Just about every family law client I have ever spoken to has had something to say about the Family Responsibility Office (FRO), and it is usually isn’t good. Too slow, too busy, too aloof, too aggressive, not aggressive enough, etc., are just some of the common complaints.
There are thousands upon thousands of support recipients and payors in Ontario, and only a certain number of FRO employees who I am confident try their best to make the system work. It can be unbearable at times, dealing with both sides of the “support fight” and neither party is happy with you.
As a lawyer, I am more accustomed to dealing with those who have to pay support. If you are in arrears of your support payments, whether you are new to the support enforcement process in Ontario or, sadly, an old pro dealing with FRO, this blog is for you, if you want to best deal with FRO.
First of all, make sure that you are polite in your dealings with the FRO agent. Even if they are not, don’t get upset with them – it is not personal to them, even though it’s very personal to you. Review the paperwork or the figures they are representing to you. If they do not seem or sound accurate, advise the FRO rep of this, and tell them that you will be reviewing the matter with someone shortly.
That gets me to my next point. Do not ignore the FRO calls or letters. If you put your head in the sand, when you eventually come up for air, you will find the world a lot more difficult to handle if you tried to pretend that the problem went away. It never goes away simply by itself; rather, it gets bigger if left unattended.
Onto my third point – if you cannot handle the FRO problem on your own, don’t feel bad; most people need help with addressing it. Although I am a lawyer, I usually advise potential clients that for their first negative encounter with FRO, they may want to speak with their local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP). They often have local staff who can quickly connect with FRO to address some of the administrative matters, such as eliminating harassing phone calls or helping you work out a simple payback agreement with FRO. To find out who your local MPP is, please visit the following link: https://www.ola.org/en/members/current.
If your matter is not so simple that your MPP cannot help, I then suggest you speak with a lawyer. Most, if not all, courthouses, have a family law advice lawyer available to speak with clients, either by appointment or on a first-come-first-serve basis. This advice service is free to all Ontarians and is situated in the Family Law Information Centre (FLIC). Please note that in some courthouses (larger centres), the advice lawyer is there all day, whereas in others (smaller centres), the advice lawyer is there only on select times and dates. To find out the availability of the FLIC lawyer in your town, please visit the following link: https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/courts/Court_Addresses/.
Please remember that the FLIC lawyer is generally very busy and can usually only spend up to 20 minutes with you, and with each client.
If you need individualized attention, make an appointment with a lawyer. First, find out if the lawyer a) has experience dealing with FRO matters, b) is available to see you soon, and c) what the lawyer’s fee is (if any) for their meeting with you. When I meet with my FRO clients, I ask them to bring a copy of the order or agreement that is the subject of the FRO proceedings, a copy of the demand letter and documents they received from FRO and, if readily available, their financial information (tax returns, pay stubs, etc.).
It is very important to meet with a lawyer – whether the FLIC lawyer or your own lawyer – as soon as possible after you have spoken to or received a letter from FRO. The reason is that some of the options available to you are time-limited, such as negotiating an agreement, or more importantly, bringing a motion to refrain FRO from directing that MTO to take away your driver’s license. Once the dates FRO has set out in their letters has come and gone, it may no longer be possible for you to get a refraining order. That would be a very bad thing to happen to you. Sometimes, the refraining motion may not even be available to you, so you want to make sure you act as soon as possible. If you are seeing a lawyer with enough time to respond to FRO, the lawyer can act quickly and do their best to address the matter with FRO in a way that is best suited to your case. That away, you can have some piece of mind, knowing it is being addressed properly.