Legislation introduced Tuesday, Oct. 25, will strengthen the province’s ability to collect court-ordered support payments owed to children and spouses.
Amendments to the Maintenance Enforcement Act will give the Maintenance Enforcement Program increased authority to enforce court orders and expanded powers to locate parents who are regularly behind on their payments. The changes will also make it easier to get identifying information about non-payors, whether from other departments, levels of government or the courts, to help locate them and improve collection rates.
“There are more than 16,000 Nova Scotian children who rely on these court-ordered payments being made in full and on time,” said Justice Minister Diana Whalen. “This legislation is about ensuring that we have all the tools necessary to better help families regain economic stability following the breakup of a relationship.”
The amendments will increase the Maintenance Enforcement Program’s authority in several key areas, including:
— prohibiting renewal of a non-payor’s drivers licence or registration if they are consistently behind in payments, without notice
— allowing the program to hold additional funds seized from a non-payor for future maintenance obligations, even after existing debts are paid
— increasing the ability to obtain information, such as demanding a non-payor’s social insurance number and other identifying information to improve collections and to better trace and locate a non-payor who cannot be found
— establishing new rules to allow notices to be served via email or by other electronic communication.
The department consulted clients and other stakeholders on proposed changes last spring, including the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, the Canadian Bar Association and the Nova Scotia Council on the Status of Women.
The province also committed to strengthen the Maintenance Enforcement Act in response to a 2015 review of the Maintenance Enforcement Program. The review made 27 recommendations to improve the program.
“We’ve been working hard to improve this program,” said Ms. Whalen. “This year we’ve collected about a million more in payments. Enforcement actions are up and arrears are down. We still have a lot of work to do but this legislation will help keep us moving in the right direction.”
More than 28,600 clients and 16,400 children are served by the program. In 2015-16, more than $53.6 million was collected by the Maintenance Enforcement Program on behalf of families.
A progress report on steps taken over the past year to improve the program and a report, titled What We Heard, from public and stakeholder consultations on proposed amendments can be found here.