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My partner isn't paying spousal support. What should I do?
Clear language definitions to common legal terms.
The court can enforce spousal support payments in a:
- court order
- separation agreement that is binding and enforceable under the law
The Family Responsibility Office (FRO) can also enforce spousal support payments if there is a:
- court order
- separation agreement that is filed with the court and registered with the FRO for enforcement
The FRO is a government agency that collects support directly from the person who has to pay support, keeps a record of the amounts paid, and then pays that amount to the person who has to get support.
The FRO can help collect money from a support payor who lives in Canada, any state in the United States, and about 30 other countries that Ontario has an agreement with. These are known as reciprocating jurisdictions.
If Ontario doesn't have an agreement with the country where the support payor lives, the FRO cannot help you collect support. You will have to use the laws of the country where the payor lives. A lawyer may be able to help you do this.
1. Talk to your partner
You can try talking to your partner about why they are not paying spousal support. You can talk to your partner on your own or with the help of a lawyer or mediator.
You may also be able to speak to someone your partner respects and trusts. This could be a family member, a friend, a colleague, or a religious advisor.
Talking to your partner may not be an option where there is a history of partner abuse.
2. Get help from a family law professional
If you and your partner need help to talk about why one of you is not following your separation agreement or court order, you can get help from a family law professional. These are neutral people who are trained to work with both of you to help you reach an agreement or make a decision for you.
Family law professionals can work in:
All of these processes are sometimes called alternative dispute resolution (ADR). They help solve your issues without going to court. Deciding which process is best for you depends on the facts of your situation and what you want. For example, a mediator doesn't make decisions for you, but an arbitrator does.
Your separation agreement or court order might even require that you first try a process like mediation to work out your issues before taking any further steps like going to court.
Some of the reasons to use ADR instead of going to court are:
- You have more control over what happens to your case.
- It can be faster and cheaper.
- It can be less stressful.
- It takes place in a private setting.
But, there are some situations where it may be better not to use ADR, such as:
- There is a history of family violence, mental illness, or drug abuse.
- You can't talk to your partner.
- You can't work cooperatively with your partner.
Each family court location in Ontario offers subsidized mediation services. You can get up to 8 hours of mediation for a fee that is based on each person's income. You can use this service whether or not you're in court. If you're already in court, you can get up to 2 hours of mediation at the court free of charge.
You can also find mediators who offer their services at lower rates through JusticeNet. JusticeNet is a not-for-profit that helps people in Ontario whose income is too high to get legal aid and too low to afford standard legal fees.
3. Get help from the Family Responsibility Office
If you and your partner cannot agree on how to deal with missed payments, you can get help from the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).
You have a court order
The FRO writes to the support payor’s employer or any other place where they receive income. The FRO tells the employer to deduct spousal support from the payor's cheque and send it to the FRO. The FRO then sends the money to partner receiving support.
You have a separation agreement
Some people make a separation agreement without going to court and later need help enforcing it.
To get the FRO to enforce your separation agreement, you must:
1. Attach your most current separation agreement to a Form 26B: Affidavit for Filing Domestic Contract or Paternity Agreement.
2. Take it to the local courthouse. You can file your agreement only at the Ontario Court of Justice or the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice. You cannot file your agreement at other locations of the Superior Court of Justice.
3. Register it with the FRO.
4. Go to court
You can ask the court to do things like:
- Take money from your partner's bank accounts.
- Take money from your partner's retirement savings.
- Take money from your partner's wages or other income.
- Register the support order as a "charge" against your partner's property. This means they can't sell it or transfer ownership until they pay any support owing.
- Take your partner's employer to court for not following a Support Deduction Order.
- Start a default hearing.
These are all things the FRO can do for you at no cost.
If you decide to do it yourself, you need to make a court application by filling out some forms. This tells the judge why you should get the help you're asking for.
The forms you fill out depend on the type of help you want. For example, if you want to take money from your partner's wages, you need to fill out a notice of garnishment.
You can talk to a lawyer to help you understand the different ways you can enforce your rights. If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, some lawyers provide "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means you pay them to help you with part of your case.
If you can't afford to hire a lawyer at all, you may be able to find legal help in other places.