For the most part, maintenance enforcement programs have been designed to facilitate support payments when the recipient and the payor reside in the same province. When a parent relocates, as happens with growing frequency, the maintenance enforcement program for the original jurisdiction may turn to another program for assistance in collecting support payments or making disbursements. The provincial and territorial governments have passed legislation and developed bilateral arrangements for the reciprocal enforcement of support orders in these cases. Several jurisdictions allocated federal resources to support these efforts.
Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Maintenance Enforcement Office helped draft the provincial Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders Act and prepared for the introduction and implementation of the legislation.
Quebec. The maintenance enforcement program, with the objective of reducing delays, reviewed reciprocal enforcement files and procedures to identify problems. The work was done to develop short-and long-term improvements in work processes and information systems support.
Prince Edward Island. The province undertook a study to review the requirements for conducting business between the Maintenance Enforcement Program in Prince Edward Island and others in the Atlantic provinces. The work focused on possible technical solutions to the problems associated with the exchange of case and client information across jurisdictions. It planned to address current needs in Atlantic Canada in 2001-2002 and contribute to a national study.
Ontario. The Family Responsibility Office undertook three projects. The first was designed to develop a new case management system to better handle an estimated 12,500 active reciprocal enforcement cases (about 5,000 of which are requests received from other jurisdictions, with the balance being requests made to others). The second project produced a formal policies and procedures manual for the Reciprocity Unit based on current and best practices. The final project, which required the assistance of other provinces and territories, updated the database of Ontario residents paying support to persons in other provinces.
The Family Responsibility Office also studied procedures that would allow smaller provinces and territories (fewer than 200 payments) to submit reciprocal payments electronically. The procedure would utilize E-CLIPS, an application introduced in 1999 that allows people and companies to remit support payments over a secure Internet-based program developed in partnership with the Royal Bank.
Newfoundland. In 1997-1998, Newfoundland’s Maintenance Enforcement Program hired a second reciprocal enforcement officer to provide or collect up-to-date information for effective enforcement.
British Columbia. The province has undertaken information systems development, studies and service delivery changes to improve its services in reciprocal enforcement cases. The system development activities included setting up query access to the Family Search Program case management system, and new screens for the reciprocal case transmittal forms, and upgrading equipment. The service delivery activities included policy and procedures development, training, orientation for lawyers, and a study of the feasibility of using integrated voice response for reciprocal jurisdiction clients.
In addition to the work on its own system, British Columbia led the development of standard forms for use in reciprocal arrangements. The directors of the Canadian maintenance enforcement programs, the Family Law Committee and US federal government officials approved the forms in September 1999.
Government agencies are expected to continually monitor the programs and services they deliver to ensure that they are meeting their objectives and offering the best possible solutions. The federal government has allocated funds to support the cycle of research, program development and implementation and evaluation that supports pragmatic program improvements in the area of family law services.
Evaluation and Research
Many provinces and territories have invested federal funding to monitor and evaluate family law reforms and special projects, gather data and carry out similar work to support ongoing policy and program improvements:
Nunavut. In 1999-2001, the Nunavut Department of Justice did a survey to gather information about current and traditional responses to family breakdown, the extent to which family law court procedures are used and the factors influencing the level of use, and the community’s knowledge and perceptions of the existing family law system. The survey’s goal was to obtain data that was relevant to Nunavut while being comparable with statistical data available for other provinces and territories. To this end, the project, using a survey instrument adapted from Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on Families, collected data from more than 400 respondents in five representative communities. In addition, the project gathered information about the formal and informal services available in each community to assist in cases of family breakdown.
In a related effort, representatives of the Nunavut Department of Justice met with individuals, local groups and territorial organizations interested in family law to identify community concerns, assess general knowledge about the system and explore opportunities for legal and program changes. The key areas of concern identified were the parental and spousal rights and obligations of common law couples, the appropriateness of child support obligations, and the role of extended families. The consultations also found that the underlying principles of the family law system are largely consistent with community norms and values, but that the absence of knowledge about the system and the limited services available to families involved in separation and divorce represent significant barriers to parents taking full advantage of the family justice system.
Northwest Territories. In 2000-2001, the Northwest Territories’ Court Services Division developed proposals for amendments to territorial legislation to allow for the administrative recalculation of child support orders. In addition, the Division planned to examine whether the Northwest Territories could implement an accredited mediation service.
Saskatchewan. The province developed internal review and evaluation processes in 1997-1998, establishing a five-year framework for monitoring and evaluating new and enhanced activities. The planning identified two broad categories of evaluation issues: the impact of child support guidelines and the new tax treatment, and the impact of the provincial implementation strategy. In 1998-1999 and 1999-2000, the province conducted a survey of maintenance enforcement clients to, in part, assess their awareness of and opinions about child support guidelines. It also published a review of its mediation services.
