In most divorces, one spouse will end up paying “maintenance” to the other spouse.
This maintenance includes both child support, which will be part of every agreement with minor children and which will last until the children turn 18, and spousal support, which can vary in amount and duration.
Both your spousal support and your child support agreements are carefully enforced by the courts in Alberta through the program known as the Maintenance Enforcement Program, or MEP.
What Is The Family Maintenance Enforcement Program in Alberta?
The MEP performs a number of functions on behalf of Alberta families.
Primarily, the program collects, administers, disburses, and enforces support actions.
Once you’re enrolled with MEP, the program will usually collect maintenance payments directly from the payor’s paycheck. In rare cases, this does not happen, the payer can also make payments directly to their MEP account (see below).
MEP then sends those payments on to the recipient, usually via direct deposit.
There are a number of advantages to having the MEP involved with the administration of maintenance payments. Contrary to popular belief, participation in the MEP doesn’t just benefit the maintenance recipient.
The MEP keeps track of the amounts owed and paid, which prevents situations where one party is having to call up the other party to demand their money. It also prevents the recipient party from demanding more money than they’re entitled to. It provides the payor with proof that they have paid if any question about their conduct should arise at any point during the process. It also provides the courts with remedies for ensuring payors comply with court orders.
Most people interact with the MEP in a fairly uneventful fashion. The divorce decree gets signed, the program gets set up, and the payments are just absorbed into the payor’s monthly budget as normal without much fanfare. Every now and then either the payor or the recipient applies for a modification of the order as appropriate under the law.
In some cases, however, MEP is forced to step in to help recipients get the support they’ve been awarded. This is vital since in most cases recipients really need the support they get to pay their bills and take care of their children.
How Is Maintenance Enforcement Paid In Alberta?
Usually, monies are deducted directly from the payor’s paycheck and sent directly to the recipient’s account. They may only deduct the amount the payor owes, or up to 40% of what the payor has earned, whichever is smaller. If the MEP is taking 40% and the payor can’t live on the remainder it is possible for the payor’s employer to contact the MEP on the payor’s behalf to ask them to take less money.
If the payor doesn’t get a regular paycheck—if they’re a business owner or an independent contractor, for example—then the MEP allows these payors to make payments directly to their account online, over the telephone, or through the mail. The program also allows payors to set up a direct debit agreement.
If payments are made late, the MEP may charge a $40 fee, as well as interest charges.
Once a case is enrolled in MEP the recipient should never accept support payments directly from the payor.
What Is a Stay of Enforcement in Alberta?
A stay of enforcement is a temporary suspension of enforcement. This may mean you don’t have to make payments for a few months. It will also mean that you won’t gain penalties or interest payments while the stay is in place. A stay avoids other collection actions as well, such as the suspension of your driver’s license, liens on your home, levies on your bank account, tax refund seizure, or jail time.
You may only apply for a stay of enforcement in certain circumstances. For example, a stay of enforcement is applied any time you’re appealing a support order, or have filed for a modification of a support order. You can also apply for a stay when you’ve had a sudden change of financial circumstances, such as after a job loss. If you’ve been incarcerated then you will also generally receive a stay.
How Do I Set Up Maintenance Enforcement in Alberta?
The courts may enter you into the program automatically. The payor or payee may also register for the program voluntarily.
To register, the payor must reside in Alberta and you must have a court order. If your payor resides in a different province then you’ll want to apply to their local support enforcement office.
What Types of Maintenance Enforcement Collection Actions Are Available In Alberta?
If a payor fails to pay support the MEP has many remedies available to them.
- They can charge additional penalties and interest.
- Or they can levy your bank account.
- They can take your tax refund to pay the arrears.
- They can suspend your driver’s license and your passport.
- Or they can put a lien on your home.
- They can send you to jail.
In general, it is best to stay on top of your maintenance payments. If your maintenance payments have placed you in dire financial straits then it’s usually wise to seek a modification order as quickly as you possibly can. You’ll also want to seek a stay of enforcement while your modification order is under consideration.
How Can I Change Or Modify a Support Order With MEP?
You will need to file a motion to modify the order with the courts. Your lawyer can help you do this.
In general, you will need to show there’s been a substantial change in circumstances since the order was put into place. Here are some examples:
- You were paying spousal support, but your spouse has since remarried. Your order should be modified to remove spousal support from your payment obligations.
- All of your children have reached the age of majority.
- You have lost your job, or changed jobs, and you now have a significant change in your rate of pay.
- Your spouse has changed jobs and has a significant change in their rate of pay.
- You have been incarcerated.
- You have become permanently disabled.
Your lawyer will be able to advise you on whether or not your circumstances can qualify you for a support order modification. A judge will have to approve the modification and issue a new court order. You will then take that court order back to the MEP, who will adjust your account accordingly.
Need Help With Your Maintenance Payments?
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.