Ottawa Citizen
Friday 2 June 2000

Relief for collecting support payments

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

There may be relief for frustrated parents struggling to put food on the table and clean underpants on the kids, while confusion and inefficiency has support payments hung up in the system.

The Family Responsibility Office's new executive director, Sharon von Son, has been touring the province promising the system, after about 12 years of stumbling, is about to become workable. She was in Ottawa two weeks ago, and a gathering of upset parents, mainly mothers, agreed to back off for six months. In return, Ms. von Son agreed to report back then.

Although there are still horror stories in the system, they seem to be decreasing. It shows in the amount of FRO complaint traffic through the constituency offices of MPPs.

At Garry Guzzo's for example, executive assistant Bill Grant reports a dramatic drop. "Two years ago we needed almost two people, full time, to process FRO problems. We are now down to about five problematic files."

There's a change starting to show in the traffic across my desk, too, as some FRO "clients" write to support the program, rather than complain. They identify themselves, but because children are involved, anonymity is the best policy.

"I'm glad FRO was there for me," writes a mother. She describes two years of frustration and financial stress caused by her ex, who was hurt by the breakup and was determined to hurt back. The way she tells the story, he's the kind of man the system was designed to combat.

He went to amazing lengths to try to avoid payment, and never missed a chance to cheat.

One example: She wrote cheques for expensive orthodontic work for one of the children. Costs were reimbursed by insurance through father's work. In error, the insurance company sent the cheques to him, and he spent them.

Unable to deal with the man, she let FRO handle it. It took time, but court orders are now being obeyed.

"I'm glad FRO was there for me."

Still Stuck

Another mother has an opposite view. She says her child's father, a professional athlete, has agreed to pay and wants to pay, but has been warned the money must go through FRO. If it doesn't, he would face tax problems, and have to pay a $150 fee for making transactions (payments) outside the agency. It's a charge for adjusting the paperwork.

"I have contacted the FRO 20 times in the last seven months and have never had a call back. The only answers I have received are through Garry Guzzo's office. I desperately need help."

One problem is he lives in another province, and co-ordination between similar support-collecting agencies

isn't good. In recent moves she had to provide new copies of the court orders, which in turn had to be sent by FRO to a like agency in the other province. They've gone missing.

Mailbag

"Let me introduce myself. I am Renate Diorio, founder of FAD. (Families Against Deadbeats) in Brampton. I read your reports (on the FRO meetings) and we have had similar meetings here."

"We have well over 500 members that have dealings with the FRO and not one has a good story or word to say."

She makes the point that the legislation is good, but the enforcer is not. "I believe that says it all."

She cites one case in which the father has been paying but $6,000 has gone missing. "She has been told to be patient. You cannot ask a child to wait! (For food and clothing.)

"Failure to provide the necessities of life (for children) is a criminal offense." In this case, it's the FRO that is failing.

"We need the media to keep on top of stories like this to make taxpayers aware their money is not being spent wisely. There is no need for Ms. von Son to travel across the country searching for answers. They are in her own back yard."

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. His e-mail address is dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca .

Read previous Dave Brown columns at www.ottawacitizen.com

Copyright 2000 Ottawa Citizen