The Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) of the Nova Scotia Department of Justice registers, collects, and enforces court orders or agreements registered with the court for child and spousal support. The court orders or court-registered agreements may have come from a court in Nova Scotia or elsewhere.
The payor (the person required to provide support) sends payments to MEP and MEP forwards them to the recipient (the person who receives the support). If the payments are not up-to-date, MEP can take action to enforce payment.
The MEP staff person who enforces the support order is called an Enforcement Officer (EO). MEP deals with only the parts of the court order that deal with maintenance payments.
MEP enforces the maintenance payments as stated in the court order. Only the court can change the order. If there is a disagreement about any of the following, either the payor or the recipient must request a court hearing to ask the court to change the order:
Although child maintenance and access provisions may be in the same court order, they are separate issues. MEP enforces only the maintenance provisions in the order. MEP has no authority to deal with other issues such as child access or visitation rights. Any concerns in relation to child access must be directed to your lawyer or the court.
All maintenance orders issued by the Family and Supreme Courts in Nova Scotia are automatically forwarded to MEP for enrollment. If the court order was issued outside of Nova Scotia, it must be registered with the appropriate Nova Scotia court. Once the order is registered, the court will forward it to MEP for enrollment.
MEP contacts the recipient and the payor and forwards an enrollment kit to the recipient. An enrollment kit can also be sent to the payor upon request. If you do not want to be enrolled in MEP, you can ask to ‘opt out’ of the program. MEP will then seek the agreement of the other party (payor or recipient) to opt out.
Recipients living outside of Nova Scotia must enroll their support orders in the province or jurisdiction where they live. In order for MEP in Nova Scotia to enforce maintenance orders, the jurisdiction where the recipient or payor lives must have a reciprocal enforcement agreement with this province.
Generally enrollment takes two to four weeks from the date that the completed enrollment kit is received by MEP. However, delays can occur if not all of the required information has been provided or if MEP requires further information from the court.
Enforcement actions are determined by the Enforcement Officer (EO) based on the circumstances of each case. If the payor is in arrears (behind in maintenance payments) and does not make a voluntary arrangement with the EO for payment, the first step may be to garnish (legally seize) the payor’s income from sources such as an employer or a government agency. This money owed to the payor is sent to MEP for maintenance payments and is then given to the recipient.
Some sources of income that MEP has the authority to garnish are:
MEP may also garnish any money owed to the payor by the federal government such as:
MEP also has the authority to:
The purpose of any MEP action is not to punish the payor but rather to encourage the payment of the maintenance that has been ordered by the court. If a payor who is in arrears (owing payments to recipient) does not provide the information required, the Director of MEP may apply to the court for an arrest warrant to bring the payor before the Director or the court. Actions such as fines or imprisonment are determined by the court.
Usually payments received by MEP are processed within 48 hours. Depending upon the source and method of payment there may be up to a 6 day ‘hold back’ period to ensure the payment clears the bank. The most efficient forms of payment are by direct deposit or by cheque payable to the recipient from the payor.
If MEP must take action to enforce payment by the payor, there may be significant delays depending on the information provided about the payor and the time it takes MEP to trace the location, income, or assets of the payor.
The timing is also dependent on the specific enforcement action taken against the payor. For example, it usually takes 2 to 3 months before money is received from garnishments on employment or federal income. Once garnishments are in place, payments should come on a regular basis.
The court determines the amount and timing of payments. If there is a change in circumstances, either the payor or recipient can contact the Court Intake Worker to request a court hearing. The court order can only be changed by the court. If the payor is in arrears (payments are not up-to-date) and has negotiated a payment arrangement for the arrears, MEP may consider a reduced payment plan on the arrears only if the payor provides complete documentation and proof of financial hardship.
The amount of a garnishment depends on the source of the income garnished and the amount owed in maintenance payments. In addition to the regular monthly maintenance payment, a garnishment on wages for arrears is usually a maximum of twenty-five per cent of the payor’s gross income. MEP can garnish up to 50% of a federal pension or employment insurance benefits and 100% of income tax refunds, GST credits, or lottery winnings.
There is no cost for recipients or payors to enroll in MEP or to have their maintenance payments processed through the program. However, there is an annual fee charged to payors if their payments are in arrears (not up-to-date). Other specific fees are charged to payors when MEP must take action to enforce maintenance payments. In addition, the federal government charges administrative fees to payors for garnishments on federal income such as employment insurance benefits.
If you are enrolled as a payor or recipient with MEP there is an automated telephone service called INFOLINE that will provide you with the latest information on your case. INFOLINE is accessible to all clients living in Nova Scotia 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You will need to have your case number and personal identification number (PIN) handy when you call. INFOLINE numbers are 424-0050 for Metro Halifax/Dartmouth and 1-800-357-9248 for outside Metro (this number is toll free). For more information on INFOLINE, click here.
You can also leave a detailed message on INFOLINE and/or request a call back from your case worker. Calls are usually returned within 2 working days. For more information on how to leave a message or request a call back on INFOLINE, click here.