British Columbia's answer to collecting Court Ordered financial
support, known as 'Family Maintenance Enforcement Program'.
(Addendum added October 30th 2013)
Given the amount of interest in this FMEP blog, and in consideration of many comments made, I’ve added this addendum.
The FMEP continues to have a highly corrosive influence on many families in B.C. As I’ve said before, most people Ordered to make payments to their alienated spouses are simply non-violent, non-criminals, although none of us can claim to be truly ‘innocent victims’. Yet, forcing divorced mates by extraordinary Government authorized means to continue supporting ex-spouses, (not their children), largely fosters dysfunction and animosity.
The best advise I can offer to all those who wish to avoid this abusive agency is this;
1. Whatever it takes, humbly and unselfishly work out your financial issues with your spouse if at all possible ‘before’ this government bureaucracy is involved.
2. If you’re already under the FMEP cloud, understand that the only way to find relief is to honestly convince a judge (be it in Provincial or Supreme Court) that a change (called; ‘Variation’) to your Order is justified.
You will have no success convincing FMEP agents, or their ‘Director’, because they simply have no jurisdiction or authority to adjust Court Orders whatsoever. (However they can draw on a whole bevy of lawyers to implement enforcement of Court Orders that have already been issued.)
To obtain a variation you must apply to the respective Court and if you are not being represented by a lawyer you can definitely do it on your own, provided you’re determined to make the effort. The good news is that the FMEP will not provide lawyers to block or defend against your application, (a change that I personally had some influence on), so its strictly up to you and your spouse in Court. Of course either one may chose to be represented by a lawyer, that is up to each of you. If you are on your own, here’s a couple of tips;
a) Prepare all your personal financial information and make sure you present it according to appropriate ‘Court Rules’, these are available online and you can also obtain personal help at the Vancouver Court House. You will get nowhere unless the judge is convinced you are being upfront with complete financial information, income; expenses; taxation; assets; et al. (In one sense judges are more like Auditors going over the books)
b) Do not try to impress a judge through self-pity or emotion, it simply will not wash, and may even work against you. You must provide supporting proof of personal financial matters in full, yours – and as much as possible your spouses, although she/he will have to do likewise. Once you pay the fee and submit your application at the respective Court Registry you have to ‘serve’ your spouse with all the documents you intend to use in Court. This can be done by yourself or an agent but its critical to do everything according to the Court Rules, that’s what counts to a judge.
It took many applications for me to learn most of these things, and it did ‘eventually’ bring relief, (i.e. a ‘sunset’ variation Order added to my spousal support Order which was previously endless!) So it can work for you also, but you will have to be determined, open, and honest. If you chose this path my very best wishes to you.
(end of addendum)
Ostensibly under the Attorney General’s Ministry, (and we can all feel secure about that right?). This is a government authorized ‘collection agency’ which, IMHO is contributing to the breakdown of society.
More than a little authority is exercised by employees of this agency, called ‘Enforcement Officers’. These government employees operate in secrecy from an undisclosed location for good reason. Even telephone calls are carefully monitored and restricted, callers being required to use a code before talking to EO’s.
FMEP collection officers are authorized by the government to literally wreak havoc on ‘payors’, in fact they substantially alter lives, and bear in mind that payors are mainly non-criminal, B.C. citizens!
FMEP legislated authority comes from the ‘Family Maintenance Enforcement Act’ (FMEA), established for the expressed purpose of enforcing support payments ordered by the Courts. If you aren’t sure of the extent of enforcement you should read this act, its online here: http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96127_01
Court Ordered support decisions are supposedly made for the benefit of disadvantaged parties to a divorce, usually wives and children. Sounds high-minded doesn’t it?
But that legal process and court decisions often have a major detrimental impact on the lives of divorced mates and parents, usually husbands and fathers. Regardless of that fact, ‘payors’ are just ‘collateral damage’ to Enforcement Officers.
Whenever a government assumes the role of ‘enforcer’ of its citizens, red flags should be flying. There are inherent and significant dangers for society in this kind of legislation. At the very least, healthy public oversight should prevail from beginning to end.
The FMEP enforcement powers include everything from serious invasions of privacy, to cleaning out personal bank accounts, imposition of liens on homes, cars, and any other material assets. Then there’s the punitive crippling of credit ratings, prevention of drivers license renewals and passports, to name just a few of the highly destructive ‘tools’ available to them!
Even CPP, Old Age Pensions, and UI, can be garnisheed by FMEP agents, (ask me how I know!).
How did this arbitrary and abusive enforcement authority get started? Think about it; “Do governments ever prioritize the public interest over ‘their own’ best interests?!”
If divorcees weren’t forced to pay support to unemployed former spouses, it would fall to the government to eventually provide some form of safety-net. That helps explain the motive for law-makers passing this legislation. They have a big stake in forcing non-criminal citizens to pay support since that relieves the government from taking social responsibility.
