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Toronto Star

Deadbeat parents get 'free ride'

Ontario lax in collecting cash: Ombud
$1.3B in child, spousal support unpaid

Toronto Star, August 10, 2006, KERRY GILLESPIE, QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU

more than $1.3 billion in child and spousal support remains unpaid because the provincial office responsible for collecting the money doesn't aggressively go after deadbeat parents, says ombudsman Andr Marin.

"Deadbeats in this province have been having a free ride," Marin said yesterday when he released the results of his investigation into the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).

"FRO is lackadaisical in its approach and too laid-back," Marin said.

Taxpayers have also been left on the hook for paying $200 million in social assistance to families left destitute by delinquent support payers, he said.

Marin's report, a scathing indictment of the practices of the Family Responsibility Office, focused on the case of a single father known as Mr. F. His ex-wife got away with pocketing $20,000 on the sale of her home despite being thousands of dollars in arrears on child support because the office put the wrong name on legal documents.

The office is so bad at enforcing support orders the government is at a crossroads, Marin said.

"Either we decide this is an enforcement agency and it's going to do its job in enforcing, or we should ask ourselves the question: Should we not privatize some aspects of the FRO?" he said. Marin said other options could include turning the job over to a private collection agency to ensure support is paid out.

The Family Responsibility Office was set up a decade ago to enforce court-ordered support payments. If someone doesn't pay, the office has sweeping powers including the ability to garnishee wages, suspend drivers' licences and seize proceeds from property sales.

But the office hasn't been aggressively using those powers to make sure the 185,000 families who depend on support payments get what they're supposed to, Marin said. And through "carelessness," the office has botched up cases, like Mr. F's, leaving families without badly needed money, he said.

"For the last decade (FRO) ... has been a money pit for the government and it has been the source of immense frustration by those receiving child-support payments so we need to fix this," Marin said.

Minister of Community and Social Services Madeleine Meilleur, who is responsible for the office, said the government is already on it.

"We have the same goal in mind, it's to help parents and children get the support they're entitled to," Meilleur said. The problems at the office have long been known and the Liberals have increased the budget, toughened up legislation, and are halfway through a four-year transformation plan, she said.

"We're not there yet, but we're aiming all the time at giving better services," she said.

That's not good enough, says Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory.

"From where I come from, if you had $1.3 billion in absolutely uncollected arrears of anything, whoever was in charge of that would lose their job," Tory said, adding Meilleur and her deputy minister should be sacked.

But a closer look at the numbers show most of the arrears were built up under the former Conservative government.

In 1996, when the office was created to replace another government agency, arrears were already at $1 billion. Over the years, they have climbed to today's figure of $1.3 billion.

The $1.3 billion may be an all-time high but it is still a sign of improvement when the number of new cases 1,200 to 1,400 each month are taken into account, Meilleur said.

For Mr. F, unpaid support payments meant he wasn't able to get braces for his teenage son. He said he warned the office his ex-wife was using a new name but they went ahead and issued a writ of seizure on the house in her old name. That meant the writ was legally useless.

"I find them the most inept, unprofessional, callous office in this government," he said.

The office has agreed to Marin's recommendation that it compensate Mr. F $2,400, which was what he would have received from the sale of the home if the office hadn't made a mistake on the name.

The office has also accepted Marin's other recommendations to change its policies to make sure what happened to Mr. F doesn't happen to others.

"Child support is the right of the child, belongs to the child and the means and tools available to enforce that right should be abundant and rigorously applied," Marin said.

with files from Robert Benzie

National Post

Ontario's child financial support collection agency has big problems

Ontario's Family Responsibility Office has many problems

Quote from Ontario Government Ombudsman -"an equal opportunity error-prone program,."'

Support recipients not getting their money.

Men who've been meeting their court-ordered obligations have trouble getting the FRO to stop taking payments when it's supposed to.   Read More ..

