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Locating an ex-spouse for child and spousal support

Region: Ontario Answer # 990

Although all the usual debt collection remedies are available to enforce support payment arrears, the law grants special status to child and spousal support payments.  Special laws were created because dependants under support orders are among society’s most vulnerable creditors. To address the massive default rates and resulting child poverty, virtually every jurisdiction in North America has enacted specific laws to help locate absconding spouses, and enforce family support payments. A licensed private investigator can help with these types of investigations.

The Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act

The Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act is the federal response to this problem. This Act establishes a government agency, called the Family Orders and Agreement Assistance Unit.  This Unit helps people trace spouses who are in breach of a court order or an agreement for support payments.

The Family Orders Unit provides tracing information through federal information databanks, under the control of the Department of Justice. While the information contained in these records is extensive, only a limited amount is available for disclosure, such as the addresses of a person in breach of the order or agreement, and the name of his or her recent employers. Due to the confidential nature of this information, access to the federal information bank is not available to the public directly but is limited to designated recipients. These include courts, judges, federal and provincial offices, such as your local provincial family support plan branch, or peace officers investigating child abduction cases.

An application to the federal enforcement unit for tracing can be initiated by one of the persons named in the court order or agreement, or by an individual or agency authorized to enforce the order or agreement. There are three steps to this procedure. First, the party must search at least one provincial information bank before initiating an application. If the required information is not found, the party must then apply to a court of competent jurisdiction for authorization to seek access to the federal information bank.

Once this is obtained, the maintenance enforcement office, called the Family Responsibility Office in Ontario, may apply to the enforcement unit for tracing assistance. Once the trace has been completed, the information is given to the designated recipient. This information cannot be disclosed to unauthorized individuals.

To contact the Family Orders and Agreement Assistance Unit, visit its website at justice.gc.ca.

Provincial enforcement

In addition to the federal enforcement office, each province and territory has established legislation to enforce court-ordered and even privately negotiated support agreements, such as separation or paternity agreements. Support orders made by a judge or private agreements filed with the court or local enforcement unit will be enforced, including those from “foreign” jurisdictions such as other provinces, the United States or many other countries.

All provinces have special offices to assist parents in arranging for payments to be made and received. These offices may have the authority to seize property or garnish wages to satisfy arrears or ongoing payments.

Ontario’s Family Responsibility Office

In Ontario, for example, the Family Responsibility Office has the legal authority to collect support payments and arrears. Its powers include being able to order any person or public body in Ontario to disclose the name of the employer, place of employment, wages, salary or other income, any assets or the address or location of a person against whom an order is being enforced. It may also ask the federal Department of Justice to conduct a search of certain federal information banks to assist in locating defaulting payors. It also has the authority to suspend a driver’s licence, seize lottery winnings, garnish joint bank accounts and use private collection agencies.

A payor of support monies must inform the Family Responsibility Office within 10 days of any change of address or of income source, such as an employer.

If the court is satisfied that a spouse, who is subject to a support order, is about to or has left the province to evade support payment obligations, a court may issue a warrant for the absconding spouse’s arrest. Once the absconder is arrested, he or she may be brought before the court.

Get help

For more information, visit the Ontario Family Responsibility Office.

To have someone conduct an investigation to locate an ex-spouse for child or spousal support and for other investigation services, contact our preferred Investigators:


Smith investigation Agency

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