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When two people who have children file for divorce, the final orders generally involve maintenance orders. These are administered by the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP), which is charged with making sure that the non-custodial parent remains current with payments. When the payor, or the person paying the maintenance, falls behind, the MEP has a number of options available at its disposal to make sure that the payments are made on time.
If you owe your ex-spouse maintenance payments, the MEP often seeks orders to have those payments come out of your paycheck before you receive it. This is not a pre-tax benefit but simply facilitates the other spouse receiving the payments to which the court has decided that she is entitled. Some people are self-employed, so the MEP does not have an employer with whom to lodge the orders for garnishing, and in other cases, the parent who owes the maintenance payments changes jobs but does notify the MEP about his new employer so that they can start garnishing wages once again.
In those cases, the MEP can use other means to collect arrears. One of these is a registration of the maintenance orders at the Personal Property Registry (PPR) against the name of the payor. These registrations have the force of a writ of enforcement. The PPR supports enforcing money judgments and other proceedings involving civil enforcement. The information within the PPR system is public, which means that if your maintenance payments fall behind to the point where the MEP takes out a lien against your property, that information becomes publicly available.
The MEP has authorization thanks to the Maintenance Enforcement Act to register spousal or child support orders with the PPR at any point in time. MEP generally initiates registration if a payor’s account falls into arrears. Once the writ has been registered, it will generally stay there for the full life of the obligation to provide security for future payments. Even if the payor comes current with his account, the writ generally remains in place.
One obstacle that payors may find if they want to sell a property is that the MEP-registered writ may keep them from being able to transfer a clear title to that property. The MEP may also register charges against goods with serial numbers that a payor might own, such as an automobile. This can make it hard to finance or sell a vehicle without having satisfied the issue with the MEP first. Even in cases where the arrearage has fallen to zero.
Real property and vehicles are not the only items that the MEP can seize as a part of registering their maintenance orders with the PPR. If you have any other personal property in Alberta, MEP has the right to gain seizure and sale orders if you fall far enough behind with your maintenance payments. Once the sale takes place, your creditor agencies divide the proceeds. Maintenance payment creditors generally take priority over the majority of other creditors.
Once the MEP initiates the process of registering writs against your property, you do have recourse. Your provincial authorities can provide you with specific information about the best way for you to resolve your situation. The best choice, of course, is not to fall that far behind on your maintenance payment. If you have lost your job or have had some other financial reversal that will make the payments impossible, at least for a short time, getting in touch with a representative of MEP can go a long way toward avoiding the registration process. The more proactive you are in this process, the more likely you are to avoid registration.
So if you lose your job or go through a situation in which your income will be severely reduced, one of the first things you should do is reach out to the MEP and talk about your options. MEP has a great deal of latitude when it comes to establishing rights to your property if you fall far enough behind on your payments. However, they also have the flexibility to work with you if you show that you are willing to pay what you can while you get back on your feet. For more information, contact your family law attorney or a provincial representative within MEP to get more information about your specific situation.