Quebec. In 1998-1999, Quebec created a follow-up committee to evaluate the family mediation program and another to look at the province’s model for determining child support. The committees are expected to assess whether the province’s legislative objectives have been met, as well as to evaluate the implementation of the guidelines and related services. The report of the follow-up committee and a second report outlining the steps to implement mediation were presented to the Minister of Justice in March 2000 and June 2001, respectively. The reports are available on the Internet (http://www.justice.gouv.qc.ca). In 1998-2000, the province allocated federal resources for research officers to provide the committees with technical support, including the development of data collection tools. The province also allocated funds for an international
survey of child support and support enforcement programs to obtain an informed portrait of recent developments and to look for new ways of improving its services.
Prince Edward Island. Prince Edward Island monitors court and alternative dispute resolution approaches and has designed an evaluation framework for pilot projects, which was the basis for evaluations of the information officer project and the parent education program.
Ontario. Ontario also developed an evaluation framework and established mechanisms to capture data relating to implementation and impact of the guidelines. In addition, it evaluated its auto-order pilot project, the focused assessment project and other family justice initiatives, while continuing to contribute to national research planning and development. The Family Responsibility Office completed all preliminary research and development work for a survey of its clients in 2000‑2001. This included an extensive review of client satisfaction surveys recently undertaken by federal and provincial governments, with a particular emphasis on the experience of maintenance enforcement programs in other jurisdictions.
Newfoundland. The province has evaluated, and continues to monitor, the parent education program and Support Application Social Worker services.
New Brunswick. New Brunswick collected divorce data to help design performance measures and evaluate projects.
Manitoba. Manitoba Justice has completed an evaluation of the parent education program and is pursuing evaluations of the co-mediation project and other initiatives.
British Columbia. The province allocated federal resources to support policy development tasks and activities such as new family court rules and collecting information and data to support evaluation and research. It has also pursued a development-implementation-evaluation strategy for a series of special projects and initiatives, including the child support clerk function, the Rule 5 Pilot (Triage) Project, and the mandatory parenting education project. The province has also commissioned research to assess the degree to which payor income and other factors influenced child support amounts that were established by orders before the guidelines were introduced.
Alberta. Alberta evaluated its Parenting After Separation seminars through the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family. An evaluation of the Family Law Information Centres (formerly the Court of Queen’s Bench Child Support Centres) was carried out by Praxis Consulting. The province has been conducting a general review of family law, including child custody and access issues. In the course of the consultations on family law reform (PAA 2), Albertans will have an opportunity to comment on the province’s proposal to formally legislate use of the child support guidelines for matters under provincial jurisdiction.
National Survey of Child Support Awards
Given the change in approach to determining child support amounts introduced by the child support guidelines, federal and provincial officials agreed that information about support orders and variation orders made on or after May 1, 1997, was a priority for any national research strategy. As there is no national statistical mechanism that generates this kind of data, the national Survey of Child Support Awards was undertaken to get some early indications about the implementation of the guidelines, and to provide for ongoing or periodic collection of information from the courts. Court staff at about 16 court locations in 11 provinces and territories collect the data. Federal funding helped cover the staff costs to gather and report on the original data.
In implementing child support guidelines, the federal, provincial and territorial governments worked to ensure that those affected by the changes would have every opportunity to obtain enough information to assess the implications of the changes on them. The following identifies the variety of communications and public information strategies that were undertaken with federal financial assistance.
Brochures and Printed Materials. All provinces and territories distributed printed materials (brochures, booklets and fact sheets) to inform separating and divorcing parents, the general public and family law professionals about the guidelines. The material, some of it published by the Department of Justice Canada and some by respective provinces or territories, was placed in court facilities, family service agencies, government offices, law offices, community agencies and other locations. Further, notices placed in newspapers and other print media or broadcast on radio directed interested people to telephone numbers and other sources for information and to obtain these materials. Quebec and Saskatchewan also mailed notices and brochures directly to all maintenance enforcement program clients, while Ontario mailed information to those enforcement clients receiving social assistance.
Self-help Variation Kits. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories produced and distributed self-help kits that were designed to help parents seeking a variation of an existing child support order.
Telephone Inquiry Lines. Many provinces and territories and the federal government established telephone information lines to provide affected parents with direct and ready access to general information and answers to specific questions. For example, Saskatchewan operated a toll-free line that provided general information about the guidelines and directed callers to services such as the lawyer referral line, education sessions and self-help kits. The other jurisdictions that allocated federal funding for the maintenance of telephone information lines were Alberta, Yukon, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Many provinces and territories maintained their telephone information services, but decreased the resources devoted to them as demand fell.
