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Maintenance Enforcement in Alberta

Maintenance Enforcement in Alberta

In an Alberta divorce settlement, “maintenance” can include child support and spousal support (or partner support, if the divorce was between adult interdependent partners). Both are awarded via court order once a divorce settlement is finalized.

While you may feel this new bill you’ve been saddled with is unfair, it is imperative that you comply with the court order.

One may not simply decide to stop making these payments without consequence. When the partner who is supposed to be paying maintenance fails to do so, the Maintenance Enforcement Program steps in to begin taking a series of increasingly punitive enforcement actions. 

The MEP can also be involved prior to maintenance going into arrears, administering support payments by collecting, disbursing, and recording payments as they arrive. MEP typically collects these payments directly from the payor’s paycheck and then direct deposits them into the recipient’s account, reducing the likelihood that payments won’t get made and eliminating a recipient’s ability to claim payments weren’t made when they were.  


What is Alberta’s Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP)? 

The MEP is a program that will both administer maintenance payments and enforce them. Both the payor and the recipient can register with MEP if both live in Alberta. MEP will then enforce the Maintenance Order. The program will also enforce Maintenance Agreements if those agreements have been filed with the court. 

To register, you must mail a packet of information to the office here in Edmonton. Your lawyer can also help you register. Sometimes the court itself will enroll you directly into the program.

MEP can have your ex’s employer directly deduct your enforcement from their paycheck or can accept payments from the payor and distribute them to the recipient. Once you register with MEP the payer and payee will stop dealing directly with one another. For example, the recipient should not accept any “extra” maintenance checks or any checks that are delivered outside of the boundaries of the program. 

MEP also has the power to enforce the debt by requiring the payer to furnish them with financial statements, by suspending the payer’s driver’s license, or by asking the court to send the payor to jail as a remedy of last resort. They can also levy bank accounts, place a lien on your home, or seize your tax refunds.

They can do all of this because failing to pay maintenance is technically an action that’s being taken in “contempt of court,” which is a crime. 

There are nevertheless advantages to registering for this program if you are the payer. 

While it seems like the “enforcement” is mostly aimed at the spouse who is being forced to make payments, the truth is your participation in this program can serve as valuable evidence that you are meeting your obligations. You’ll be able to see the balance of your account and produce it on demand. 

It can also avoid situations that prompt your spouse to ask for extra money. This can avoid some truly ugly arguments and prevent scenarios that send you and your spouse back to the courthouse. 


How Much Can Maintenance Enforcement Garnish in Alberta?

MEP may garnish either the exact monthly amount owed or 40% of the debtor’s wages, whichever is smaller. Payments are sent on normal payroll cycles and are debited directly from the debtor’s paycheck.

In many cases leaving a payer with just 60% of their income will not leave the payer enough money to live on. The MEP suggests the employer contact them to ask if support payments can be lowered below 40%.

MEP may also garnish severance and termination packages. 


How Long Can You Go Without Paying Child Support Before You Go To Jail in Alberta?

There is no hard and fast amount of time. The courts have this remedy available to them at any time but will generally try other remedies first. 

They will seek to put you in jail after they have determined that the other remedies are not going to be effective. There is no “safe” amount of time that you can go without paying. MEP will take your tax refund before they seek to send you to jail, but if there’s no tax refund to be found, no employer to garnish from, no property to put a lien on, and no bank account to levy then the number of potential enforcement actions has certainly been reduced. 

Indeed, as MEP starts seeking to punish you more and more for failing to pay your maintenance payments, you might find it harder and harder to do so. Would you be able to work with a suspended driver’s license, for example? Most people can’t. 

We would never recommend a strategy of drawing out the arrears for as long as you possibly can. If you have undergone a major change in life circumstances that have impacted your income to the point where you cannot make your maintenance payments you can and should file a request for a maintenance modification order instead. You may do this any time you become unemployed, change jobs, become disabled, or have some other issue that prevents you from making the maintenance payments as agreed in your initial court order.


Can You Apply For a Stay of Support Enforcement in Alberta?


A stay of support enforcement is a temporary suspension of enforcement that you can receive in certain circumstances.

You can apply for a stay when:

  • You’re appealing the support order.
  • You’ve endured a sudden and unexpected change in financial circumstances.
  • You’ve become incarcerated.
  • The order is being questioned by Alberta courts.

There are other special times during which there may be a stay of enforcement. For example, when the property is still being divided directly after the creation of a legal divorce order it is not fair to expect that maintenance payments will begin right away. Enforcement stays until the division of property is complete. 

To apply for a stay of enforcement you would produce three years of tax returns, pay stubs, a list of all your assets and debts, and a list of monthly expenses. You’ll fill out the stay of enforcement forms. There are also forms you can fill out to request a maintenance modification. Submit these forms to the same court where you sought your divorce. 


How Can You Cancel Maintenance Enforcement? 

There are a few circumstances that can cancel maintenance enforcement actions.

The first is to simply get your account current, paying all that you owe so that enforcement stops. 

The second is when certain milestones pass. For example, your court order may state that you only have to pay maintenance until your minor child turns 18. Once that happens you’re done: you’ll pay anything else you owe into your MEP account but once it’s paid off then maintenance and maintenance enforcement alike are canceled. 


Got Maintenance Issues? 

If you are having trouble making your maintenance support payments then reach out to our Edmonton family law team.

We can help you seek a modification of your support order so that your maintenance payments become more manageable and realistic for your situation. Working with us is frequently less expensive than allowing maintenance enforcement actions to get out of control.

We’re located here in Edmonton but work with clients throughout the province. Just call (587) 689-3333 to get started today.