Ideally, the partners hold discussions and agree on the amount of support to be paid using the various calculators and guidelines available— but that’s not always the case.
So, what do you do if you and your spouse or partner can’t agree on the amount of child support or alimony?
Family law in Alberta is designed to help resolve these matters without conflict, without legal action and, most importantly, in the best interests of the children. Accordingly, there are several options for parents who cannot agree on support issues, and these are outlined below.
The Parenting After Separation program
The Parenting After Separation program is a free, six-hour seminar available for separated parents who live near a judicial center in Alberta.
The seminar aims to help parents work together in the best interests of their children’s health, as well as their social, educational and emotional needs. It provides information about the following key matters:
- The separation and divorce process
- The effects of separation and divorce on children
- Techniques for communication between parents
The program also encourages parents to attend mediation or to consider alternative dispute resolution methods instead of litigation. Attendance at the program is voluntary, but you may be required to show evidence that you attended if you subsequently file an application with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta.
Besides the aim of relieving pressure on the family court system in Alberta, it is considered beneficial for the long-term relationship between the parents and their children if they can resolve support matters without the intervention of a judge.
Mediation after separation
Another option for parents who cannot agree on the amount of support to be paid is to attend mediation sessions.
Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process that provides an opportunity for parents to meet in a non-threatening environment with a neutral mediator.
Unlike the Parenting After Separation program, mediation sessions may involve payment of a fee. Both parents must agree to the mediation and the responsibility for payment of any fees must be decided between the parents beforehand.
However, if the parents have at least one dependent child under the age of 18 and one or both parties have an income of less than $40,000 per year, they can access Family Mediation Services for free in Alberta.
During mediation, the parties are encouraged to communicate, negotiate and cooperate to resolve their child support, alimony or parenting disputes without the involvement of the courts.
The mediator will help to define the outstanding issues that require a resolution and facilitate cordial discussions. Importantly, any decisions are made by the parents — not the mediator — and if no decision is reached or only partial agreement is possible, the parents will be informed of their options by the mediator.
Mediation can greatly aid the communication between parents, which often breaks down during the separation process. It is more private and provides more flexibility than taking the matter to court, too. Mediation also maintains control for the parents so that they can decide what’s best for the children — not a family law judge.
Often, too, mediated agreements work well for both parents and the children, which makes compliance with the agreement(s) more likely.
However, a mediated agreement requires a spirit of collaboration, which is desirable but not always possible during separations. If the atmosphere remains adversarial, either collaborative law (where both parties are represented by a family lawyer or divorce lawyer) or court action may be required to settle the dispute.
What if a parent doesn’t pay child support?
If a parent is required to pay support according to an agreement made between the parents or a court order issued by a judge, payments are mandatory in Alberta.
If an ex-partner refuses to pay child support, disappears, pays late or withholds payments, this can leave the intended recipient short of money to pay bills and expenses. The matter is treated seriously in Alberta and the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Act may be used to remedy the situation.
This Act led to the establishment of the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program (“MEP”), which is a free provincial government program to enforce court orders or support agreements made for child support or spousal support
The MEP has the authority to intervene on the recipient’s behalf and enforce payments through a variety of possible measures. In most cases, its authority covers orders from the Alberta courts but it may also extend to orders from other provinces if a reciprocal agreement is in place.
The MEP collects payments directly from the intended payor of support and then transfers the money to the recipient. Enforcement measures include the following:
- Wage garnishment
- Removal of funds from bank accounts
- Seizure of assets
Sanctions on the payor parent/spouse may also be imposed by the MEP and include the following:
- Interest accrued for late or missed payments
- Report submitted to the credit bureau
- Suspension of the payor’s vehicle registration, driver’s license, passport or hunting licence
- Mandatory attendance at court for a default hearing
- Arrest of the non-paying parent
Once a court order has been registered with the MEP, payments should be made directly to the MEP rather than the recipient of support.
Applications to the Maintenance Enforcement Program require an Affidavit of Arrears and other documentation to be submitted. The Affidavit must set out the total amount due under the court order or agreement, the total amounts paid and the difference owing.
You may require legal assistance to prepare this and the lawyers at Jennings Family Law can help you if necessary.
Our experienced family lawyers can help you resolve even the most complex support and MEP issues. Book a free case evaluation to protect your rights and discuss your legal options.