January 15th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The Ontario government agency charged with collecting and disbursing child support has been overbilling non-custodial parents, 97% of whom are fathers, for as long as 13 years. Due to the agency’s errors, some 1,700 fathers have paid out some $5.3 million more than they should have. Here’s one article (Vancouver Sun, 1/13/12). And here’s another (Ottawa Citizen, 1/14/12).
Worse, this is just the latest in a long history of incompetence and disregard for parents – both custodial and non-custodial – the Family Responsibility Office has logged.
The Family Responsibility Office, or FRO, is responsible for ensuring court-ordered child support payments are made. More than 97 per cent of all payers overseen by the office are male.
The billing mistake is only the latest controversy to engulf FRO.
The office has come under repeated criticism for more than a decade, particularly for a flawed computer system that has still not been fully replaced.
In 2006, the agency abandoned a new IT system, despite spending $21 million and three-and-a-half years developing it.
That same year, the provincial Ombudsman criticized the office for a “lackadaisical” attitude toward collections, resulting in a “free ride” for many deadbeat parents.
In 2010, Auditor General Jim McCarter ripped the agency for its general ineffectiveness, saying enforcement was slow, taking on average two years between enforcement actions.
Despite moving to a new case-management system, McCarter said 80 per cent of people who phoned the agency never got through. He also said there was virtually no quality control at the agency, which employs roughly 430 people and deals with 190,000 cases annually.
Whatever your take on government, the fact that 80% of people calling the FRO never managed to speak to a human being there must astonish you. It has to be a record of some sort. All in all, it seems that the Family Responsibility Office has never been all that responsible itself.
Now, you’re probably wondering what’s going to be done about all that money. In the United States, for example, if a non-custodial dad makes an overpayment – due to mistake, neglect, oversight, court error, whatever – the courts just pretend he meant to do it and it therefore constitutes a gift. Never mind that the law on gifts has been clear for centuries or that it requires the giver to intend to give the gift. Without that motivation, there is no gift, and any transfer of possession doesn’t constitute a transfer of ownership.
Well, when it comes to child support, all of that is tossed out the window. Mom need repay nothing; she gets a windfall.
And it turns out that something very similar will be done in Ontario. Again, Moms won’t be asked to refund the excess amounts they received despite the fact that they plainly knew they were receiving more than they were entitled to. But at least the dads won’t be left holding the bag; that’ll be the taxpayer’s obligation. It seems the public purse will be ransacked to repay the dads.
Of course those computations and repayments will all be handled by… guess who? That’s right, the FRO. And if it does as good a job of that as it’s done with essentially everything else it’s set its hand to, my guess is there’ll be about 1,700 fathers filing 1,700 lawsuits in the near future.