Web Sites. A number of provinces and territories maintain Web sites where people can obtain general information about guidelines, forms, reports, legislation and other information. British Columbia, Quebec and the Northwest Territories used federal resources to help pay for the design and launch of their Internet information service.
Videos. Several jurisdictions produced videos to augment their public awareness campaigns. For example, in 1997 Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General produced a 55‑minute, broadcast‑quality video on court processes and alternative dispute resolution in both child support and custody and access cases. The video, entitled Separate Ways, is accompanied by a booklet and brochure. The package was designed as a self-study tool and an aid in public information presentations made by family law professionals. The production is now available in seven languages other than English and French, and sign language and open-captioned French and English versions have also been released.
Information sessions. Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Newfoundland used public meetings as vehicles for disseminating information to the general public or specific groups. Saskatchewan ran a series of eight sessions around the province to help get information to community groups and services whose clients included separated and divorced parents, while Ontario and New Brunswick developed programs for public information sessions that were delivered by members of the family law bar. In Newfoundland, the provincial public legal information organization, in cooperation with the provincial Department of Justice, organized a series of public presentations.
Partnerships With Public Legal Education and Information (PLEI) Organizations. Newfoundland was not the only jurisdiction to develop and deliver public information services in collaboration with a PLEI organization. Yukon, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia also relied on PLEI groups to develop and deliver products and services as part of their communication and public information strategies.
Several provincial and territorial maintenance enforcement programs have allocated federal funding to support communications and public information activities designed to increase general knowledge about their activities and improve levels of client satisfaction. In addition to producing print material and maintaining Web sites and interactive telephone services, the programs have employed some more proactive strategies.
Alberta. The program has assigned staff to prepare individualized responses to correspondence directed to the program or members of the Legislative Assembly.
Quebec. Revenue Québec’s communications and education campaign used presentations at workshops, conferences and similar events to deliver information to lawyers, the judiciary, notaries, mediators, counsellors, community organizations and the general public. In the course of carrying out the campaign, staff prepared inventories of concerned professional and community organizations in each judicial region of the province.
Saskatchewan. In 1997-1998, the Maintenance Enforcement Office delivered two-hour information sessions in eight centres, followed by opportunities for clients to meet privately with a maintenance enforcement officer. In the individual sessions, which proved very successful, the officers dealt with specific cases as well as general issues. The group and individual sessions were advertised in newspapers and cheque mail-outs.
Ontario. In 2000-2001, the Family Responsibility Office improved its outreach and client information services. Among other things, it reviewed all its print and electronic materials to ensure they were written in plain language, prepared letters, forms and public information materials in eight languages. The agency planned public information and outreach sessions similar to the series offered in Saskatchewan.
Nova Scotia. In 1998-1999, the province produced a video describing three aspects of the Maintenance Enforcement Program: enrolment, payment processing and enforcement. The video was distributed to courts, transition houses, non-custodial parents’ groups, professional associations, public legal education information sources and others.
Northwest Territories. In 2000-2001, the territorial program planned to develop public awareness activities that would reinforce positive behaviour and serve as incentives to parents who have been “good payors.”
British Columbia. In addition to its other activities, the province’s enforcement program produced a style guide, developed principles and business rules for communications and trained staff in their use.
All of the provinces and territories have designed and delivered training on child support guidelines and related matters for court and departmental staff, judges, family lawyers and others involved in the delivery of family law services. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Yukon each developed training projects or strategies that were supported by federal resources. British Columbia, for example, held a series of two-day, team-led workshops covering the guidelines, their application and the resulting operational changes. Nova Scotia, on the other hand, adopted a combination of direct and train-the-trainer approaches for court, maintenance enforcement, social services and public legal information staff. Training opportunities for family lawyers were often organized by continuing legal education groups and bar associations with substantive and funding assistance
from the federal and provincial governments. In addition to general training and orientation, a variety of specialized training events were organized. The Atlantic provinces, for example, jointly sponsored a symposium on the guidelines for lawyers, judges, mediators and accountants in September 1999.
Earlier training (1997-1999) focussed on the Divorce Act reforms and tax changes, but more recent efforts have tended to concentrate on training for court and departmental staff in relation to court rules changes, provincial legislative reforms and information system enhancements. There are, however, ongoing efforts to support other professionals. For example, the Yukon Department of Justice issues periodic information bulletins for family law professionals and service providers about new procedures and developments, as well as delivering training to its Court Services staff.