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Waiting for child support

Enforcement program abandons single parent families, activist charges

by Robert Devet

The Nova Scotia Department of Justice is not doing enough to collect child support from deadbeat parents and ignores pleas from single parent families. Now there is a group that wants to change that.
The Nova Scotia Department of Justice is not doing enough to collect child support from deadbeat parents and ignores pleas from single parent families. Now there is a group that wants to change that.

(KJIPUKTUK) HALIFAX - The provincial entity that is supposed to track the deadbeat parent and enforce payment isn't doing its job, says Gwen Williams, a single parent who was in the system for over 17 years.

It chooses to ignore the more complex cases, and its staff often seem rude and without empathy, she says.

“I fought back as best I could, but when you have children to raise you will not rock the boat because you know you may lose whatever money you are getting,” she says. “When you complain they could simply put your file at the bottom of the pile.”

In Nova Scotia there are over 9000 single parents and 13,000 children who aren't receiving child support even though they should, Williams says. Each and every one of these single parents has a court order to back up their claim.

Often they end up living in appalling poverty.

The Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP), run by the Justice Department, is mandated to collect the money that is owed to these single parent families.

The MEP can garnish wages, suspend drivers licenses, seize income tax returns, and much more.

It believes that it's doing a good job.

“We know people are frustrated when payments aren’t made and our staff share those frustrations, which is why they do everything they can to get families the support they’re owed,” a Justice spokesperson wrote to Global News.

“Currently, in 63% of cases, people in our program receive full payments every month and 85% of money due to families is being collected,” the email states.

These numbers are misleading, says Williams.

“If somebody is say $20,000 in arrears, then the moment he makes one court-ordered monthly payment he or she is considered compliant,” she says.

And regardless, she adds, any single parent family that doesn't receive a support payment is one too many.

Williams, co-founder of Nova Scotia MEP Reform, wants government to get serious about this issue.

She wants more resources allocated to MEP, and more transparency.

And she wants the law rewritten to remove what she considers arbitrary decision power from MEP staff and management.

“You go through the divorce, you get your court orders in place for access and maintenance, you'd think you can have some kind of life again, and survive,” she says.

“But then you come to find out that the orders are not worth the paper they are written on, because the MEP director and officer do not have to enforce if they don't think it's enforceable.”

That means that court orders hat are difficult to enforce are going to the bottom of the pile, Williams believes.

96 percent of the single parents who rely on the MEP for their payments are women. Williams believes that this statistic is part of the reason why the problem continues to fester year after year.

“If you had a group of men in this situation it wouldn't last very long,” Williams charges.

Nor would men tolerate the way staff at times communicate with single parents.

Communication, respect and attitude of MEP staff were among the top issues identified by a focus group of twelve parents who have had dealings with MEP. The meeting was facilitated by the MEP Reform group.

“More empathy and kindness needs to be shown,” said one single parent. Another complained of a lack of respect.

MEP can definitely do a better job dealing with the single parents, Williams agrees.

“It's causing stress, not having money when you need it, not knowing when or if the money will arrive,” say Williams. “You get the feeling that the system does not care about you, so you feel really devalued.”

“For many women it is an extension of the domestic violence that they experienced during the relationship,” says Williams.

“Not only are they victimized by the system, the system allows the payer to continue the domestic abuse,” she says.

That said, Williams recognizes that at times delinquent parents genuinely are unable to pay.

In those cases parents have the option to go back to the court and ask for an adjustment, she says. Whereas the single parent on the receiving end can only hope that the case gets all the necessary attention from MEP staff.

Williams, who no longer has dealings with the MEP, has made it her mission to speak out and foster real change.

“Lots of these women don't have to money to fight. They are powerless, and because they are powerless and kept powerless nobody has to do anything, because there is no threat,” she says.

Hopefully that is about to change.

Join Nova Scotia MEP Reform on Facebook and follow the group on Twitter

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter

 

 

 


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