Child Support (Script 117)

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

What is child support?

Child support is money paid by a parent, or a stepparent, to the other parent for the financial benefit of the child. Child support is paid when the relationship between the parents has ended. Normally, the parent who has the child for the least amount of time pays support to the parent who has the child for the most amount of time.

Why is child support paid?

Every child has the right to receive financial and emotional support from their parents. The parent who has the child for the most amount of time supports the child in many different ways, including financially. The parent who has the child for the least amount of time pays child support to the other parent to help make sure that the child’s needs are met when they are in the other parent’s care.

Payments of child support can be required because of a written agreement between the parents, such as a separation agreement, a child support agreement or a parenting agreement, because of the award of an arbitrator or because of a court order.

It is important to know that after parents separate, child support is owing, whether there is an agreement or order in place or not.

Who has to pay child support?

Biological parents, parents who have had a child through assisted reproduction and adoptive parents are obliged to pay child support, including unmarried parents and married parents.

When a child was conceived with assisted reproduction, a surrogate mother can be a parent obliged to pay child support unless the people who wanted to have the child have an agreement with the mother that says otherwise. A donor of egg or sperm is not a parent who is required to pay child support unless the people who wanted to have the child have an agreement with the donor that says otherwise.

Someone who is the spouse of a parent is a stepparent and can be required to pay child support to the parent. This can happen under the Divorce Act if the couple was married and the stepparent had a parent-like relationship with the child. Under the Family Law Act, married spouses and unmarried spouses can be obliged to pay child support to the parent as long as: the stepparent contributed to the support of the child for at least one year; the application is brought within one year of the stepparent’s last contribution to the support of the child; and the stepparent and parent have separated. Stepparents can be obliged to pay child support even when the other biological parent is already paying child support.

How to get child support?

Child support can be agreed to in a separation agreement. If parents can’t agree, they can ask the court for an order that child support be paid by starting a court case.

If a parent is receiving income assistance, she or he will have given his or her right to apply to court for child support to the Family Maintenance Program, and the program will decide whether to make an application for child support with no input from the parent. Child support will be paid to the program while the parent is receiving income assistance. The parent may be entitled to some of the support that is paid; thus, he or she should speak to the case worker for more information.

Which court to apply to?

An application for a child support order can be submitted to either the Family Court or the Supreme Court. Each court has its own set of forms and rules. Usually, it’s simpler and less expensive to obtain a child support order in Family Court. However, Family Court cannot deal with claims for divorce, the division of property or debt, the protection of property or claims under the Divorce Act. If the parent may need to ask for orders like these, it may be better to proceed in Supreme Court, where everything can be dealt with in one court case.

How is the amount of child support calculated?

The amount of child support payable is determined by the Child Support Guidelines. For most people, the Guidelines specify the amount of support based on the paying parent’s income and the number of child support is being paid for. The exceptions to this general approach are discussed below.

People can find the Child Support Guidelines and calculate the support amount using Child Support Online Look-up on the federal Department of Justice website at www.canada.justice.gc.ca. Select “Programs and Initiatives”, click on “Child Support” link, and then select “Federal Child Support Amounts” under “Resources”.

What costs does child support cover?

The basic child support amount is a contribution to all of the child’s basic expenses and to the cost of raising the child, including: the child’s share of the rent or mortgage, phone bill, electricity bill, cable bill and grocery costs; new clothing and new shoes; haircuts, school supplies and toiletries, and so forth.

What are “special or extraordinary” expenses?

In some cases, both parents can be obliged to contribute to certain of the child’s expenses on top of the basic amount of child support. There are four types of expenses that may qualify as special or extraordinary expenses:

  • child care expenses, often so the parent who looks after the child can work or go to school in order to get work;
  • medical or health related expenses for the child, including the cost of medical insurance;
  • some educational expenses, including for post-secondary education or private school fees; and
  • some expenses for extracurricular activities like music or art lessons, or sports.

These types of expenses don’t automatically qualify as “special or extraordinary” expenses. To qualify, the expenses have to be reasonable in light of the parents’ financial circumstances and the child’s needs. As a result, piano lessons might qualify as a special or extraordinary expense for one family but not for another.

How are “special or extraordinary” expenses paid?

When an expense qualifies as a “special or extraordinary” expense, both parents must contribute to the cost of the expense in proportion to their incomes.

If both parents have the same income, they would each pay for one-half of the cost of the expense. If parents have different incomes, they pay in the proportion of their individual incomes to the total income of both parents. For example, say a father has an income of $20,000 and a mother has an income of $30,000. Together, their incomes total $50,000. Of this total amount, the father earns $20,000 or 40%, and the mother earns $30,000 or 60%. The father would pay for 40% of the cost of a qualifying special or extraordinary expense and the mother would pay for the remaining 60% of the cost.

