Dragnet could be expanded


Sun, October 24, 2004


Alberta's hard-line Maintenance Enforcement Program may be about to win friends among those it has targeted in the past. Justice Minister David Hancock told the Sun he's considering expanding the child-maintenance payment collection program to begin enforcing court "access" orders as well, which outline visitation rights for non-custodial parents.

"So far we have been focused on the maintenance enforcement. But I am also interested in issues of access," Hancock said.

The Maintenance Enforcement Program brings pressure to bear on parents who fail to pay their court-ordered child support payments. The debtor's driver's licence can be suspended, other provincial government services denied, interest applied to old debts and collection agents employed to hound the late payer.

The tactics have been quite successful, Hancock said. "We've made changes to the law which has increased our collection abilities. We've been very successful."

But sometimes parents refuse to pay because they claim their court-ordered access to their children has been denied.

"It does impact on the collection side," Hancock said. "They see it as a trade-off, maintenance for access. We have tried to maintain that it is not a trade-off, but to the extent that we can focus on that part of it to ensure it's not any barrier, we will."

The program won't back off on collections, regardless of the access issues, however.

"This is not to say that you don't have to pay if you don't get access," Hancock said, adding his goal is to both "enhance collection and enhance child development" by having both parents in a child's life, where courts have decided it should be so.

Walter Schneider of Bruderheim, a member of the Fathers for Life shared-parenting lobby group, says he'll believe Hancock's promise to crack down on enforcement of access rules when he actually sees it happen.

"We've heard so many promises. But the reality is that there seems to be a policy in place to destroy all families," Schneider said.

The government currently does "virtually nothing" to force unwilling custodial parents - usually mothers - to comply with court orders allowing the other parent to see their kids, Schneider said.