National Post logo

Pilloried, broke, alone

March 25, 2000

Divorced fathers get a bad rap for not supporting their children. The truth is, many can't. And, tragically, some are driven to desperate measures, including suicide.

In his suicide note, Jim, the father of four children, protests that "not all fathers are deadbeats." Jim hanged himself because he couldn't see any alternative. Even now, his children are unaware of the circumstances of their father's death. Meeno Meijer, National Post George Roulier is fighting to regain money wrongfully taken from his wages by the Ontario child-support collection agency. Chris Bolin, National Post Alan Heinz, a Toronto firefighter, has gone bankrupt fighting for the return of his daughter, 3, from Germany. No one will help him, but German authorities are trying to collect child support from him.

Whenever fathers and divorce are discussed, one image dominates: the 'deadbeat dad,' the schmuck who'd rather drive a sports car than support his kids. Because I write about family matters, I'm regularly inundated with phone calls, faxes, letters and e-mail from divorced men. It's not news that divorced individuals have little good to say about their ex-spouses. What I'm interested in is whether the system assists people during this difficult time in their lives, or compounds their misery. From the aircraft engineer in British Columbia, to the postal worker on the prairies, to the fire fighter in Toronto, divorced fathers' stories are of a piece: Though society stereotypes these men relentlessly, most divorced dads pay their child support. Among those who don't, a small percentage wilfully refuse to (the villains you always hear about).

What you haven't been told is that the other men in arrears are too impoverished to pay, have been ordered to pay unreasonable amounts, have been paying for unreasonable lengths of time, or are the victims of bureaucratic foul-ups. Read More ..

Calgary Sun newspaper logo

Non-dad on hook for support

Edmonton and Calgary Sun
Feb 5, 2005

EDMONTON -- An Edmonton judge has decided a divorced dad has to make child support payments, even though the child isn't his. Justin Sumner had an on-again-off-again relationship with the woman he eventually married, Dawn Sumner.

She already had a child from a previous relationship with a man named Rob Duncan, and as she and Justin broke up and reunited, Dawn was sexually involved with both men.

When she found she was pregnant, she called Justin, who recognized there was a possibility that Duncan was the father, but later concluded he was the dad.

Father Committeed Suicide after calling Family Responsibility Office

Andrew T. Renouf committed suicide on or about October 17, 1995 because he had 100% of his wages taken by the Family Responsibility Office, a child support collection agency of the Government of Ontario, Canada.

He asked for assistance for food and shelter from the welfare office and was refused because he had a job, even though all of his wages were taken by the Family Responsibility Office.

Andy was a loving father that hadn't seen his daughter in 4 years.

A memorial service was held in October, 1998, for Andy in front of the Family Responsibility Office at 1201 Wilson Avenue, West Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is in the Ministry of Transportation grounds in the Keele St. & Hwy 401 area. All members of the Ontario Legislature were invited by personal letter faxed to their offices. Not one turned up. The Director of the Family Responsibility Office and his entire staff were invited to the brief service. The Director refused and wouldn't let the staff attend the service although it was scheduled for lunch time. There was a peaceful demonstration by followed by a very touching service by The Reverend Alan Stewart. The text of the service will soon be able to be read below.

The service made the TV evening news.

It was Andy's last wish that his story be told to all. YOU CAN READ HIS SUICIDE NOTE

Auditor General Ontario

Auditor General of Ontario

Disasterous Report on the Family Reponsibility Office FRO 2010

80% of Telephone calls don't get answered

Payers and recipients do not have direct access to their assigned enforcement services officer

"There is only limited access to enforcement staff because many calls to the Office do not get through or are terminated before they can be answered."

"The Office is reviewing and working on only about 20% to 25% of its total cases in any given year."

