Child Support – Frequently Asked Questions

Ken Fraser

As a Family Law Lawyer I assist individuals with the complicated issues that arise out of the breakdown of their relationship. These issues cover a wide range of areas. When there are children involved one of the issues that I am frequently asked questions about is child support. My conversations with clients almost always focus on a few frequently asked questions. I have outlined some of these questions below, along with brief answers.

What is child support?

Parents have a legal obligation to financially support their dependent children. When parents live together they share this obligation through the informal portioning of the expenses associated with raising and caring for a child. However, when the parents separate and the children are sharing their time between the parents’ homes, more formal arrangements are made to ensure that the parents continue to meet their financial obligations to their children; child support accomplishes this objective. In its simplest form, child support is a reoccurring payment that a parent makes to another parent to help share in the financial responsibility of raising his or her children.

Who pays child support?

All parents have a legal responsibility to support their dependent children to the extent that they are able to do so. A parent can be the birth mother or father, an adoptive parent, or a step-parent. A step-parent is anyone who has been married to someone with children, or has lived as a couple with someone with children, and who has shown an intention to treat those children as members of his or her own family. A biological parent has the legal duty to provide child support even if that parent has never been married to or lived with the parent responsible for the day to day care of the child. This is true even if the child was the result of a very brief relationship.

What is the Family Responsibility Office?

The Family Responsibility Office is a Provincial Government office responsible for enforcing child support. All Court Orders are automatically filed with the Family Responsibility Office. Separation Agreements can also be filed there if they are first filed with the Court and then mailed to the Family Responsibility Office. If support payments are missed the Family Responsibility Office takes action to enforce the Order or Agreement.

How much child support do I have to pay/am I entitled to?

Determining the quantum of child support owing is simplified by the existence of the Child Support Guidelines (“the Guidelines”). The Guidelines are a set of rules and tables created by the Federal Government to calculate the amount of child support that is to be paid. The Guidelines set out the amounts of support to be paid, depending on the “gross income” of the paying parent and the number of children that the support Order covers. The income that is used to determine the child support payable is the support payor’s current income before taxes and other deductions. In most cases, the table amount will determine how much money will be paid. However, in some situations the issue is more complicated and the table merely acts as a starting point (for example, where the children reside approximately the same amount of time with each of their parents, where the support payor’s income is over $150,000.00 per year, where paying support would amount to undue hardship on the support payor or where the support payor is unemployed or intentionally underemployed).

Can the child support amount be changed?

Many of my client’s ask me if the child support amount payable now is the child support amount that will be paid for as long as the child remains eligible for such support. The answer to this question is most often no. Since, at its most basic level, child support is based on the support payor’s current income, child support should be adjusted when the support payor’s income changes. For this reason, the support payor has an obligation to provide ongoing income disclosure. In most separation or parenting agreements that I negotiate the support payor will provide his or her Income Tax Return and Notice of Assessment on an annual basis so that child support can be adjusted accordingly.

What are special and extraordinary expenses?

Child support can be said to be divided into two amounts; the monthly table amount of child support and special and extraordinary expenses. A child support Order or Agreement may provide for an amount to cover all or any portion of the children’s special or extraordinary expenses. Pursuant to section 7 of the Child Support Guidelines special or extraordinary expenses are defined as:

(a) child care expenses incurred as a result of the custodial parent’s employment, illness, disability or education or training for employment;

(b) that portion of the medical and dental insurance premiums attributable to the child;

(c) health-related expenses that exceed insurance reimbursement by at least $100 annually, including orthodontic treatment, professional counselling provided by a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist or any other person, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and prescription drugs, hearing aids, glasses and contact lenses;

(d) extraordinary expenses for primary or secondary school education or for any other educational programs that meet the child’s particular needs;

(e) expenses for post-secondary education; and

(f) extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities.

For the purposes of the Child Support Guidelines “extraordinary expenses” means section (a) (b) of section 7 (1). The guiding principle in determining the amount of an expense referred to above is that the expense is shared by the spouses in proportion to their respective incomes after deducting from the expense, the contribution, if any, from the child. A further underlying principle is that special or extraordinary expenses should be reasonable in relation to the means of the spouses and those of the child and to the family’s spending pattern prior to separation.

These are just some of the questions that I am asked about child support on a weekly basis. They provide a very basic overview of some of the issues that arise with respect to child support. In no way is the information contained above meant to be legal advice, it is merely provided as information. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you have questions about child support, or any other Family Law matter, and would like more information please contact me to arrange an appointment.

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