FMEP improves information about liens

Authority Family Maintenance Enforcement Program

Mike had been out of work for a while and so had fallen behind on his court-ordered child support payments to the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP). He had, however, agreed to a Voluntary Payment Agreement (VPA) and thought this would stop the FMEP from taking other action.

Mike was surprised when, a week before the VPA was to take effect, he found out that the FMEP had registered a maintenance lien against the house he owned with his current partner Kelly. The couple felt that it was unfair for the FMEP to do this when Mike had already agreed to pay what he owed. They were concerned the lien might affect their plans to remortgage their house and use that money for renovations. Mike and Kelly also said the FMEP had led them to believe it would not be taking action against Mike unless he broke the terms of the VPA.

By the time they called us, Mike had already repaid what he owed, but the FMEP was not prepared to remove the lien. Mike and Kelly thought this was unfair.

We investigated whether the FMEP had responded fairly to Mike and Kelly’s request to remove the lien. Early in our investigation, we learned that the FMEP had given the couple a priority agreement, which allowed them to remortgage their home to pay for the renovations. We had concerns, however, about the information the FMEP had given the couple about registering liens on property. We also wanted to look at whether the FMEP had given them adequate and appropriate reasons for its decision to register and maintain the lien and whether this decision was in line with its policies and procedures.

When we reviewed the information the FMEP had given Kelly and Mike, we thought it indicated that the FMEP would only take enforcement action if a VPA was breached. When we asked FMEP staff about this, they said that in general, their policy was to seek voluntary agreements before taking enforcement action, but this was not the case for liens on real property. Registering a lien against real property is different from other enforcement measures because doing so secures not only arrears, but any future payments. The FMEP’s policy allows for liens to remain in place, even after arrears have been paid and case law supports this. In Mike’s case, FMEP staff were keeping the lien in place because his children were still relatively young and they wanted to secure future payments. They explained this policy and the reasons for it in a letter they sent to Mike and Kelly.

While the FMEP’s decision was not unfair, we did not think the information it gave to people in these situations accurately described its practices. As a result of our investigation, the FMEP changed the wording of its handbook for lawyers and payors to reflect its policy. The FMEP also created a fact sheet and a standard cover letter on land registrations that it agreed to send people when it registered a lien against the title of their home.

Category Housing and Property
Type Case Summary
Fiscal Year 2010
Location Vancouver Island / Sunshine Coast