"At the end of our audit in April 2010, there were approximately 91,000 bring-forward notes outstanding, each of which is supposed to trigger specific action on a case within one month. The status of almost one-third of the outstanding bring-forward notes was "open," indicating either that the notes had been read but not acted upon, or that they had not been read at all, meaning that the underlying nature and urgency of the issues that led to these notes in the first place was not known. In addition, many of the notes were between one and two years old."

"For ongoing cases, the Office took almost four months from the time the case went into arrears before taking its first enforcement action. For newly registered cases that went straight into arrears, the delay was seven months from the time the court order was issued."

Ottawa Citizen

Ontario agency admits to overbilling on child support payments

The Ottawa Citizen
January 14, 2012

TORONTO - Ontario's controversial Family Responsibility Office has been overbilling 1,700 parents, mostly fathers, for as long as 13 years, the province admitted Friday.

The 1,700 parents were overbilled by an average $75 each month, after the agency wrongly applied a cost of living adjustment that was eliminated in 1997.

Those who were overpaid will not be forced to give the money back.

Instead, taxpayers will foot the $5.3 million bill for the agency's mistake.

"This error's been found and it's being corrected," said Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy. "We're going to be reaching out to those individuals (who were overbilled) and talking to them about their situation, formally alerting them."

The Family Responsibility Office, or FRO, is responsible for ensuring court-ordered child support payments are made. Read More .. than 97 per cent of all payers overseen by the office are male.

Milloy said the agency discovered the problem at some point in 2011. No one will be fired for the mistakes, he added.

"I see this as something very serious," he said in an interview. "I'm not trying to minimize it, but … there's been lots of action taken to reform FRO, to update computer systems, to update customer relations and it's on a much firmer footing."

The billing mistake is only the latest controversy to engulf FRO.

Women's Post Newspaper

"Canada's national newspaper for professional women"

The Family Responsibility Office Under Scrutiny

On June 9, 2005 the McGuinty government announced the passage of Bill 155, legislation that promised to increase enforcement, improve fairness and enhance efficiency at the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).

However, the legislation did not address the problem of accountability and, as things now stand, the FRO is a threat to every Canadian affected by a government regulated support and custody arrangement system. Think of George Orwell's 1984 and you'll have a good picture of how issues are handled at the FRO.

They have legal power to extort money from Canadians, but are not responsible or accountable for their actions.

Last year an FRO staff member decided not to wait for a court date to review the financial status of an out-of-work truck driver and took it upon themselves to suspend his license because he was, understandably, behind on his payments, having lost his job earlier in the year. Although he was looking for work, the FRO cut off the only way he knew of to earn a living. His suicide note explained how he'd lost all hope. Is this what we want FRO to be doing?  Read More ..

Reader's Digest Canada

The Truth About Deadbeat Dads

Read More ..

The Women's Post

"Canada's National newspaper for professional women"

Does the FRO have a feminist perspective?

When families fall apart, they can make for the bitterest of enemies. The intensity of their hostility, the personal rhetoric, the posturing and positioning, and the utter faithlessness of remembrance in the relationship's good deeds and consequences is a breathtaking phenomenon. It's as if the positive qualities and countless achievements are struck from history as a revisionist might strike the Holocaust. Into all of this the family court system wades, often inelegantly. Divorce lawyers drive up the emotional and financial toll of separation and transformation. Family and friends frequently collude to make things worse.

And when government decides to rear its head, well, it's a mess for all the world to see. Witness the recent attention on Ontario's euphemistically branded Family Responsibility Office. A job in advertising doubtlessly greeted the person who came up with its title, because it suggests some sort of feel-good missionary work to hold together the sanctity of the institution.   Read More ..

Calgary Sun

Ruling a big red flag for men

Calgary Sun,
February 5, 2005

If men knew more about family law, they'd run screaming from single mothers prowling for relationships and father figures for their children.

Any lawyer will tell you that the nature of your relationship with a child - not biology - determines whether you're on the hook for child support.

Sperm has nothing to do with it, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a few years ago. Read More ..