National Post

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Monday, January 17, 2000

Deadbeat parents escape sanctions' bite
April Lindgren
Southam News

More than two years after Ontario introduced driver's licence suspensions, jail terms and other measures to crack down on deadbeat parents who don't pay child support, statistics indicate the sanctions aren't widely used.

About 120,000 parents or nearly three-quarters of cases registered with the province's Family Responsibility Office (FRO) are behind on support payments worth $1.2-billion. About 21,000 haven't made a payment in three years or more, while another 24,000 parents are six to 36 months in arrears.

Yet the FRO, set up to enforce court-ordered support payments, has secured just 5,000 driver's licence suspensions since the government introduced tough new collection tactics in 1997. The office's own policies and procedures manual says licences should be suspended when arrears are greater than three months or more than $3,000.

Last year, collection agencies contracted to go after $42-million from parents who haven't paid in three years or more came up with $8-million after 12 months of trying.

And while the government has taken $338,000 in lottery winnings from 169 deadbeats and registered the names of another 78,000 with credit bureaus to spoil their credit record, no statistics are available on how many delinquent support payers have actually gone to jail.

"I have not heard personally of even one case where someone has been sent to jail for not paying support," says Judith Huddart, a Toronto family lawyer and past chairwoman of the Canadian Bar Association's Ontario family law section.

"I'm even quite amazed they got those driver's licence suspensions," she said. "I can tell you from my files that we've had great difficulty getting the FRO to take that step -- it always seems like there's another 30- or 35-day period before they can do anything."

Hal Vincent, a spokesman for Jim Flaherty, the Attorney-General, said the government is committed to going after deadbeat parents, most of whom are men.

"[But] this is not an easy thing -- you don't just lift 21,000 driver's licences and think all the arrears are going to be paid," he said. In some cases, delinquent parents cannot be located, in others they don't have a licence or are on welfare or in jail or need their licences to earn a living.

While FRO has suspended only 5,000 driver's licences, Mr. Vincent said it has sent out 12,000 suspension notices: "My interpretation is that some of the people have come across with money."

Mr. Vincent, who described jail as an "extreme" measure that also interferes with a parent's ability to pay, said the government is now selecting collection agencies to go after $278-million owed by parents who are six to 36 months in arrears.

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