Lawsuit against province aims to give child support payments back to children

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A Winnipeg lawyer who has filed a class action lawsuit against the province says successive provincial governments have been lining their coffers for decades with money meant for children living below the poverty line.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/08/2017 (1926 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Winnipeg lawyer who has filed a class action lawsuit against the province says successive provincial governments have been lining their coffers for decades with money meant for children living below the poverty line.

That’s according to Norman Rosenbaum of Merchant Law Group, who’s representing a handful of Manitoba single parents who’ve been personally affected by the policy.

Single parents on social assistance are forced into signing over their child support to the provincial government, or – if they refuse — their monthly welfare cheque will be deducted by the same amount of the payment, according to Rosenbaum.

Either way, he says, they’re giving with one hand what they take with the other and the money isn’t going where it should be: the kids.

“Basically they consider child support to be the resources of the primary care giver. But a ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada has said that child support is the right and entitlement of the child,” he said.

“The kid isn’t responsible for the parent being on social assistance and a third party should not be taking money earmarked for them.”

If a single parent receives $1,000 a month in welfare and has a court order for $800 a month in child support, they are left with two options according to Rosenbaum.

“The welfare worker will say, ‘If you sign the child support over to us, you’ll still get the $1,000 a month. But if you don’t sign this, we’ll only pay you $200 a month,’” he explained.

“That really isn’t much of a choice for the parent, so what happens is child support is turned over to social assistance.”

One father fed up with the situation is Steven Hennessey, 47 of Winnipeg, who’s paid child support for his three children over the past seven years and is part of the class action lawsuit. But since the mother of his children is on social assistance, his cheques go straight to the government.

So when it comes to things like setting money aside for their future, or opening up investment accounts in their names, he feels he has to pay double, since the money he’s already sending each month doesn’t go where it should be.

“The bottom line is that money designated for children is being taken by the government. It’s not provided to the child. They’ve been taking child support away from children for decades,” Hennessey said.

“This isn’t a Conservative thing. The NDP did it too. It’s a pro-poverty policy that affects children negatively and needs to be removed.”

In other provinces the practice has been removed. In 2015, B.C. became the first province to scrap the child support claw-back for single parents on social assistance, before Ontario followed suit in 2017.

Both Hennessey and Rosenbaum hope Manitoba will be next in line.

“Regulation requires people receiving Employment and Income Assistance to make a reasonable effort to obtain the maximum amount of income available to them from all sources. Maintenance payments are considered income in assessing eligibility for EIA benefits,” wrote a provincial spokesman in a statement.

But as far as Hennessey’s concerned that’s not good enough and needs to go.

“This is not income. It’s child support. It’s for the child. It’s not income for the parent. They shouldn’t be treating it like that. The parent is put as a trust of that money, but it’s not theirs,” he said.

“Somebody has got to look out for these kids and right now the government isn’t and that’s a problem. I’m going to continue to pay child support as I always have. I just wish it would actually go to my children.”

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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