Back to Zero

Ministry of Community and Social Services (Family Responsibility Office)

Date: 2009

A woman whose ex-husband had failed to pay her spousal support payments for 10 years complained to the Ombudsman about the Family Responsibility Office (FRO), which had been unable to find him, much less enforce his support obligations.
She had been forced to collect more than $11,000 in social assistance, although her ex owed her more than $165,000.

In 2008, she contacted FRO staff to inform them that her ex was turning 65, in the hope that they might be able to locate him and garnish his income if he applied for Canada Pension benefits. She was stunned to learn that the FRO had closed her case as “impractical to enforce” – and there was no amount owing reflected in her file.

FRO officials advised an Ombudsman staff member that their administrative practice was to “set the balance to zero” when closing a case, even if money was still owed. They required a formal request plus a sworn statement from the support recipient in order to “reopen” her file.

After discussing the issue with the Ombudsman’s Office, FRO officials agreed to end the practice of closing cases where they are unable to take enforcement action. Instead, they agreed to treat such cases as “dormant” and maintain the amount owing in their records.

Thanks to the intervention of the Ombudsman’s Office, the FRO not only reopened the woman’s case and updated the amount owed to her to $201,633, it managed to find and begin enforcement action against her ex-husband. For the first time since the case was registered with the FRO, she began receiving monthly support payments of $522.