Editorial: An unusual ruling

An unusual ruling against Ontario’s Family Responsibility Office is worthy of note.

There is a stereotype that permeates popular culture about family law disputes, often related to deadbeat parents (usually fathers) who won’t pony up child support for their kids. But the ruling in DeBiasio v. DeBiasio is different.

The case focuses on a father who had to get a refraining order against the FRO to stop it from suspending his driver’s licence.

This happened after months of attempted communication with the man’s FRO caseworker, as well as the agency’s legal services department, about an upcoming court date for a motion to terminate child support payments from his former wife.

In the case, Ontario Superior Court Justice Clifford Nelson ordered the FRO’s director to pay $7,500 after finding the agency exercised its discretion to enforce the original child support order unreasonably, and “failed to provide timely and meaningful responses to the inquiries of the payor’s counsel.”

In his ruling, Nelson said, “FRO submitted that at all meaningful times its caseworker was in regular and timely contact with the payor’s counsel. This is not correct.”

He also stated, “FRO’s counsel are lawyers. They are governed by the same Rules of Professional Conduct as lawyers in private practice. They owe the same duty of responsibility to other counsel as does any lawyer in Ontario. Timely and meaningful communication is the expected standard of behaviour.” The man’s lawyer, Annamaria Perruccio, says this is something that happens “all too often.”

Perruccio is calling for an amendment to provincial legislation to lessen the FRO’s power to strictly enforce support orders when a material change of circumstances has occurred, particularly if there’s a court date on the horizon.

Joshua Henry, a spokesman for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, said the ministry “is currently considering possible implications for policies or practices.”

This may be wise given the nature of Nelson’s ruling, which certainly indicates there are problems afoot, at least in this case.

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