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Widowed, Deserted, Separated or Divorced Parents


Assistance may be granted to a parent residing with one dependent child or more and who is a surviving spouse (including cases of separation and desertion) if he or she is lacking adequate means to care properly for such child(ren) without social assistance or if he or she cannot adequately support one or more children because of their continued attendance at school or college.    Act 6(b)(i)

A parent is eligible for social assistance if he or she must remain at home with the children because his or her spouse has deserted the home and a suitable housekeeper cannot be found.   Act 6(b)(iii)

A person who registers a support order under the Support Orders Enforcement Act may receive social assistance notwithstanding that person's entitlement to receive the benefit of the support order.  The Minister may determine the amount, if any, of support which is paid to the person named in the support order as a beneficiary of the order as a beneficiary of the order.   Act 24 (1, 2)

Social Assistance may be granted to a deserted or separated mother for a period of 30 days, without requiring her to take action for support against the father of the child or children if, before further assistance is granted, she has made every reasonable effort to obtain support from the father.    Regulation 16

Prince Edward Island

Where a married person who is separated has applied for, or is in receipt of assistance and, in the opinion of the Director, has separated in order to qualify for assistance, the Director may refuse, cancel or suspend any assistance to which the applicant would otherwise be eligible.    Regulation 7(7)

As a condition of eligibility, an applicant who is divorced, separated or deserted must initiate any action or other proceeding and enforce any court order concerning any obligation of another person to support or maintain the persons on whose behalf benefits are payable; where compliance with this requirement would adversely affect the applicant or beneficiary, or prove futile or unreasonable, the Director may waive this condition.    Regulation 7(14), 26(d)

The Director may provide the applicant or beneficiary with access to the required resources to pursue maintenance orders; in such cases, he shall be deemed to act as an agent for the beneficiary, whether the beneficiary agreed thereto or not and notwithstanding the incapacity of the beneficiary to so agree.  Where an applicant initiates action or other proceeding as noted in the preceding paragraph, the Director shall review the progress being made in relation to the action and its enforcement at regular intervals.    Regulation 28

With respect to employability, each single parent case will be assessed on its own merit; the household's circumstances will be taken into consideration in determining the level of work expectations, if any, to be imposed.  When the single parent is deemed fully employable, the eligibility conditions indicated in section 2.6 will apply.    Provincial contact

Nova Scotia - Provincial

A parent with a dependent child is eligible to apply for family benefits if:

a) the parent is a widow or widower; or

b) the parent no longer cohabits with his or her spouse, and the spouse does not provide the parent with the monetary requirements for regularly recurring needs (min. period of desertion - 6 months); or

c) the spouse is a patient in a sanatorium, hospital or similar institution; or

d) the spouse (or common-law spouse) is imprisoned in a penitentiary to which the Penitentiary Act (Canada) applies; or

e) the parent is divorced and has not remarried.    Act 5(3); Regulation 5

The Director may grant benefits to the spouse of a disabled parent (see section 2.8) who is separated from his or her spouse where he is satisfied that the separation is likely to continue for at least six months.    Regulation 17(1)

As a condition of initial and continuing eligibility, a parent with a dependent child shall bring any action or other proceeding and enforce any court order concerning any obligation of another person to support or maintain the person(s) on whose behalf benefits are payable; where compliance with this requirement would adversely affect a family or prove futile or unreasonable, the Director may waive this provision.    Regulation 21(5,7)

If no maintenance agreement or court order exists at the time of application, Family Benefits may be granted provided that:

- a referral to the Family Maintenance Income Support Program has been initiated; or

- the client has made or is making complete and thorough steps to obtain maintenance; or

- maintenance income cannot be pursued at present (documentation required).

