Research on Compliance with Child Support Orders and Agreements in Prince Edward Island
See Department of Justice Canada internal document, Child Support Initiative Research Framework Discussion Paper, Research Report CSR-1998-1B, May 1998;
Alderson-Gill & Associates Consulting Inc., Research Strategy for Studying Compliance/Default on Child Support Orders, Department of Justice Canada, September 1998.
The CCJS, with the cooperation of the Department of Justice Canada and the provinces and territories, is undertaking two projects related to child support: the Maintenance Enforcement Survey, designed to provide a statistical profile of maintenance enforcement in Canada; and a detailed descriptive report of all the maintenance enforcement programs in Canada.
A small minority of other files in the system involved either spousal support or both spousal and child support. Since the present research related to child support only, and since it would not be possible to distinguish in the financial records between monies paid toward child support and that paid toward spousal support, it was decided not to include either of these types of cases in the sample.
REMO stands for Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders. REMO cases are those in which either a paying parent or recipient resides out of province, and enforcement is provided through a reciprocal arrangement with the enforcement office in the appropriate jurisdiction.
Such instances represented accounting/administrative backlogs as opposed to enforcement errors. If the recipient had at any time notified the MEP that a payment was due but had not been received, the error would have been found immediately.
REMO-in refers to cases in which enforcement originated in another jurisdiction and was referred to the P.E.I. MEP when the paying parent moved to the Island. REMO-out cases are those referred by the P.E.I. MEP to another enforcement agency because the paying parent moved off the Island to another jurisdiction.
“paying parent”is used by the MEP to describe the parents who have a support obligation registered at the MEP. In the main text of this report they are referred to as paying parents.
Part I of the federal Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act (FOAEA) enables provincial and territorial enforcement agencies to access certain federal databanks for residential and employer name and address information to trace the whereabouts of paying parents in default. A specialized FOAEA unit in the Department of Justice Canada oversees and administers this tracing function.
Maintenance Enforcement Act, R.S.P.E.I. 1988, c.M-1 Section 11 (1).
Ibid., Section 11 (4).
From the original sample of 500 cases, some were found not to have sufficient information to be included in the analysis. In some other cases, information in the file appeared contradictory, and the information was from sufficiently long ago that it would have been difficult to verify what information was accurate.
Files are designated as inactive when no payments are expected in the foreseeable future. These can be either cases in which extensive tracing has failed to find the paying parent, or cases in which a support obligation is no longer in force, but it is anticipated that an obligation may arise again (for example, when a child is temporarily not living with the custodial parent).
In cases when the paying parents and recipients were interviewed, more reliable information on employment histories is available. This is discussed later in the report.
Amendments to the Divorce Act regarding introducing the Federal Child Support Guidelines, under Bill C-41, were given Royal Assent on February 19, 1997, and came into effect on May 1, 1997. The amendments introduced child support guidelines to help parents, lawyers and judges set fair and consistent child support awards in divorce cases. Some provinces, P.E.I. being one example, established their own tables governing the size of support awards, but these are in keeping with the standards set out in the federal guidelines.
The percentages take into account only those cases when payments were being made at the time the data were collected. In 123 of the 458 cases in the sample (27 percent), no payments were currently being received.
As noted earlier, default meetings are opportunities prior to a court hearing for a defaulting paying parent to explain his or her situation and make firm arrangements to resume payments.
Driver’s Licence Denial and Suspension programs exist in eight jurisdictions in Canada, and are based on provincial and territorial legislation. The most obvious difference among the laws is that some provinces and territories (including P.E.I.) can suspend licences, while others only withhold the licence when there is an application for renewal or reissuance. Other variations relate to requirements for notification and appeals and notices to third parties.
The determination as to which factors to examine was based on a review of previous research, as described in Alderson-Gill & Associates Consulting Inc., Research Strategy for Studying Compliance/Default on Child Support Orders, Department of Justice Canada, September 1998.
This limitation was recognized in the research design. The P.E.I. study was intended as a precursor to a larger study that would provide numbers of interviews sufficient to test the relative strength of the relationships that emerge.
The percentages in most tables in this section refer to the proportion of cases in each category in the left-hand column that fall into each of the three compliance categories. In Table 5.2, for example, of those paying parents who reported annual incomes of less than $20,000, 33 percent were in high compliance, 42 percent were in moderate compliance, and 25 percent were in low compliance.
Cited in Alderson-Gill & Associates, 1998, p.3.
Although they were prompted to differentiate between full- and part-time work, none of the paying parents interviewed reported working part-time.
None of the paying parents we interviewed had sought a variation.
With the institution of the Federal Child Support Guidelines in 1997, our interviews with parents and with professionals in P.E.I. indicate that child support amounts are rarely a contentious issue once the parents have sought advice from lawyers or used the services of a mediator, because the amounts are not subject to judicial discretion (except when certain questions such as special expenses need to be decided). This, of course, does not mean that the parties are both happy with the child support amounts. It could mean that more court orders include child support terms that were not under contention, but it could equally mean that more agreements are being reached outside the court based on the Guidelines.
This finding concurs with analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (Marcil-Gratton and Le Bourdais, 1999, pp. 32-33). As we see later in this chapter, the timing and the way the agreement is reached are also important. These factors may contribute to an agreement between the parents that is not lasting and results in poor compliance.
In this sample of cases, there were five in which the paying parent was the mother and the recipient was the father.
The breakdown of amounts of support orders in our interview sample is similar to the breakdown for the total sample drawn from the MEP case files, as described in Section 4.2.
Since support orders (and presumably most agreements) are based on expected levels of employment income, ability to pay should be wb-eqhtd when employment is consistent, but when there is disruption in employment or when unanticipated major expenses arise, the ability to cope with those circumstances while maintaining child support payments may vary.
See the review of child support compliance literature in Alderson-Gill & Associates, 1998.
Literature reviewed in Alderson-Gill, 1998.
Research suggests that for some fathers who have been close to their children in the intact family, separation can result in a disengagement because of their changed role and reduced ability to influence the children’s lives. (See references to Kruk, 1995, and Mandell, 1995 and 1998, in Alderson-Gill & Associates, 1998, p.7.) Those studies did not investigate the actual impact of this disengagement on child support compliance in specific cases, but they suggest an alternative analysis to the intuitive premise examined here.
In eight cases it was unclear whether, or how much, the children resided with the paying parent.
Some variation existed in how the two parents characterized the relationship, in cases when we interviewed both parents. The figures above reflect the paying parents’ perspective, when differences occurred. If we consider the recipient parents’ perspective, only 12 percent involved some social contact.
Family Income After Separation, Galarneau, Diane and Sturrock, Jim; Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division, Statistics Canada, March 1997.
The Department of Justice Canada has conducted a feasibility study that makes use of the P.E.I. experience and a review of circumstances in other provinces to develop recommendations for future child support compliance research. The application of the research methods in selected provinces is examined in more detail in that report.
We know, however, that we will have to take greater care to identify those respondents whose address in the MEP system was in another MEP in another jurisdiction. This led to some confusion in a few cases.
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