June 2016
Research and Statistics Division

Compliance with Family Support Obligations

This fact sheet is based on publicly available data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics’ Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs and Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey of Families 2006 and 2011.

Canadian lone parents have lower incomes, are more likely to be in poverty and rely more heavily on government transfers than two-parent families

Research shows that higher levels of income and stable income amounts improve family well-being and functioning and have a positive effect on children’s behavior, social and emotional development, academic performance and higher levels of completed schooling in childrenFootnote 1.

Canadian lone parents have lower household incomes, are more likely to be in poverty and rely more heavily on government transfers than two-parent families, particularly those with children under 6 and those led by womenFootnote 2. Receiving child support is especially important for lower income lone-parent families as it represents a large percentage of lone parents’ (particularly lone mothers’) income.Footnote 3 In fact, in 2012, the US Department of Health and Human Services reported that child support lifted nearly one million people out of povertyFootnote 4.

Many separated/divorced parents do not have child support arrangements

Between 1991 and 2011, approximately 5 million Canadians separated or divorced. Of these, 38% had a child together at the time of their separation or divorce. However, in 2011, one third of non-resident parents (34%) and 59% of resident parents with at least one child 18 years or under reported that there were no child support payments being made. Of the cases where support was being paid, more than one-third (38% or 45% depending on the source) reported $5000 or less as the annual amount paid.

Some parents are not in compliance with arrangements; payments are late or not made in full

Of the 41% of those who received child support payments, three-quarters (75%) of receiving parents reported receiving full payment amounts, although these were not always on time (25% reported payments were late).Footnote 5 Other receiving parents reported partial payments, including half or more (13%) and less than half (8%). Those reporting at least partial payments also reported regularly late (24%), some missed (41%) or most missed (25%) payments.

Many families with child support arrangements are also enrolled in maintenance enforcement programs

Written support agreements can be registered with the courts and, further, be enrolled with a maintenance enforcement program (MEP). Arrangements were written for over two thirds (71%) of cases where support is paid. Over half (55%) of written arrangements for child support were registered with a maintenance enforcement program among parents currently receiving or paying child support.

There were over 396,000 MEP-enrolled cases in Canada as of March 31st, 2013, the vast majority involving children.Footnote 6 Just over 60% of families with children under the age of 23 who have a court order or court-registered written agreement for spousal or child support, or both, are enrolled in a MEP.Footnote 7

In the 2012/2013 fiscal year, 82% of the total amount of support due in MEP-administered cases with a regular amount due was collected and paid out to families and children.Footnote 8