The Law Society of Alberta released a statement regarding the Maintenance Enforcement Program and the impact that Covid-19 may have on payors of child support.
The Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) recognizes COVID-19 may impact a payor’s ability to meet their court ordered child support obligations. Similarly, it is recognized recipients are also impacted by COVID-19, and still have monthly obligations for the child(ren). Therefore, payors making no payment is not an option.
To assist payors, the MEP will offer a temporary payment arrangement for less than the ordered amount or a temporary decrease in their current payment arrangement. This applies to payors contacting MEP looking for assistance during the pandemic due to loss of income as a result of COVID-19 diagnosis, self-isolation, loss of job (or reduced hours) or impact of childcare/school closure. Assistance to these payors will be temporary, and it is the responsibility of these payors to keep in touch with MEP month-to-month.
If you have payor clients that are impacted by COVID-19, it is important they contact their MEP Case Officer for assistance as soon as they know they will need it. The Government of Alberta website directs payors of child support to speak to their MEP caseworker directly. The Government of Alberta has stated in their news releases: COVID-19 impacts both you and the payment receiver – so missing payments is not an option. Instead, MEP will work with you to set up a temporary payment plan. You will need to show your loss of income.
You and your case officer can work out a temporary payment plan:
· for a lesser amount
· that is month-to-month
· only in effect during the pandemic
The temporary payment plan helps you prevent:
· interest charges
· penalties and enforcement
In Jumale v Muhamed, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice states that the Covid-19 pandemic could provide reasonable grounds to temporarily reduce child support obligations but that there needs to be evidence of how Covid-19 has impacted the payor’s circumstances:
“In general, the lay off of an employed person due to COVID 19 closures and that person's receipt of Employment Insurance could well provide a compelling reason to temporarily reduce child support obligations. The respondent is not that person. His income has not gone down or been discontinued on account of COVID 19. Given his area of work as an IT Consultant it cannot simply be presumed that he has been and is unable to obtain any contract work now" (Jumale v. Mahamed (2020) ONSC 2091, 2020 CarswellOnt 4537).
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has lent consideration in its analysis of cases for payors who have demonstrated their inability to retain or gain employment during the pandemic. In Norris v Morocco, the payor was unemployed in November 2018 and, because of his unique skill set and training, struggled to gain employment in his field. The court determined that the recipient’s application to increase the payor’s imputed income from $30,000 to $55,000 was not appropriate in light of the payor’s involuntary loss of income and the Covid-19 emergency. The court writes:
“I am prepared to accept child support based on $30,000.00 per year considering the father involuntarily lost his employment and the current state of affairs (Covid-19). The father should be entitled to a further grace period and an imputed income of $30,000.00 appears to be reasonable considering the father's circumstances” (Norris v Morocco (2020) ONSC 2420, 2020 CarswellOnt 5361).
This decision was also based on the fact that the Applicant mother, the recipient of child support, was unable to provide any evidence or reasoning as to why the father would be able to make $55,000 in his current circumstances.
When assessing child support during Covid-19, it may be worth considering the additional financial benefits available to families during this time. Such benefits include Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) which provides $2,000 every 4 weeks for up to 16 weeks to eligible workers who have lost their income due to COVID-19. Another program that may affect discussion around child support is the Canada Child Benefit which may provide up to an extra $300 per child during Covid-19. The increase in CCB started in May 2020.
The Maintenance Enforcement Program, through their notices to the public and announcements on the Alberta Government website, provide a step-by-step process for individuals looking to temporarily reduce their child support payments. The ease and availability of such information points towards the payor having a positive obligation to mitigate the situation by actively taking steps to arrange a temporary child support plan with their MEP caseworkers.
Based on MEP and the Law Society of Alberta’s notices, as well as the most recent caselaw on the issue, it appears that courts are willing to provide relief to payer’s who are unable to maintain their current child support obligations. However, there does appear to be a positive obligation on the payor of child support to demonstrate why relief is appropriate in their circumstances.
To learn more about your rights and obligations concerning child support, please contact us today for a free consultation with our experienced family lawyers on your matter by calling our office at 587-392-7970 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by clicking on our consultation page.