Family Responsibility Office

How the FRO (Family Responsibility Office) enforces child and spousal support

Separations are difficult for all parties. With emotions running high, and logical decision-making often taking a back seat, it is sometimes necessary to use the courts and legal proceedings to settle some of the less pleasant aspects of these disputes. One of the most contentious issues in separations is the payment of child and spousal support, especially when one party is reluctant or even refusing to pay.

The Family Responsibility Office (FRO), part of Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services, is designed to handle exactly these scenarios. The primary responsibility of the FRO is to collect and distribute child and spousal support services on behalf of the recipient and court mandates. The FRO acts as record keepers, legal barriers and payment enforcers when necessary.

Where a payor is not paying their support, there are several methods through which the FRO can step in and enforce payment.

How the FRO works, and when do they step in?

The FRO is often misunderstood as being a mechanism of last resort, but they are there to support the payment process as a whole. They provide several methods of payment, assistance where and when possible, and enforcement when it is needed. In fact, enforcement is the last in a litany of methods the FRO will use with non-compliance. For the most part, the FRO is in place to act as a facilitator of payments, and as a record keeper should any issues arise in the future.

Following a court order for spousal or child support payments, the FRO will be notified automatically and will contact both you and your former partner with a welcome package, which will need to be completed and signed by both parties and include all relevant documentation such as separation agreements etc. 

If you do not want the FRO to manage the collection and support of payments, you can withdraw your case and handle things privately. This often occurs when separations have been amicable and both parties do not expect any issues to arise. The FRO may take some time in setting up collections and payments, in some cases it may be easier to make arrangements privately. However, both parties must agree in writing to withdraw the case from the FRO.

How the FRO collects payments

The primary method of support payments, and the one the FRO is most commonly known for, is the collection of payments from your former partner’s salary, which is also known as a garnishment. The FRO will contact your former partner’s employer and deduct support payments from their paycheck. This will be deposited with the FRO and then forwarded on to your account.

Initial payments may be slow, but once set-up and provided that there are no issues causing delay, payments should be made and expected regularly.

What if your former partner is self-employed, has irregular work or is unemployed

In the case that your former partner is self-employed, unemployed or does not have a steady job, they must arrange to make payments directly with the FRO. Payments can be made by:

  • Pre-authorized payment from their bank account.
  • Paying online by adding the FRO as a payee
  • Writing a cheque or money order

Once payments have been lodged and registered with the FRO, this money will be forwarded to the recipient. 

How does the FRO enforce payments?

Should your former partner fail to make payments or miss their obligations, there are several methods that the FRO can use to enforce payments and continue to collect on your behalf. Some of these will require court authorization while others may not.

The methods used by the FRO include:

  • Withdrawing finances from your former partner’s bank account
  • Extracting finances from alternative sources such as government payments, tax refunds and other benefits etc.
  • Reporting your former partner to the credit bureau
  • Suspending their driver’s licence
  • Suspending their passport
  • Placing a lien on their property

Though extreme in some cases, the FRO’s primary responsibility is to collect and distribute finances on your behalf. The measures above, for the most part, act as a deterrent but are entirely enforceable when necessary.

Your responsibilities if paying through the FRO

If you are paying support throughthe FRO, it’s important to ensure all payments are sent to and registered withthe FRO. If you pay directly and this is not registered with the FRO, they are obligated to charge you $100 every time an amendment must be made to show new payments.

Payments to the FRO can be made directly or through automatic deductions. Until automatic deductions are arranged through your employer or other source, direct payments must be made to the FRO. This is to ensure that you are adhering to all court orders and arrangements.

What does the FRO need to enforce payments?

In the event that your former partner is unwilling to pay their support payments,the FRO can act, but only on the conditions that: 

  • A court order is in place; or,
  • A separation agreement that has been filed with the courts and registered with the FRO; or,
  • A notice of calculation or recalculation has been filed by the government.

The FRO outside of Ontario

The FRO is not limited to operating within the province of Ontario. Former partners who believe that they can escape their payment obligations simply by leaving the province are in for a rude awakening. The FRO can collect payment throughout Canada, within the United States and in over 30 countries in which the FRO has a reciprocal agreement.

If your former partner does attempt to flee in an effort to escape their legal obligations, the FRO does have the power to find them, and can challenge their decision given their location.

When is the FRO not useful?

The FRO is available to separated partners, but they are not required to use its services. For example, if you have an amicable relationship with your former partner and can come to a mutual agreement on payments and scheduling, the FRO has no interest in interrupting a healthy agreement. 

The FRO may also be undesirable because of delays. It can take some time for processing between filing paperwork and receiving payments, and this can create a financial hardship for parties. Choosing not to use the FRO is entirely your choice but one that should be considered appropriately.

Registering with the FRO and Final Thoughts

There are effectively two methods through which you can register with the FRO to enforce payments against a former partner: a court order, or a separation agreement. However, filing with the FRO is a final step in an already arduous separation process, and thus not a decision to be made lightly. 

Any of these processes involves a significant amount of paperwork, and warrants the time and attention of proper legal advice. At Pavey Law, our family law lawyers have dealt with almost every situation imaginable when it comes to support payments, and are well-familiar with the mechanics of the FRO. We work with clients throughout the Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo regions to ensure that they receive whatever they are owed by their former partner. Contact us today to set up a consultation.