MEP Survey of 2006

Survey released June 1, 2007

In June 2006, MEP conducted a client survey of both creditors and debtors. Over 7,400 clients responded to the survey, which far exceeded the MEP expectation of 4,000 replies.

An analysis of the client survey data has now been completed.
MEP Client Survey 2006

Alberta's Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) is authorized by the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Act to ensure that individuals meet their obligations to pay spousal and child support under the terms of their court orders and certain agreements. Once an order or agreement has been registered with MEP, maintenance payments that the debtor (payor) would normally remit directly to the creditor (recipient) are sent to MEP. MEP then forwards the payment to the creditor once the funds have cleared through a trust account.

In cases of default (non-payment) by the debtor, MEP has the legislative authority to take steps to enforce the support owed. These enforcement tools include registration at Land Titles and the Personal Property Registry, wage, non-wage and federal support deduction notices, federal licence (passport) denials, and motor vehicle restrictions and driver's licence cancellations. MEP also has access to a variety of databases to assist in locating a debtor or a debtor's assets or income.

There are approximately 100,000 creditors and debtors and more than 64,000 children registered with MEP.

The Federal Child Support Guidelines are amended as of April 1, 2007. The amendments relate to the Universal Child Care Benefit.
Questions and Answers about amendments to the Federal Child Support Guidelines related to the Universal Child Care Benefit.

Maintenance Enforcement Program - Lawyer's guide

The mission of the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) is to help families achieve compliance with maintenance orders. MEP enforces court-ordered maintenance in accordance with the Maintenance Enforcement Act.

MEP seeks the voluntary co-operation of all people involved in orders for maintenance and relies to a great extent on the collective participation of its partners: debtors, creditors, employers, financial institutions, other income sources and the family law bar. If you are a lawyer practicing family law, MEP hopes you will find the following information useful.

To all family law practitioners: The maintenance enforcement clause that is required to be included in all support orders is being changed. The new clause makes it clearer to parties that debtors have the option of initiating registration with the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) and that one party must in fact register before enforcement will commence. Although the change will not officially come into effect until regulatory changes are made in early 2007, the courts will be accepting orders containing the new clause starting immediately. Please ensure you update all of your precedents with the following new clause:

The amounts owing under this Order shall be paid to the Director of Maintenance Enforcement (MEP) at 7th Floor North, 10365-97 Street, Edmonton, Alberta T5J 3W7, 780-422-5555 and shall be enforced by MEP upon the creditor (recipient of support) or debtor (payer of support) registering with MEP. Such enforcement shall continue until the party who registered gives MEP a notice in writing withdrawing the registration pursuant to Section 9 of the Maintenance Enforcement Act.

Four ways to even the scales

  1. Problem: There is currently no system to rectify a decrease in income other than to take it back to court. When the payment is causing a serious financial burden on the debtor, it is unrealistic to then ask him or her to pay a lawyer to return to court and apply for a variance on the support order to reflect current income.
    • Solution: The automatic recalculation process now used in Newfoundland and Labrador is a new type of support order, which must be consensual to both parties. The debtor must submit yearly tax returns to a recalculation officer. If the income varies more than $5 up or down, the amount of support is automatically calculated and adjusted without anyone having to go to court.
  2. Problem: Global [ambiguous] court orders. In a file involving two or more children, in which the support amount in the court order is not specific as to how much exactly per child should be paid (e.g.: °$200 for John, $200 for Mary, as opposed to the ambiguous $400 for the children, John and Mary), the program considers these to be global.The full amount for all children will then be enforced until the youngest child finally becomes ineligible. Under the current system, theoretically, with two children 18 years apart, you could actually be paying child support to an ex-spouse for a 40-year-old who may not have even seen her mother for 20 years.
    • Solution: Check the lawyer's guide for information and samples for divorce attorneys.
  3. Problem: Adult child of the marriage. If you have separated from a common-law spouse, the terms of your support order will fall under provincial legislation; the end of child support is taken to be on the birthdate of the age of majority. If, however, you were married, the terms of your support order fall under the Canada Divorce Act which, in effect, means support must be paid until the adult child has quit school or attained a post secondary degree, unless otherwise stated. This has proven to be a huge calamity for establishing eligibility when the adult child is jumping around, moving in and out, quitting school and going back.
    • Solution: This policy smacks of discrimination. Divorced, non-custodial parents are the only group of people in Canada forced by law to pay for the education of a person who is old enough to run for political office. Everyone wants their children to go to university, but not everyone can afford it. No one should be forced to pay child support for an adult unless that adult child is disabled.
  4. Problem: Federal child-support guidelines were brought in to establish a standard across the country. Studies examined the costs of raising children and then these figures were inexplicably inflated. Furthermore, while the guidelines are already high, many judges use them as merely a starting point; extra expenses for children can go through the roof. And when an unfair court order is handed down, other judges are then reluctant to change it unless a serious change in circumstances has occurred.
    • Solution: Child support should be based on the actual cost of raising children. The state of Georgia, for example, has recently instituted a formula for calculating actual costs and taking into consideration the income and ability to pay of both parents, to be shared by both parents in a fair and equitable arrangement.

The great divorce cure - not exactly rocket science

ECMAS (Equitable Child Maintenance and Access Society) has always advocated that the assumption of shared parenting be built into the divorce act. Currently, sole custody is assumed and any variation must be established in court at great expense to both sides. In a 1997 study on Child Custody Policies and Divorce Rates, the Children's Rights Council in Washington, D.C., found that states which obtained high levels of joint physical custody awards in 1989 and 1990 showed significantly greater declines in divorce rates in the following five years, compared with other states. Divorce rates declined nearly four times faster in states with high joint physical custody (known in Canada as shared custody), compared with states where shared custody is rare. As a result, the states with high levels of shared custody now have significantly lower divorce rates on average than other states. States that favoured sole custody, on the other hand, also had more divorces involving children.

These findings indicate that public policies promoting sole custody may be contributing to the high divorce rate, researchers concluded. High levels of child support associated with sole custody may encourage divorce, because custody of children represents an asset for the custodial parent to the extent that child support payments exceed the cost of raising a child (Muhtaseb, 1995).

Correlation between shared custody and lower divorce rates?

A 1995 National Centre for Health Statistics report gives data on custody awards for 19 participating states for the years 1989 and 1990. If one investigates the simple question, 'who initiates divorce?' researchers note, we find that from 1975 to 1988, in families with children present, wives file for divorce in approximately 2/3 of the cases each year. The reason is simple indeed. If women can anticipate a clear gender bias in the courts regarding custody, they can expect to be the primary residential parent for the children. If they can anticipate enforcement of financial child support by the courts, they can expect a high probability of support monies without the need to account for their expenditures. Clearly they can also anticipate maintaining the marital residence, receiving half of all marital property and gaining total freedom to establish new social relationships.

States that favour sole custody in divorce may thus expect to see more divorces than states that encourage shared custody. On a practical level, shared custody makes it less likely that a parent can move to another city to eliminate interaction with the other parent. Because both parents provide for the child directly, child-support payments may be somewhat lower with shared custody, reducing financial motives for divorce. Perhaps most significantly, shared custody also removes the capacity for one spouse to hurt the other by denying participation in raising the children.

The correlation between shared custody and reduced divorce may have a simple explanation,they conclude. If a parent considering a divorce is told by an attorney that a judge will probably not permit him or her to relocate with the children, and that the other parent will continue to be involved, he or she may decide that it is easier to work out problems and remain married.