Federal Funding of Provincial and Territorial Child Support, Support Enforcement and Child Custody and Access Projects

ALBERTA

PAA 1: PROJECT COORDINATION

Implementation Planning

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To develop provincial implementation strategies and participate in national planning and coordination activities related to child support guidelines and maintenance enforcement.
Description
Alberta Justice is a full participant in federal-provincial-territorial planning and consultations. Since 1997-1998, the Department of Justice Canada has funded Alberta's participation in work on federal-provincial-territorial family law issues and has hired a consultant to manage projects.

PAA 2: FEDERAL-PROVINCIAL-TERRITORIAL CONSULTATIONS ON FAMILY LAW

National Consultations on Custody, Access and Child Support

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To prepare for public and stakeholder consultations on a range of family law issues, particularly child custody and access.
Description
Alberta Justice hired a consultant to design consultation sessions that were held in Calgary on June 20, 2001, and Edmonton on June 21, 2001. Policy discussion documents were also prepared.

PAA 3: FAMILY JUSTICE ENHANCEMENTS AND INNOVATIONS Family Law Branch

Duration
1997-1999
Goal
To respond to workload increases resulting from the introduction of the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
Description
The Family Law Branch of Alberta Justice assigned a lawyer to monitor procedural and substantive developments associated with the Guidelines. The lawyer was required to recommend policy and procedural changes, act as a resource to litigation counsel, and be responsible for continuing education of legal and other personnel. The Branch also assigned two lawyers to work part time with the courts, the Maintenance Enforcement Program and Alberta Children's Services (formerly the Department of Family and Social Services) to develop new policies, protocols and forms.

Family Maintenance Program

Duration
1997-1999
Goal
To help individuals seeking support for dependent children through maintenance agreements or court orders.
Description
The implementation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines resulted in increased requests to the Family Maintenance Program for review of variations and existing court orders and for information about those procedures. The province allocated federal funds to the program to help it meet these demands.

Parenting After Separation Seminars

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To encourage parents to consider the needs of their children and to promote the use of mediation to settle differences.
Description
The program began as an Edmonton-based pilot project in 1996-1997, delivered by Alberta Children's Services in cooperation with Alberta Justice. In April 2000, the Court Services Division of Alberta Justice assumed full responsibility for the program, which is now delivered by local agencies in nine communities throughout the province, with plans to expand to four additional centres. It features a six-hour seminar presented in two three-hour segments designed to give parents a better understanding of the effects of family break-up on their children and of ways to minimize negative impacts. The session also provides information about alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, child support and child support guidelines. In areas in which a live seminar is not available, parents may view a two-hour video that highlights the concepts covered in the full seminar. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has directed that attendance at a Parenting After Separation seminar is mandatory for separating and divorcing parents, with limited exemptions.[13] In 2000-2001, the Legal Education Society of Alberta coordinated the production of a new video for the seminars. Alberta Justice supported the development and production of the video with federal funding. Other funding organizations also supported the project.

Family Law Information Centres

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To make information available to the public and help the judiciary process the increased volume of documentation.
Description
Since 1997-1998, Alberta has used federal funds to help maintain the Family Law Information Centres (formerly called Queen's Bench Child Support Centres) in Edmonton and Calgary. The Centres, operated by the Court Services Division and staffed by lawyers, judicial clerks and information officers, originally focussed on child support matters, but were given a broader mandate in July 2000. The Centres now provide information and materials about any family law court matter including child support, custody, access, spousal support, access enforcement, ex parte[14] restraining orders and emergency protection orders.

The clerks respond to information requests, inform people about the availability and advantages of out-of-court settlements, help unrepresented individuals identify and assemble the information required for applications, and refer people to legal and mediation services. The clerks also calculate child support amounts using ChildView software. The Centres' legal staff help judges process the increased volume of documentation related to child support applications, and carry out special projects such as reviewing court forms and standard documents to propose changes, as needed.

Provincial Child Support Guidelines

Duration
1997-1998
Goal
To determine whether to amend provincial legislation, regulations and court rules to implement child support guidelines and to make the legislative, program and administrative changes resulting from any such amendments.
Description
The province reviewed all its policies to help determine whether it should adopt the Federal Child Support Guidelines in provincial legislation. Amendments were made to the Domestic Relations Act to facilitate the future use of child support guidelines, but they have not been proclaimed. Alberta's decision on whether to adopt guidelines will be made in the context of its wide-reaching family law review process, which will result in a new general family law for the province.

