18 August 2016

Family Maintenance Enforcement Program


I am often asked about how helpful the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program is in assisting parties with enforcement of their court orders or separation agreements.  The answer is, FMEP can be extremely helpful, but only if your agreement or court order is specific enough. 

Some basic facts about FMEP can be found here :

  1. FMEP is a free service of the BC Ministry of Justice helping families and children entitled to support under a maintenance order or agreement.
  2. Anyone with a maintenance order or agreement can enroll in FMEP.
  3. There are various ways to send or receive maintenance payments and also actions can be taken if payments are not made. 

One of the biggest problems that keep people coming back unnecessarily to lawyers, and spending more money than they often are trying to collect, is poorly worded court orders or agreements for sharing of children’s expenses or “section 7 expenses”.  Section 7 expenses are discretionary by nature, meaning that, a court “may on either spouse’s request, provide for an amount to cover all or any portion of the following expenses……”   The online version of the Guidelines found here  can help you understand whether the expenses you want to share are extraordinary or whether they are covered by the child support you currently receive or pay. 

The key is to have your court order or separation agreement worded in such a way that avoids challenges and arguments down the road when you are trying to get payment for little’s Susie’s ballet class or little Jonny’s summer camp fees that weren’t mentioned in the Separation Agreement.  These expenses change over time as your children grow, so you may need to amend your agreement, but if you start out with clarity, it is much easier to make changes.  The FMEP website gives clear instructions about how your agreement should be worded, so FMEP can collect payments on your behalf and take enforcement action if required.  The agreement needs to clearly state the type of expense, the name of the child to whom the expense relates, the exact amount one parent is to pay the other for the expense, the date payments are to start and the frequency of payments.  If your agreement contains a vague statement that “parent one will pay to parent two his or her proportionate share of the agreed upon extraordinary expenses” FMEP cannot collect payment on your behalf if you send them receipts for little Susie’s ballet class because your agreement is not specific enough. 

Yes, it does take time to be precise in agreements, and when you are on the home stretch in that last lawyer meeting, these are often the details that get missed and I hear people say, “oh we can work that out ourselves”.  That is all fine and good when you are getting along, but when it comes to sharing of larger expenses like university tuition, which you may not have anticipated at separation because your children are young, you do not want to be in a position of having difficulties because of a poorly worded agreement.

What should you do?  Read through the child support guidelines to determine if the expenses you are trying to share are indeed “extraordinary” and then draft a clearly worded agreement about how these costs will be shared between you and the other parent.  Have a look at the FMEP website where you will find the answers to many of your questions about enrolment and enforcement. 

And finally, talk to a lawyer before you sign anything. 


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