Where the Director feels that a husband and wife have separated for the purpose of enabling one or both of them to qualify for benefits, benefits shall not be granted to either of them.    Regulation 22

Nova Scotia - Municipal

Municipal Assistance policy in Halifax concerning the pursuit of support from the absent parent or ex-spouse is the same as the provincial policy.    Policy 1.2.5

New Brunswick

If a person refuses or neglects to provide support for any person to whom he has an obligation under the Family Services Act, and in consequence of his refusal or neglect, assistance is applied for under the Social Welfare Act for that person, the Director or his designate may, in the name of the person entitled to support, with or without his consent, make an application for an order under Part VII of the Family Services Act with respect to support requirements and the enforcement of orders made under that Act.  This policy applies to all deserted clients except:

- where the applicant would be put in a situation of significant personal stress or danger,

- where an active reconciliation process is currently underway or is to be immediately undertaken,

- where the deserting spouse has insufficient income,

- where the applicant is actively pursuing a support order on her own, or

- where a voluntary support agree­ment is obtained.    Act 8, Policy No. 3


The scale based on unavailability (see section 5.1) applies to an independent adult or an adult member of a family who

i) applies therefor by reason of pregnancy, from the twentieth week, as attested by a medical certificate, until the fifth week after birth; or

ii) has the care of a dependent child who does not attend school because he has not reached the age of mandatory school attendance or by reason of a physical or mental handicap.

NOTE : The above applies to both one-parent and two-parent families.    Act 16

Independent adults and the members of a family must exercise their rights or avail themselves of the benefits to which they are entitled under another Act where the exercise of such rights or the realization of such benefits would affect their eligibility for benefits under a program or would reduce the amount thereof.  In the case of an adult who is not deemed to receive a parental contribution under the second paragraph of section 14 (see section 3.5), the Minister is subrogated by operation of law in the rights of the adult in proceedings to fix or vary support payments, unless the adult has elected to exercise his remedy for support; the Minister may also exercise the rights of any other creditor for the purpose of fixing or varying support payments if he is of the opinion that the exercise of such rights is endangered by the situation of the creditor.    Act 30

The creditor of support must, where he or, as the case may be, his family applies for or receives benefits, promptly inform the Minister of any judicial proceedings brought in respect of such support.  In any proceeding for fixing, varying or cancelling support payments, the court may, of its own initiative, implead the Minister, or the Minister may, of his own initiative and without notice, intervene at any time and take part in the inquiry and hearing.  No agreement between the parties to fix, vary or cancel support payments may be set up against the Minister.    Act 31

The Minister may refuse to grant assistance, reduce the benefits or cease to pay such benefits where independent adults or adult members of a family refuse or neglect to exercise their rights or avail themselves of a benefit to which they are entitled under another Act, or where the creditor of a support order does not inform the Minister promptly of any pertinent judicial proceedings.    Act 33

Ontario - Provincial

A person who is resident in Ontario and who is a person in need is eligible for an allowance and other benefits calculated in accordance with the Family Benefits Act and Regulation if:

a) he or she is a parent of a dependent child who resides with him or her;

b) he or she has no spouse or is not residing with his or her spouse by reason of separation or desertion;

c) he or she is not eligible for an allowance under any other section of the Act, and

d) his or her liquid assets do not exceed allowable levels (see section 4.1).   Act 7(1);

Regulation 2(7); Policy 0203-02


"Parent" means natural or adoptive parent or a person (other than a foster parent) who has demonstrated a settled intention to treat a child as a child of his or her family.    Regulation 2(8)


As a condition of eligibility for assistance for all single parent households, the parent must not be residing with a spouse (see section 8.4) or other person providing an economic contribution to the household which exceeds its social assistance entitlement.    Regulation 5(b)


The Ministry requires Family Benefits staff to communicate an expectation that recipients in certain client groups should prepare for and seek employment while in receipt of social assistance.  These client groups are:

- sole-support parents whose youngest child has reached the age of 12 years,

- non-disabled spouses in families whose youngest child has reached the age of 12 years, and

- non-disabled spouses in childless couples.

It should be noted that preparation and search for employment are not conditions of ongoing FBA eligibility; the employment expectation is a Ministry policy, not a requirement under legislation.  The intent of this policy is to encourage and support clients to increase their financial independence through employment before they lose their categorical eligibility for FBA (i.e., when the youngest child reaches 21 years of age if attending school or when the last child leaves home); if and when that situation occurs, the single parent will be required to apply for municipal General Welfare Assistance (lower benefits, compulsory job search requirements).  FBA clients with children over 12 years of age may be exempted from the employment expectation policy where there are circumstances in which it would be unreasonable to expect the client to prepare for or to seek employment (e.g., client caring for a disabled dependent adult at home, client's child has special medical needs, client has recently left an abusive situation).

