Deadbeats owe millions to their kids

Published on March 21, 2016

Tell us something we don’t know. It’s the common reaction this week from many parents to the news that millions of dollars in child support payments are in arrears across Prince Edward Island.

The amount owed by spouses – the majority of which fall under the well-known category of deadbeat dads and moms – is a staggering $10.9 million in this small province. The alarming details are contained in the annual report of P.E.I. Auditor General Jane MacAdam.

Child support is ordered by the courts to ensure the well-being of children. The obvious conclusion is that many Island children are suffering or are in need because of this worrisome situation.

The auditor general reveals another disturbing fact - the organization responsible for enforcement is not doing everything it could to ensure children receive their support.

Lack of enforcement is a good reason why arrears are so high. If a spouse is reasonably certain nothing will happen, why pay up?

If a single parent or a grandparent entrusted with the care of a child doesn’t get support, they may need to turn to other government assistance programs. So it makes sense for government to enforce child support payments.

More resources must be dedicated to the Maintenance Enforcement Program, which is responsible for enforcing payments to spouses and children.

The statistics supplied by Ms. MacAdam are staggering. The office processes over $7 million in court-ordered payments every year and 96 per cent of these cases are for child support. The $10.9 million in payments are not being made represents 70 per cent of the total case files.

The five people working on these files are obviously swamped but also lack clear direction from their own department. There are no written guidelines on how to deal with parents in arrears; thus there are inconsistencies in the way orders are enforced. It’s hit and miss how various methods available to force payments are used – if at all.

Enforcement officers have wide-ranging powers. They can seek to cancel driver’s licences, garnish bank balances and wages, place liens on properties; or garnish income tax refunds, employment insurance payments and tax rebates. They can also report people to credit agencies.

These are significant measures. Just a threat of enforcement should guarantee most payments are made.

Ms. MacAdam notes that officers tend to act independently on what actions to take, or make adjustments to payment orders and balances. Since their work is rarely reviewed, errors and inadequate enforcement can go undetected.

The auditor general made eight recommendations which government should take immediate action on.

Refusing to pay child supports often results in increased anger and tension in family situations, and must have a negative impact on the child’s emotional well being. It’s draining for the single parent.

It’s a sad commentary that some parents won’t ensure that his or her child is properly looked after. The concern expressed by the auditor general should extend to all Islanders, especially government.