What happens if an agreement isn’t followed?

About agreements

After they separate, many couples settle their family law issues by negotiating a written agreement. (Many people call this a separation agreement, but the law just calls it an agreement.)

See the fact sheets Making an agreement after you separate and Who can help you reach an agreement? for more information about how to make an agreement. Once you sign this agreement, it is a legal document.

Sometimes people don’t do the things they’ve agreed to, even though they’ve signed a legal document. When a person fails to follow the agreement, this is called a "breach" of the agreement. You can take legal steps to try and get the person to do what they agreed to (called enforcing the agreement).

If a person breaches one part of the agreement (for example, if they don’t pay the support they agreed to), the rest of the agreement is still valid. So if your spouse doesn’t pay child or spousal support, you can’t refuse to allow them to have parenting time or contact with your child.

Why do I need to file my agreement?

Before you can take any step to enforce your agreement, you have to file it at the court registry. This is quite easy to do. Both the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court will enforce parenting or support agreements. To decide which one to file your agreement in, see the fact sheet Do you need to go to Provincial (Family) Court or Supreme Court?

When you decide which court is right for you, choose a guide to get step-by-step instructions:

What can I do if the agreement isn’t followed?

The steps you can take to enforce a family agreement depend on what part of the agreement is involved.

To enforce a parenting agreement or order

Sometimes parents or guardians don't follow parenting agreements or orders. For example:

  • A parent might not show up or be available to care for a child as agreed or ordered. This is called failure to exercise parenting time or contact with a child.
  • A parent might refuse to allow the other parent to spend time with the child. This is called denial of parenting time or contact.

In either case, you can take steps to ask the court to enforce the agreement or order and deal with the parent who didn't follow the agreement or order.

It can be expensive and time consuming to make a court application, so consider that option only if:

  • you can't come to an agreement, AND
  • the other parent repeatedly fails to follow an agreement or order; OR
  • the other parent’s failure to follow an agreement or order caused you and your child extreme inconvenience and cost you money.

For more information about what a court might order when an agreement isn’t followed in these circumstances, see the fact sheet What if the other parent doesn’t follow the parenting agreement or order?

If you decide you want the court to enforce a parenting agreement, see our self-help guide How to enforce a parenting agreement or order.

To enforce a support agreement or order

If your agreement says that one party will pay the other party child or spousal support, this agreement creates a legal responsibility. If the paying person stops making the full payment, a debt starts to add up. Unpaid child or spousal support (under either an agreement or order) is called arrears.

If you have a written agreement or order about child or spousal support, you can sign up (enroll) with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP). The FMEP will help you get the support owed to you under the agreement or order.

Important: You can’t refuse to allow the other parent their parenting time or contact with the child because they fail to pay or fall behind on child support payments. Also, a paying parent can’t withhold child support because there are issues about parenting time or contact.

It’s possible to take steps to enforce support payments on your own, but this is complicated. If you enroll with the FMEP, the program will enforce your agreement or order for you.

For more information about the FMEP, see Family Maintenance Enforcement Program on the BC Attorney General website.

To enforce an agreement about property and debt

When someone breaches the parts of an agreement about property and debt, the only way to enforce the agreement is to sue the other party in Supreme Court for breach of contract.

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