What is the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program?
In Alberta, child support orders are often registered with the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program (“MEP”). MEP is an Alberta government initiative that automatically enforces orders and agreements, which have been filed by the court, relating to child support, spousal support, and partner support.
MEP can collect both ongoing support and arrears, however, the order or agreement will need to specify the balance of the arrears.
How Does MEP Work in Alberta?
Once an order or agreement is registered with MEP, they will handle all of the collections actions. Basically, they will get the money from the payor parent on behalf of the recipient parent.
For example, if a parent stops paying child support, MEP will typically reach out to the delinquent parent and try to arrange for a timely payment plan. If they are unable to do so, then MEP may take harsher collections actions, such as seizing the balance of the payor’s bank accounts, garnishing their wages, or suspending their driver’s license until they start making payments. MEP will forward the funds they collect to the parent who is entitled to support.
How Do I Get Enrolled with MEP in Alberta?
Either the payor or the recipient can register their order or agreement with MEP. In order to do so, they must meet the three registration requirements:
- Either the recipient or payor spouse must currently live in Alberta.
- The person registering for MEP must either pay or receive either child, spousal, or partner support—that is, you cannot register someone else for MEP.
- The support order or agreement must be filed with the court, and must contain a clause saying that MEP may enforce the support obligations.
If the criteria are met, then you will need to fill out and send the appropriate MEP form (along with a copy of the order or agreement) to MEP for processing. Typically, it takes a few weeks before MEP opens their file.
How Do I Fight Alberta Maintenance Enforcement?
Sometimes, payor parents will become unemployed, or start a new job where they make less money. Unfortunately, MEP will continue to enforce the “old” support order or agreement in which the payor may be paying too much.
MEP only enforces court orders—it does not make them. Therefore, in order to “fight” MEP you will ultimately need to vary your support order or agreement. To do this, you should start by talking to your ex-spouse and see if they will agree to lowering payments. If so, you can enter a Consent Order with the court, or sign a new agreement.
If the recipient of support is not willing to agree to lowering the payments, then you will either need to attend a mediation to resolve the dispute, or apply to vary the support order in court. MEP will continue its collections actions against you until a new support order is made.
In the meantime, you may need to apply to the court for a Stay of Enforcement from MEP.
What is a Stay of Enforcement from MEP?
A stay of enforcement is a court order that gives you a break from paying your support arrears—not ongoing payments. A stay of enforcement lasts a maximum of 9 month, but typically they are granted until the matter of support can be heard by the court in a fulsome hearing.
A stay of enforcement applies in Alberta, and therefore does not stop the federal government’s collections actions, which may include garnishing your unemployment insurance or your tax refunds. Importantly, a stay of enforcement will also not force MEP to return your driver’s license, if it has already been suspended.
How to Apply for a Stay of Enforcement in Alberta
If you can no longer afford to pay your child or spousal support obligations, then you may be eligible for a stay of enforcement. There are two criteria to meet:
1. You must attempt to reach a payment arrangement with MEP before making a court application, and this attempt must have been unsuccessful.
2. You must have a valid reason for not being able to make your support payments, which may include the following:
- You are appealing the support order, and the appeal is based on valid legal grounds.
- Your financial circumstances have changed (For example, you lost your job or were severely injured and can no longer afford to make payments).
- You are in jail and have no savings or income with which to pay support.
- The validity of the order or agreement is in question (For example, the order was made in a different province or overseas).
- You are waiting on a division of family property which will provide you with a means of paying support.
The above reasons are not always accepted, and occasionally the court will consider other reasons that are not listed. It is best to speak with a lawyer before filing for a stay of enforcement.
How to Cancel Maintenance Enforcement
There are two ways to cancel MEP enforcement.
- Obtain a new court order which specifies that it may not be enforced by MEP. In this case, MEP may still enforce the outstanding balance on the previous court order (arrears), and will not close their file until their fees, service charges, or interest is paid.
- The spouse or parent receiving support can withdraw their order or agreement from MEP by filling out the appropriate form and sending it to MEP.
Speak to a Lawyer About a Stay of Enforcement from MEP
We hope you found this legal information helpful. Feel free to call us at Morrison LLP at 587-758-1099 if you have any questions about a stay of enforcement—the first 30 minutes are free.
Although we are based in Edmonton, our family & divorce lawyers—and practicing mediators—are proud to serve much of northern Alberta, including the following communities:
- Edmonton & Area – Sherwood Park, Beaumont, Leduc, Fort Saskatchewan, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain.
- North – Athabasca, Morinville, Westlock, Gibbons, Barrhead, Redwater, Peace River, High Level, Fort McMurray.
- West – Drayton Valley, Edson, Hinton, Whitecourt, Devon.
- South – Camrose, Wetaskiwin, Millet, Calmar.
- East – Vegreville, St. Paul, Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Vermillion, Wainwright, Tofield.