10/01/2014 06:00 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST

Millions owed in child and spousal support money in Quebec

CBC News has learned  $188-million is owed in child and spousal support payment in Quebec, and the provincial tax agency says about one fifth of the cases it manages are in arrears.

"I had to keep crying for help, because the bills were popping up, the debt was increasing, creditors were calling the house," said Judy, a woman whose real name we have agreed not to disclose as identifying the parties in divorce proceedings is illegal in Quebec.

Judy was separated from her husband for two years before the divorce was finalized.

He was originally ordered to pay $509 in monthly support for the two children the couple had, but she said he was paying less, and also tried to legally fight being forced into an automatic payment system run by the provincial tax agency.

"I was on the phone often with Revenue Quebec and I work in a cubicle environment so my colleagues at work heard conversations," Judy said. "They heard me cry on the phone with Revenue Quebec, begging for money, begging for the children to receive the money that they were owed." 

Judy said it took about a year for Revenue Quebec to begin garnishing her former husband's wages and for the money she was missing to start coming in. 

A Quebec Superior Court judgment earlier this year orders the husband to pay $507 she is still owed in arrears from 2012.

More behind

In its annual 2014 report, the Quebec Ombudsman's Office criticized Revenue Quebec for not doing enough to track down payers who default on their debt. 

"The Quebec Ombudsman is not convinced that Revenu Québec puts as much effort into collecting arrears on child support as it does when it is owed money," the office wrote.

Deputy ombudsman Claude Dussault told CBC Montreal Investigates the office looked into 66 complaints about the tax agency last year, and found 17 were founded.

"Even one case is too many," Dussault said. "If somebody has not paid his child support, Revenue Quebec should be more diligent and make sure that those debtors pay their debt."

Family lawyer Anne-France Goldwater told CBC the law gives Revenue Quebec enough power to track down people who refuse to pay.

Goldwater said the agency may be lacking proper resources.

"Maybe hire young lawyers, cheaper lawyers, who could go out there...and whose mission it would be to chase these guys," she said. 

No major problems: Revenue Quebec

Revenue Quebec, however, said it has the equivalent of 591 full-time employees looking into its 138,767 open cases.

The agency added four out of five of those cases are not in arrears.

"The goal of Revenue Quebec is to make sure that support is paid on time to the parent and to the children," said spokesperson Stéphane Dion. "Our objective is to make the process easier for creditors, reduce the processing time and ensure that support is paid on time."

Dion said the agency is always looking for ways to improve its services.

The $188-milion figure in outstanding support payments, he said, may include regular monthly transactions that have not yet been processed.

Revenue Quebec said the amount is down from $190 million last year.