Ironically, in recent years moral judgments have been disregarded in favor of a secular approach under the Canada Divorce Act. Unfaithful spouses are not judged on the basis of morality, and both divorced parties are simply instructed to realistically ‘become self-supporting as soon as possible following divorce’.
So from this Federal point of view, the marriage is viewed much as any other commercial ‘contract’.
Here’s a link to Federal Spousal Support Rules:
Yet, in spite of the Divorce Act’s secular approach, Provincial court decisions continue to impose financial responsibility on payors as if they are the ‘moral judge’ of the parties, the very opposite of how they must deal with contract disputes.
The effect of those ‘moral’ decisions go far beyond contractual obligations. They deeply affect the lives of divorced parties, especially payors, to their detriment. I believe this is also detrimental for society as a whole.
There is no argument that its necessary to fairly divide a family’s material things ‘at the time of divorce’, especially for the good of any underage children involved.
However, imposing the burden of long-term financial support for the sole benefit of a former spouse with no handicaps, or children to care for, is clearly wrong!
Support for divorced wives may have been necessary a century ago, but that historic method is out of date. Women have equal employment opportunities (sometimes more and sometimes less), and the Federally legislated obligation to become self-supporting.
Forcing a former spouse to pay support inevitably fosters animosity, besides providing an actual incentive for self-seeking wives to initiate divorce in the first place.
To restate; Provincial Court support orders fly in the face of the Federal Divorce Act which treats the failed marriage as a broken contract, which it arguably is.
Imposing an ongoing burden of debt on former husbands contributes to divorce actions and has a debilitating effect on society as a whole. Its divisive, contentious, and in many cases, grossly unfair as countless men will testify.
This is the ugly truth, made more so by the excessive collection powers granted to a handful of government bureaucrats.
Adding insult to injury once those support orders are made it becomes a debilitating drain on payors to mount a court challenge in order to try to change their support order. Courts are very reluctant to make changes to orders issued by their peers, regardless of difficulties and changes in the lives of the men burdened by them.
Courts regard most changes as merely the ‘choice’ of the payor, irrelevant to the ordered support payments. Genuine free choice is therefore no longer possible for payors. Is that not an abuse of human rights and freedoms?
Is it even remotely possible for imperfect Judges to stipulate a completely fair and balanced support order? An ongoing ball and chain effect that will not have a major impact on payors for five, ten, or even twenty years in the future..? Hardly!
So stressed by court imposed support orders, distraught payors have sometimes even committed suicide. (And that’s not even mentioning the trauma of child custody issues.)
No, I certainly don’t have all the answers to these difficult divorce issues, but the present methods of placing the burden of support on husbands is clearly not the answer and should not be left up to the courts.
Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the quasi-police powers which have been given to the FMEP bureaucracy by the government. Why doesn’t this agency have public oversight?
They can, and do, abuse innocent citizens with little disregard for the charter of rights and freedoms.
In fact its very questionable if the Family Maintenance Act would be able to withstand a Supreme Court of Canada legal challenge.
The FMEP is not even accountable to a provincial ombudsmen! They can and do blithely enforce flawed court decisions with impunity. The have been given powers well beyond those allowed for mere debt-collectors. This is blind-folded justice and frankly; it stinks!
There are few benefits to society from granting such authority to mere public employees.
Its not working well, and never will work well. I rest my case.
If you found this post helpful and would like to contribute towards its maintenance for yourself and others… thanks.
Supplemental added July 26, 2010;
Here’s an example of FMEP policy…
Question: “How would it be known if the recipient is deceased, i.e. someone wrongly receiving their payments, forwarded by the FMEP collection agency?’
FMEP answer: “It would be up to someone to notify us if the recipient has passed away. We do not check on a regular basis.”
In other words FMEP is unconcerned if the money collected from Payor’s is even getting to their clients. How hypocritical is that!?
Supplemental added June 21, 2012.
The animosity of divorced marriage mates truly validates the premise: ‘there is only a thin line between love and hate’.
In my own personal experience, even after a divorce that took place 15 years ago, no less, an emotional barrier to peaceful relations continues.
Fueled as is usual by narrow-minded financial focus, there is ongoing animosity. No doubt if a former marriage mate had the ability to extend generous financial support to the other this animosity could be alleviated. In some circles this is known as ‘bribery’. In any case it is rarely possible, and in my case also impossible.
As a result, there is only an ongoing shameful attitude of a former spouse who precludes any semblance of peaceful relations simply because of the lack of continued financial support, support that was afforded her during 30 years of marriage, much less any semblance of gracious gratitude for all those years of support.
UPDATE MARCH 3, 2013;
This is an exchange between me, (a Payor of 15+ years) and FMEP;
“…after reviewing the FMEA I understand that
$3000 is the critical number! So….I ask why have enforcement actions been applied when my outstanding
maintenance was less than than $3000 !?” (note: I believe the correct amount is only $2000, however in fact I was in substantial compliance with a Supreme Court Order for years).
“We are not required to remove enforcement actions until the file is paid in full. No new enforcement actions have been issued for some time. All active enforcement was issued when the arrears met the threshold for such enforcement.”