In all cases of divorce, separation or desertion, the applicant/recipient must, as a condition of eligibility make all reasonable efforts to realize a financial benefit (support) to which she might have entitlement.    Regulation 8; Policy 0502-02

Income Maintenance staff must decide whether a recipient should be expected to pursue support, and whether to refer him/her to the Ontario Legal Aid Plan, by following the decision-making process outlined below.

i) legal obligation to support

- staff must determine whether there exists a legal obligation to support the recipient or any dependent child(ren) under the Family Law Act (FLA) or the Children's Law Reform Act (CLRA).

ii) adequacy of existing support arrangements

- the amount of existing support payments should be adequate in light of the other party's ability to pay and the recipient's needs; or

- the recipient can provide evidence that he or she has made or is making reasonable efforts to obtain a support award; for example, the client undertakes to arrange for support through a private agreement or has filed an Application for Support with the Family Division of Provincial Court or, in the case of an existing order which is in default, the client files that order with the Director of Support and Custody Enforcement (SCOE).

iii) appropriateness of waiving support requirements

- it is established practice to waive support obligations

a) where the whereabouts of the recipient's spouse are unknown,

b) where the spouse is either in receipt of social assistance, unable to make reasonable payments by virtue of other support obligations, serving a prison term or unemployed and unlikely to be able to pay in the foreseeable future, or

c) where the client is justifiably concerned about the adverse effect of pursuing support (e.g., likelihood of physical or other abuse from the recipient's spouse, medical reasons, high transportation costs to attend court in remote North).

- waiver of support obligations is to be reviewed periodically (usually when a change in circumstances occurs) except in special circumstances (e.g., unwed mother does not know who is the father of her child, staff have been unable to locate an absent parent for two consecutive years) where that waiver can be made permanent.

iv) appropriateness of Ministry action

- although the Ministry can make application for support on behalf of a client, that responsibility is left to the client (except where support obligations are waived).

- situations where Ministry action may be appropriate include physical incapacity or other (substantiated) medical problems and unreasonably high expenses to travel to the nearest court.

v) willingness of the client to pursue support

- a client must substantiate any reason for not wishing to pursue support, such as a letter from a doctor, lawyer, clergyman or social agency worker.

- recipients must be advised that if they are unable to provide any satisfactory reason, or refuse to provide a reason, their social assistance allowance may be decreased by an imputed amount based on the individual circumstances of their case, or they may be declared ineligible for social assistance.

vi) appropriateness of referral to Legal Aid

- no referral to Legal Aid where the action pertains only to an application for Support or the variation of the amount of support (Provincial Court-Family Division), where the recipient's spouse is in receipt of Unemployment Insurance benefits and has no other financial resources, or where that spouse is a permanently unemployable person receiving Family Benefits or General Assistance (see section 5.1).

- referral to Legal Aid where the action involves a contested legal issue other than support, or where such action is to be heard in a court higher than Family Division of Provincial Court.

Policy 0203-03(p.7)

In order to ensure that a sole-support parent in receipt of Family Benefits receives the appropriate level of income in a constant and regular amount regardless of whether the absent or deserting spouse/parent is respecting a court order of support, section 19(4) of the Family Law Act allows assignment of such support by the Ministry.  Situations which would justify assignment of a court order are as follows:

i) where the court-ordered support is in arrears for at least one calendar  month and is registered with the Director of Support and Custody Enforcement;

ii) where the court-ordered support payments are irregular and it appears that  the situation is likely to continue;

iii) where there are difficult circumstances (e.g., threatening spouse).    Policy 0203-04(p. 2)

Ontario - Municipal

The general eligibility section specifically includes in the definition of "person in need" a person who, by reason of being the head of a family whose spouse is absent, has budgetary requirements as determined in accordance with the regulations that exceed his income as determined by the regulations.   Regulation 1(4)

As a condition of eligibility for general assistance, a single parent must be making a reasonable effort to obtain compensation to which he/she may be entitled, including applying to Family Court for an Order for Support.    Policy 0303-07

An applicant is not eligible for assistance as the head of a single-parent family where that person is living with a spouse (see section 8.4) or other person who provides an economic contribution to the household which exceeds its social assistance entitlement.    Regulation 7(6)-Eff. 11-87)