PAA 4: ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION MECHANISMS TO DETERMINE, VARY OR RECALCULATE CHILD SUPPORT

Mediation Services

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To provide mediation services to parents so they can deal effectively with matters that affect their children.
Description
The Court Services Division of Alberta Justice manages Family Mediation Services. It helps parents referred by the Family Law Information Centres, through Parenting After Separation seminars, and by the courts and family law practitioners. Participation is voluntary, and the province estimates that approximately 1,200 couples take advantage of mediation services each year. The majority of cases proceed to joint mediation, while only a small proportion are screened out as unsuited for mediation. During 2000-2001, full agreements were achieved in 61.1 percent of the 1,033 cases that proceeded to joint mediation, and partial agreements were the result in 19.7 percent of cases.

PAA 5: SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES

FOAEA Enhancements

Duration
1997-1999
Goal
To develop a system to access the federal Family Orders and Agreement Enforcement Assistance (FOAEA) Program services.
Description
The Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program invested in hardware, software and consulting services to adapt a mainframe and a client-server system to facilitate tracing, interception and licence denial, and to produce monthly management reports. During the first phase of this work, the program used an Internet application but later implemented a fully automated file transfer protocol procedure.

Lock-box and Quick-collect Service

Duration
1997-1998
Goal
To support enforcement mechanisms, client services, debtor payment methods and posting of funds.
Description
The Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program established a "lock-box" service with a financial institution. Under the arrangements, the financial institution receives mailed receipts and reports to the Program electronically. The procedure was designed to allow for automatic posting. The Program also established a "quick-collect" service with Western Union to allow debtors in any country to make confidential payments.

Skip Tracing Pilot Project

Duration
1997-1998
Goal
To increase collections by locating delinquent debtors.
Description
The program hired a consultant to study skip-tracing techniques with a view to undertaking and evaluating a pilot project that would contract with private skip-tracers to locate debtors.

Integrated Voice Response Telephone System Maintenance Enforcement Program Accounts Online

Duration
1998-2000
Goal
To provide uninterrupted information and account status reports for clients of the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program.
Description
The Maintenance Enforcement Program's call distribution centre, operating five days a week during business hours, was receiving approximately 20,000 calls per month. Despite increased staff levels, the service was unable to meet the demand, resulting in numerous complaints and recommendations for improvements from a legislative committee. In 1998-1999, Alberta identified an Integrated Voice Response Telephone System that allows automated access to information about account status, balances and payments, as well as general information, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The system frees staff time, while providing clients with more timely and efficient information services.
Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To provide uninterrupted information and account status reports for clients of the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program.
Description
The Maintenance Enforcement Program invested in the development of online information resources. Since September 2000, maintenance enforcement clients have also been able to obtain account information via the Internet (http://www.gov.ab.ca/just/mep/contact.htm). The MEP Accounts Online project is the first of its kind in Canada. It allows both creditors and debtors to access current account status (the last four payments), request a statement, report their change of address, and send an e-mail inquiry or comment. The system complements existing services provided by collection officers and the Integrated Voice Response Telephone System. The application ensures that the privacy of personal information is respected.

Special Investigations Unit

Duration
1998-2001
Goal
To improve collections in difficult cases.
Description
As a result of program reviews conducted in 1997 and 1998, Alberta set up a special investigations unit. The unit, which has been operating since November 1999, seeks and executes third-party judgments, and performs collections audits for the Maintenance Enforcement Program. Alberta reports that the Unit produces excellent overall results.

Training

Duration
1997-2000
Goal
To support improved client services through timely and effective training.
Description
In 1997-1998, the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program focussed resources on training for maintenance enforcement staff dealing with the implementation of Federal Child Support Guidelines and enhanced enforcement measures. It also published a newsletter to keep Program staff informed of procedural and policy changes as they were planned and implemented. In the following fiscal year, the province's training focussed on reinforcing and deepening staff understanding of the Guidelines. In 1999-2000, Alberta hired a senior program advisor to design and manage enhanced training for enforcement personnel, and to support the exploration and development of innovative approaches.

