Extra Albertans skipping out on baby help funds

Edmontonian Adele Perras, who is raising a teenager with special needs regarding her disability income, has not received child support in 16 months.

Documents show that her child’s father owes her $ 28,000.

Perras has repeatedly emailed and called the Alberta Maintenance Program (MEP) to find out what collection action has been taken.

She has also submitted screenshots showing her former partner’s seemingly much more comfortable lifestyle.

Some photos show Paul Longbottom promoting his real estate business on Facebook, while others bragging about new gadgets or “new bikes”.

Meanwhile, Perras says, she and her son turn to grocery banks and thrift stores to help them make ends meet on her monthly disability income of around $ 1,800.

“It just seems unfair,” says Perras. Her 14-year-old son hands her a handkerchief when she is crying. “Sometimes it’s hard to get by – just keeping up with the amount of clothes, food, bills and rent when you’re on a limited income is extremely difficult.”

“What do you say to your son when you can’t get help and it seems that nobody cares and the system itself is against you?”

CLOCK | Adele Perras describes her struggle over arrears on alimony

Adele Perras, mother of a special needs teenager, is one of more than 30,000 Albertans who sought help from the government after their court-ordered family support payments stalled. 2:16

In 2019, in addition to Perras, 35,343 parents sought support from the MEP after the court-ordered payments for family support stalled, according to Alberta Justice.

Outstanding child, spouse, and partner child support payments were $ 609 million.

The data shows that the number of backward MEP cases is increasing – from 64 percent in 2014 to 70 percent in 2019.

Perras, who said she had a number of health problems including autoimmune diseases and depression, wondered why by suspending the Longbottom license, the program no longer helped enforce the payment.

In response to her request, a program official wrote in an email on October 22nd that “based on information the MEP received from an independent source [Longbottom] has had a limited income … and therefore the MEP has not proceeded with the suspension of his driving license at his own discretion. “

“Blood from a stone”

Reached by phone, Longbottom got emotional telling CBC he used to pay child support when he was able to work. He is currently receiving a monthly check for $ 800 from Social Services due to depression and anxiety.

On the two occasions the MEP suspended his license, Longbottom said he couldn’t keep up with payments because he wanted to make a living.

He said his mother bought the vehicle and equipment that was seen on social media so he could try to get ahead and if he could support his son he would.

“I don’t have it,” said Longbottom. “You can’t get blood out of a stone. I have little trouble paying my rent and getting on in life to keep working.”

“I would love to support my son and watch him achieve his life goals,” added Longbottom.Perras has sent screenshots of her former partner’s posts on social media like this one to the maintenance program. (Adele Perras)

‘Bad Apples’

Family attorney Michelle Mackay said the high arrears rate did not indicate a failed program, but rather the economic climate where older court orders don’t necessarily reflect current incomes. Other payers just don’t follow the rules, she said.

“I’m not surprised at the amount of backlog that exists because they are essentially looking for bad apples – people who don’t stick to an order, who don’t want to pay,” said Mackay, who has worked on hundreds of apples, said MEP Cases and teaches law at the University of Alberta. “And so the entire program should do what it is entitled to do, namely enforce.”

Enforcement measures, which include garnishment of wages, revocation of passports and suspension of driver’s licenses, are effective, Mackay said. In other cases, a payment plan is created to avoid restrictions on payers who cannot cover the full amount.

Perras’ former partner Paul Longbottom says his mom bought gadgets he posted on social media to make a living. (Adele Perras)

The problem, however, is that the chronically underfunded program has no way of investigating and eradicating false claims.

“If the money isn’t there, you won’t get it, no matter if you bear the brunt of the burden. If the money is there it’s absolutely unfair, but that’s the person you’re dealing with and you just hope that the maintenance enforcement program will eventually prevail, “said Mackay.

“I don’t know there is a way for the government to step in and make it fair.”

The protocol put in place during the pandemic allows those facing financial problems to temporarily reduce their child support payments. But that means even less money to spend on hosting families already affected by the coronavirus, Mackay said.

Years to settle down

According to Alberta Justice, arrears on individual files vary from $ 1 million to nearly $ 2.5 million, with an average of $ 22,485.

A spokesperson said the program is actively enforcing all arrears with no payment plan, but in many cases the program is entered with large arrears that take years to process, even if payers comply.

“Unfortunately, there are many factors that can prevent a small percentage of parents from being able to meet their obligations, and there are even fewer parents who refuse to pay child support,” wrote Blaise Boehmer, Attorney General’s press secretary Kaycee Madu.

“In these cases, the courts rely on rigorous debt collection measures. The Alberta judicial system is under severe strain from the pandemic and the ongoing economic downturn. However, the Alberta government is always looking for better ways to ensure parents are financially responsible are responsible. ” Children, whatever the circumstances. “

The province declined to comment on Perras’ case, citing data protection reasons.

Perras says she and her son are using the food counter to make ends meet. (Peter Evans / CBC)

Edmonton attorney Tim Verhaeghe, whose law firm represents both payees and beneficiaries, said a parent who is in arrears with child support payments can request the court to postpone enforcement or have any arrears lifted. However, he said that the application, which is not easy, almost always requires legal assistance, which means a higher cost.

“They can be reduced, but the test is high,” said Verhaeghe. “One would have to show that they cannot pay any arrears now or in the future.”

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