Territory proposes change to child support

Parents who collect or pay child support could possibly have it easier, depending on what the Yukon government decides after mid-August.

Parents who collect or pay child support could possibly have it easier, depending on what the Yukon government decides after mid-August.

The territory is encouraging residents to give their opinions on a plan that would allow parents to increase or decrease their child support payments without having to go through the courts.

Currently, parents have to apply to court to change their payments – which can be a lengthy, expensive process, said Lesley McCullough, a justice department spokesperson.

If this proposed change is implemented, parents can simply go to the justice department to recalculate the payments to reflect their income.

The payment would use the same arithmetic formula already used in court, McCullough said. “The objective is to facilitate appropriate child support to the benefit of those children receiving it,” she said.

The justice department wants Yukoners’ opinions to hammer out the details. So far, what it proposes is that either parent, paying or receiving, can go to the government and ask to recalculate the payment.

Once the government receives an application, the paying parent is obligated to provide their latest income tax information. The recalculation will be made, and either party can appeal the decision.

A questionnaire the justice department put together asks whether the payments should be automatically calculated each year or only when someone applies for a recalculation. It also asks if it’s better to appeal the decision in court or to go through the department’s administration.

The proposed recalculation service stems from changes the federal government made to the Divorce Act in 2006, which recommends provinces and territories make child support payments proportionate to income.

One women’s group supports the idea, because the courts wouldn’t be involved. “No lawyers, no cost. That would be a plus. Sometimes the lawyer gets money that could have gone to the children,” said Diane Petrin, a social worker at the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre.

The recalculation service would only be applied to simple cases. Cases involving joint custody of children or unstable income would not be considered, McCullough said.

While Petrin agrees to recognizing the complications of some cases, she said the government needs to do more “basic” changes for the child support system to work.

“They should focus on making child support payments enforced before we have that jazzy talk. I think they’re a little bit ahead in thinking (of recalculations),” Petrin said.

Enforcement and recalculations are two separate services, said McCullough, even though they do affect one another. But she admits that the government has a variety of methods to enforce payments that are not always effective.

For example, the government could garnish money held in a financial institution, but if a paying parent does not have a bank account, that’s not helpful. “In some cases we deny territorial licences but that is always a tricky one because for a lot of people, a driver’s licence is a condition of their employment,” she adds.

The territory has a higher rate of receiving payments than other jurisdictions, said McCullough.

So far, only four other provinces provide a recalculation service, including Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I., Manitoba, and B.C., which has a pilot project in Kelowna.

Questionnaires and more details of the proposed recalculation changes may be found on www.justice.gov.yk.ca. The public can provide input until Aug. 16.

Contact Krystle Alarcon at krystlea@yukon-news.com