The Role of BC’s Maintenance Enforcement Program in Child Support

Child Support Obligations in British Columbia

Canadian children have a legal right to financial support from both parents and a separation or a divorce does not change that obligation.

Responsibilities of Parents

If one parent lives with the children most of the time, the other parent must pay child support. If the children spend at least 40 per cent of the time with both parents, then both parents are required to pay child support to the other parent. This is called offsetting child support. The high-income parent will pay the net difference in child support to the other parent.

Child support covers the cost of food, shelter, clothing and other expenses for the child. It is the right of children, not the recipient parent.

On many occasions, a maintenance enforcement program (MEP) is necessary to ensure a parent fulfils their support obligations, based on either a court order or an agreement with a former partner.

In support enforcement cases, the person required to pay is referred to as the payor (or support payor) and the person entitled to receive support is referred to as the recipient (or support recipient).

Typically, the obligation to pay child support lasts until the child reaches the age of 19. However, this duty can extend beyond that age if the child is affected by a serious illness or disability or if the child is enrolled in post-secondary education.

BC Family Maintenance Agency (BCFMA)

Transition from FMEP to BCFMA

There are different ways for a court-ordered child support order to be enforced. In British Columbia, parents can turn to the BC Family Maintenance Agency (BCFMA), which has taken over the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) with the former name still in common use.

The agency tracks outstanding support obligations, calculates the interest due on those payments and can impose fines when financial support is not being provided.

Enrollment in the BCFMA comes at no cost. A family lawyer can assist parents throughout this enrollment process. Once finalized, both the recipient and the payor are issued Notices of Enrollment, which detail the amount of support to be paid, including any accumulated arrears.

Locating Non-Compliant Payors

If the payor’s whereabouts is unknown, the agency can request a search for their location, employment and assets through a variety of federal and provincial databases.

Procedures for Sending Child Support Payments

The payor must submit support payments directly to the agency instead of to the recipient. This method guarantees accurate and current record-keeping, with the funds typically being forwarded to the recipient on the same day.

Since 1988, the BCFMA has managed more than 179,000 cases and collected and distributed more than $5 billion to B.C. families, with approximately 33,500 payments sent to families in the province each month.

Powerful Enforcement Measures of the BC Maintenance Agency

If payments are late or missed, interest and default fees can be charged. The agency can also take various actions to collect outstanding balances including:

  • garnisheeing wages, bank accounts and certain federal government payments such as income tax refunds and employment insurance benefits;
  • seizing personal or real property,
  • requiring the party in default to file financial information,
  • suspending or denying provincially issued licences such as a driver's licence; and
  • asking the federal government to suspend passports and other documents.

The agency requires that payments be made electronically, ensuring that recipients receive the funds through direct deposit. As it notes, “these are the fastest, most secure ways for payments to be made and disbursed.”

BC Child Support Calculator - A Tool for Parents

The BC Child Support Calculator can determine the basic amount owed by a paying parent in child support. This calculator can be used for sole, shared and split custody parenting, based on Federal Child Support Guidelines.

If one or both parents live outside British Columbia, they should use the Canada Child Support Calculator instead.
B.C. courts have specific rules on how to apply for child support based on the relationship status of the parents.

Those applying should consult court administration at the Supreme Court of British Columbia or the British Columbia Provincial Court, Family Division for further information.

As the B.C. Child Support Calculator webpage notes, “this website for informative purposes only. It is not meant to substitute qualified legal advice of a lawyer. For further information on BC child support and any BC family law matters, you should contact a lawyer.”

Limitations of the BCFMA's Authority

While the agency can assist with obtaining or changing support orders, collecting those orders and taking steps to make sure payments are made by the payor, there are three things the agency is not responsible for:

  • obtaining or changing a support order or agreement;
  • collecting a support order or agreement without a set amount for child and/or spousal support; and
  • assisting parents with parenting time (custody) or contact (access) issues.

Maintenance Enforcement in BC Works

According to Statistics Canada, 84 per cent of child and spousal support payments were collected and then received by people registered in provincial and territorial maintenance enforcement programs in 2020/2021.

During the same timeframe, less than 40 per cent of registered support cases (36 per cent specifically) fully complied with their payment obligations, ensuring that beneficiaries received the full amount due to them each month of the fiscal year.

According to the 2020/2021 BCFMA annual report, that time period proved to be challenging for both receivers and payors of support payments due to “high unemployment rates, reduced incomes and the general stress created by the pandemic.”

Despite that, the agency collected more than $210 million in support payments for approximately 35,000 families.

Take action if your spouse is not paying

A payor’s failure to deliver financial support can negatively impact a family’s well-being. Parents at any stage of the divorce process, including those who are considering registering with the BCFMA, can contact Mills Family Law so we can help with the process. We offer comprehensive family law services to help you navigate your separation and divorce. Contact us for a free consultation. 

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