A Municipal Corporation or the Minister of Community and Social Services may apply for an Order for Support on behalf of an applicant or recipient in the following situations:

a) health problems (emotional and physical);

b) physical limitations;

c) threats of violence or intimidation;

d) unreasonable expense to the applicant/recipient re. initiation of support action (e.g., cost of transportation, babysitting, meals);

e) unreasonable delay by the applicant in commencing legal action;

f) other situations where the applicant is unwilling or unable to initiate legal action.    Policy 0303-07

For those applicants or recipients who have fled the home because of violent situations, a grace period of three months shall be granted with respect to the legal pursuit of support payments; however, the personal liquid assets and income of a battered spouse will still be taken into consideration when determining eligibility.    Policy 03-03-07 issued 01-92

Job search requirements are waived in the case of an unemployed but employable person who is the head of a family, or any dependent adult of the applicant or recipient, where the welfare administrator is satisfied that he or she is prevented from obtaining full-time, part-time and casual employment because it is necessary and appropriate for him or her to remain at home to give personal care and supervision to one or more dependent children of the household where:

a) the person is the only adult in the household able to give adequate personal care and supervision to the child or children; and

b) no alternative and adequate child care service that allows such child or children to remain part of the household is available or appropriate in the circumstances.    Regulation 4(1)(d)

However, the need to care for a dependent child does not necessarily excuse a client from seeking employment.  In the case of a single parent family, the local welfare administrator should base his/hers decision respecting work requirements on the characteristics of the children involved (age, health, social adaptation) and the availability of suitable child care.  Where there are two employable adults in the family, one of the adults should be required to seek employment; the second adult may be exempted using the same criteria as for the single parent family.    Policy 0303-03 p. 3

Manitoba - Provincial

A mother or father with a dependent child or children, who is widowed, separated, or deserted, or who has been divorced and has not remarried, is eligible to apply for social assistance.    Act 5(1)(b,c)

Single parents 55 years of age and over whose case eligibility ceases when their children attain independence and who are clearly lacking in work experience and immediate capacity for employment may continue to receive social allowances on the basis of disability.    Policy DO-11-02

A single parent is not expected to seek or accept employment or training opportunities as a condition of eligibility until the youngest child in the household reaches the age of 18 years.

Editorial Comment

It is generally required that all recipients attempt to obtain any funds which may be available to them from a deserting, divorced or separated spouse under an existing or potential agreement or order pertaining to maintenance and support.  However, this requirement may be waived by a District Director in extenuating circumstances.    Policy D1-11-03

Manitoba - Municipal

Since January 1990, separated or deserted single parents, or those living apart from their spouse, may apply directly to the provincial Social Allowances Program for assistance; prior to that date, newly-separated parents were required to apply to their municipality of residence for assistance for the first 90 days following the separation or desertion.  A small number of single-parent households still receive assistance under the Municipal Assistance Program, i.e., those which will be in receipt of assistance for only a short time because of their circumstances.   Editorial Comment


A single parent applicant must endeavour to obtain financial support from an absent spouse or putative father; assistance may be granted temporarily pending the outcome of such attempts.    Policy 3-1-5

Where a maintenance order is obtained, the client must sign an Assignment of Rights form, which allows the Minister of Social Services to receive maintenance money on behalf of a client and to seek a variation of the order in court if it is in the client's interests.    Regulation 6.1; Policy 18-1-8

The Automatic Enforcement of Maintenance Orders (AEMO) program, administered by Saskatchewan Justice, provides for the procurement and collection of maintenance payments.  When a client's maintenance order is registered with the AEMO office and an Assignment of Rights has been completed, maintenance payments are forwarded to the Consolidated Fund (in most cases) and the household's social assistance entitlement remains unchanged.    Policy 18-1-8

Since August 1992, single parents are not required to seek employment or take training as a condition of eligibility if they choose to remain at home to care for one child (or more) under six years of age.    Policy 3-1-5

For a period of up to three months following the date of separation, a single parent family may be designated "not fully unemployable" to allow for a period of readjustment for the family.  The "not fully employable" category also includes a single parent or the less employable spouse of a two-adult family who chooses to remain at home to provide care to an immediate family member, including a foster child.    Policy 13-1-4