Maintenance Information Management System

Duration
1999-2001
Goal
To upgrade the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program's information management system to meet current and anticipated volume and data requirements.
Description
Alberta hired systems consultants to conduct preliminary needs assessments and a business analysis prior to the design, development and implementation of a replacement for the Maintenance Enforcement Tracking System. This 15-year-old system does not meet the program's current business needs. The first stage of work was completed in May 2000. It involved a business process review, which included an assessment of system interfaces with external agencies such as the federal government, with the goal of improving both the work processes and reports. The design, construction and testing stages of the project are scheduled to be completed and the new system implemented in 2004.

Default Hearings

Duration
2000-2001
Goal
To improve collections on behalf of creditors.
Description
The Maintenance Enforcement Act allows Alberta's Maintenance Enforcement Program to serve a summons on a defaulting debtor requiring him or her to appear before the court to:
  • explain to the court why the maintenance order should not be enforced;
  • be examined under oath about his or her finances; and
  • show why he or she should not be sent to prison for wilfully defaulting on maintenance payments.
Default hearings are held before a Master of the Court of Queen's Bench, who has the power to issue court orders when other collection efforts have failed and Program authorities believe that the debtor has the ability to pay but has wilfully not done so. When possible, a senior collection officer meets with the debtor before the start of a hearing to try to negotiate a reasonable payment plan so that the full hearing will not be necessary. In a hearing, the Maintenance Enforcement Program is represented by its legal counsel who, along with the Master, may examine the debtor under oath.

National Maintenance Enforcement Survey

Duration
1999-2001
Goal
To design and implement system modifications to produce the data tables for the National Maintenance Enforcement Survey.
Description
The Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program contracted for a data analysis to map its information system to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics data requirements and to develop the code required to extract the data. The project will allow Alberta to produce the 16 tables required for the National Maintenance Enforcement Survey.

PAA 7: POLICY, RESEARCH AND EVALUATION

Monitoring and Research

Duration
1997-2001
Goal
To monitor and evaluate the effects of the implementation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
Description
In 1997-1998, Alberta Justice hired a research officer to work with the Department of Justice Canada on the national Survey of Child Support Awards to modify the collection instrument and coding manual, train the data collectors for the courts in Edmonton and Calgary, and develop audit procedures to ensure data quality. The 1998-1999 federal monies supported the design of Alberta's research program, which complements the federal Child Support Research Framework. In the last quarter of the year, the province also began evaluating the Parenting After Separation seminars, contracting with the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family to develop the data collection instruments and procedures, determine the sampling methodology and administer questionnaires. The second phase of work, including follow-up interviews, data analysis, and preparation of reports, was completed in 1999-2000.[15] In addition to the Parenting After Separation seminar evaluations, the 1999-2000 work included an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Family Law Information Centres (formerly the Court of Queen's Bench Child Support Centres).[16] The province also pursued a variety of policy-related studies, including examinations of child custody and access issues, and public consultations about whether Alberta should adopt the Federal Child Support Guidelines or develop a unique regime for dealing with matters within provincial jurisdiction.

Monitoring (Enforcement)

Duration
1998-1999
Goal
To assess the impact of the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
Description
The Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program modified its management information and reporting systems so that it would be able to monitor the impact of the Federal Child Support Guidelines.

PAA 8: PUBLIC AWARENESS AND PROFESSIONNAL TRAINING Communications and Public Information (Enforcement)

Duration
1997-2000
Goal
To inform creditors, debtors, lawyers, judges, elected officials, program staff and the general public about the child support guidelines and the Maintenance Enforcement Program.
Description
The Maintenance Enforcement Program delivers general information, as well as information targeted to groups, such as clients and family law professionals, using print materials, call centre services, the Internet and mail-outs. In 1999-2000, federal resources were allocated to producing information sheets that are available on request through the Integrated Voice Response Telephone System, drafting individual responses to correspondence directed to the Maintenance Enforcement Program or members of the Legislative Assembly, and carrying out related public legal information activities.

For more information about Alberta's services and programs, contact:

Mr. Al Anderson
Project Manager
Child-centred Family Justice Initiatives
Alberta Department of Justice
Bowker Building, 4th Floor
9833–109 Street
Edmonton, Alberta
T5K 2E8
Telephone: (780) 422-7111

Mr. Manuel de Costa
Director
Maintenance Enforcement Program
Alberta Department of Justice
10365–97 Street, Box 2404
Edmonton, Alberta
T5J 3Z7
Telephone: (780) 422-7978

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