Daniel Romano, BCL, LL.B., MA; Margherita M. Morsella, LL.B., BA
We depend on support payments from my spouse who has moved to California and is no longer paying – HELP!
And so begins another consultation involving a fascinating area of law known as the ‘execution of foreign judgments’. The problem arises when parties live in different jurisdictions, such as Quebec and Ontario, or Manitoba and Texas. A judgment rendered in British Columbia is not automatically respected in Lebanon, nor vice versa. If a Quebec court orders a parent to pay child support to the custodial parent of the children, then the Quebec Minister of Revenue can take action and seize salaries, bank accounts or other property if the payor parent fails to pay. But if the payor parent has moved to a different jurisdiction such as Morocco, the Minister has no power in that jurisdiction and the Moroccan authorities are under no obligation to respect a Quebec judgment or obey any foreign judges.
Ordinarily, if you want to enforce a judgment rendered by a court in one jurisdiction against a defendant in another, you have to ‘perfect’, or as we say in Quebec ‘homologate’ the judgment in the defendant’s jurisdiction. To remember the word it helps to know the root. ‘Homo’ comes from the Greek for ‘same’ and ‘logate’ comes from ‘logos’ meaning ‘word’. So what we are doing when we homologate an extra-jurisdictional judgment is we are taking the foreign judgment to a local judge and asking the judge to issue a similar or same judgment in our local jurisdiction, thus the local judge’s ‘word’ will be the ‘same’ as that of the foreign judge. Once the judgment has been homologated in the proper jurisdiction, it is then enforceable against defendant. This means that a bailiff or similar officer can seize goods or bank accounts to satisfy amounts owing.
Homologating a judgment is not usually a difficult task to accomplish, but does cost legal fees. These fees may be negligible when dealing with large commercial matters of several millions of dollars, but for a parent who has not received child support payments for six months and is struggling to get by, these legal fees can be a greater burden. To help alleviate this burden for needy families, numerous governments around the world have made agreements to respect and enforce one another’s support judgments in family law matters. These are commonly known as reciprocal execution arrangements. We have good news and bad news re these arrangements:
The good news is that reciprocal execution arrangements exist between all of the provinces and territories of Canada. This means that the FRO (Family Responsibility Office) in Ontario will cooperate with Quebec’s Minister of Revenue so as to collect from a parent in Ontario support payments owing to a parent in Quebec, and vice versa, without requiring the homologation of the judgment that ordered the support. Even better, the Canadian territories and provinces (with one exception) have all made similar reciprocal execution arrangements with all of the states in the U.S. and numerous European, African, Asian, Caribbean and Oceanic countries.
The bad news, of course, is that the one exception is us. Quebec has so far only completed reciprocal execution arrangements with ten of the fifty-two U.S.A. jurisdictions, and only one other foreign country – France. This means that if you live in Ontario and have a family support judgment in your favour, the FRO can arrange for collections from all sorts of counties like Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Ghana, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Norway, or Zimbabwe, as well as across the U.S. If you are in a similar situation in Quebec, however, you will have to pay attorneys to go through the homologation process for you to be able to enforce a payment order. That is, of course, unless the non-paying party is in France or California, Florida, New York, Vermont or one of the other six select states that have completed an agreement with Quebec. If you consider this inequality to be unfair, please rest assured, you are not alone!
If you have any questions about a possible, pending or ongoing divorce, please contact us and schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.