Where a social allowance is paid to or on behalf of a person who has a right to maintenance or alimony for himself or his dependent children under an Act, an order of the court or an agreement, the Government is subrogated to all rights of maintenance or alimony of that person.  For persons who do not agree to subrogation or who do not fully cooperate in pursuing maintenance, consideration will be given to refusal or cancellation of social allowance.    Act 14; Policy 02-01-02(p.1)

Clients who are divorced or separated from a legal marriage, or separated from a common-law relationship, or unwed parents, shall be advised that the government is subrogated to all rights to maintenance, unless they are receiving payments directly.   Policy 01-05-03

Under the Department's Family Maintenance Program, child support is pursued on behalf of any dependent child who is supported by the Supports for Independence (SFI) program when at least one of the responsible parents of that child is not included as part of the family unit on the SFI budget.  The provincial Department of Justice collects maintenance payments on orders or agreements registered with their Maintenance Enforcement Program.  Regardless of whether maintenance payments are received or not, each single parent household applying for SFI is referred to a Family Maintenance worker; this worker determines whether the maintenance received is reasonable and initiates appropriate action if it is not.  When an order or agreement is registered with the Maintenance Enforcement Program, payments are usually made to the Provincial Treasurer during the time the client's SFI file is active.  The Family Maintenance Program requires that maintenance action be concluded within one year from the date of referral to that program.  Maintenance action is deemed to be concluded when:

- an order or agreement has been obtained and registered with the Maintenance Enforcement Program,

- the SFI file is closed (client no longer needs social assistance),

- the absent parent has no ability to pay or cannot be found,

- the client is unable to identify the responsible person,

- there is a history of violence or threats to the client by the responsible person, or

- the client is divorced and maintenance is reserved.

Policy 05-13-01

With respect to employment/training expectations, Transitional Support (see section 2.1) includes the category "Unavailable for Work/Training - Family Care Responsibilities", which in turn includes any client (whether a single parent or a spouse) who has a child under the age of six months or who must care for a child or spouse with a physical or mental incapacity and has requested to be deemed unavailable for work or training due to family care responsibilities.   Regulation 3

Once the child is over six months of age, the parent shall actively seek work or enter training in order to prepare for independence.  Exceptions to this policy may be made on an individual case basis, where the single parent or the spouse (in the case of a couple) is clearly experiencing unusual difficulty in coping with the competing demands of family and work.    Policy 02-02-03 p.3

British Columbia

When income assistance is paid to or on behalf of an individual, that individual may assign to the Crown the right to do one or more of the following:

- apply for a maintenance order

- apply to vary a maintenance order

- enter into a maintenance agreement

- enforce payment on a maintenance order

- defend against a variation action brought by another party to a maintenance order

- file an order for enforcement with the Director of Maintenance Enforcement.    Act 19.2(1)

As of October 15, 1992, single parents who are income assistance recipients are free to choose a course of action to meet their individual circumstances with respect to maintenance orders and agreements.  Although they are encouraged to take full advantage of all sources of income or assets that may be available to them or any of their dependants, they may well choose not to pursue maintenance at all, for reasons of potential family violence of dysfunction, or where the absent parent is not likely to ever have the means to pay.  Alternatively, clients in this situation may avail themselves of the services of Legal Aid, Family Court counsellors or the Family Enforcement Program.    Policy 3.4.1; Manual Amendment Letter #23 (1992-93)- Vol. I

Effective April 1, 1994, employable single parents will be required to seek employment unless they have:

- a dependent child under 12 years of age, or

- a dependent child under 19 years of age who has a physical or mental condition requiring the parent to stay at home with the child.   Regulation 3.2(2.1); Policy 3.14.1 - eff.04-94

- See section 8.4 concerning support obligations of a spouse


An applicant or recipient who is taking care of one or more of his or her own pre-school children shall be deemed to comply with the requirement to explore every possibility of self-support.   Regulation 5(3)

Northwest Territories

A person who, by reason of loss of the principal family provider, is found to be unable to provide adequately for himself and his dependents is eligible for assistance.    Regulation 1

Where a person applying for assistance is entitled to maintenance under the Maintenance Orders Enforcement Act, the person shall, as a condition of receiving the assistance, assign the maintenance order to the Director.
NOTE : This condition of eligibility for single parents is currently under review.   Regulation 8.1(1) - eff. 08-89; Provincial Contact

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