and other dishonoured payments.
  3. In Quebec, the MEP charges for NSF cheques and applies collection charges for unpaid demands for payment.
  4. Deterrent penalties and service fees are being phased-in in Alberta. In the first phase, beginning November 2005, three penalties were introduced: a default penalty for late or missed payments, a penalty for NSF items and a penalty for failure to file a Statement of Finances.
  5. British Columbia introduced a default fee in 1998/1999. Each year the payor is charged the equivalent of one month's maintenance, to a maximum of $400, upon the second default of the year.

These types of provincial/territorial variations must be considered when assessing the information compiled in this report.

Case closure

Conditions for withdrawal from a MEP vary by jurisdiction. Cases can be withdrawn by the recipient (opt-out) or by the program. Recipients can withdraw from the program for a variety of reasons, for example, they do not feel they need to have the order enforced. In many jurisdictions, the payor’s agreement is required in order for the recipient to withdraw from the program.

Payors can also withdraw from the program, but under limited circumstances. In particular, this is allowed in New Brunswick and Ontario, provided the recipient is in agreement; in British Columbia, if the payor was the one who registered the order and the recipient is in agreement; and in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, if the payor was the one who registered the order. In Quebec, the payor and the recipient can jointly apply to the Court for an exemption from having the MEP administer their case. In order for the Court to agree, the payor must provide the MEP with security (a sum of money, a letter of guarantee or a guarantee from a financial institution) covering payment of support for one month.

Generally, a case is closed or “terminated” if the terms of the order have expired, or either party dies. There may be situations where a MEP will close a case because it may be impractical to enforce, for example, if a recipient moves and cannot be located.