The cost of special expenses that parents share is the cost left over after any tax benefits or subsidies, like the federal tax deduction available for child care expenses, are taken into account.

What if parents share the care of the child?

If the parent paying child support looks after the child for at least 40% of their time, a parenting arrangement called “shared custody”, the parent may be able to pay a smaller amount of support than what the Child Support Guidelines normally require. In cases like this, the parents should take a careful look at their financial circumstances and the financial needs of the child.

Where parents have shared custody, the court can make an order that child support be paid in a lower amount than the Guidelines require or the parents can reach an agreement that a lower amount will be paid.

What if each parent has a child in their care?

If the child lives with each parent, called “split custody”, each parent is supposed to pay the full Guidelines amount of child support to the other parent for the child in that parent’s care. The amount that changes hands is the difference between the higher amount and the lower amount.

For example, say that a father would have to pay a mother $400 per month for the child in her care, and the mother would have to pay the father $250 per month for the child in his care. The father would pay the mother $150, the difference between what he owes her and what she owes him.

Where parents have split custody, the court can make an order that child support be paid in a lower amount than the Guidelines require or the parents can reach an agreement that a lower amount be paid.

What if the person paying child support is a stepparent?

If the paying parent is a stepparent, he or she may pay less child support than what the Child Support Guidelines would normally be required. There is no formula to do this calculation; often the court treats the stepparent’s obligation as a top up to the amount that should be paid by the child’s other parent.

In determining the amount of support paid by stepparents under the Family Law Act, the court can consider:

  • the length of time the child and stepparent lived together; and
  • the child’s standard of living when he or she lived with the stepparent.

What if the amount set by the Child Support Guidelines is too high or too low?

In certain other circumstances the court can order that more or less child support be paid than what the Child Support Guidelines require. For this to happen, a parent must show that the payments required by the Guidelines would cause “undue hardship”. Undue hardship means that the required payments would be very unfair and cause a very significant financial problem for either the parent receiving support or the parent paying it.

When a claim of undue hardship is made, the court will look at the standard of living of each parent’s household, including the income from a new spouse or live-in boyfriend or girlfriend, and compare each household’s standard of living against the other. Proving undue hardship is complicated, and it is better to speak with a lawyer.

When must the financial circumstances be disclosed?

To obtain an order for child support, financial disclosure must be made. The paying parent must provide proof of his or her income, which usually includes paystubs, recent income tax returns and other financial documents. In some cases, such as where the parents are paying for “special or extraordinary” expenses or share the child’s time, the receiving parent will also be required to make financial disclosure.

What is an “interim” child support order?

After a court case is started, a parent can apply to court for an interim order for child support. The amount of the payments the court requires may be different than it requires after a trial when the best information about the parents’ incomes is usually available. Interim orders are meant to last until the claim is settled or goes to trial, and can usually be obtained relatively quickly. Interim orders remain in effect until they are either changed by another interim order or a final order is made at the end of the court case.

How long is child support paid for?

Child support is paid for as long as the child continues to be a “child” as defined by the legislation. In British Columbia, a child is someone under the age of 19, the provincial age of majority, or who is 19 or older but is financially dependent on a parent. For example, a college student or an adult child with serious health problems may continue to qualify as a child even though they are older than the age of majority.

Can a child support order cover the past?

Child support orders can be made to start at an earlier date. These are called “retroactive” orders. In general, the court will make a retroactive order when there is an obligation to pay child support that wasn’t met, or an obligation to pay a higher amount of support than what was paid, but usually for no more than three years before the date of the application for retroactive child support.

What if circumstances change and child support needs to change?

Either parent can apply to have an order or agreement about child support changed if there is a change in circumstances, such as an increase or decrease in someone’s income or a change in the child’s living arrangements. The law requires updated financial information to be exchanged each year if a parent, usually the parent receiving support, asks for or if there is a change of income. If there has been a change, the Child Support Guidelines should be consulted to determine what new amount of child support should be paid.

What to do if child support isn’t paid?

If a parent doesn’t pay the child support owing under an order or an agreement, the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program can help. Program staff will help to collect support payments that are owed and monitor a support order to make sure payments continue to be made. For more information on this, refer to script 132 on “Enforcing Orders and Agreements for Support”.

For more information refer to the following resources:

  • Family Justice Counsellors in Family Justice Centres throughout British Columbia can help parents with understanding the Child Support Guidelines, preparing a separation agreement, and obtaining a support order in Family Court. Their services are free. Phone 604.660.2421 in the lower mainland, 250.387.6121 in Greater Victoria or toll-free 1.800.663.7867 elsewhere in BC, and ask to speak with a Family Justice Counsellor in the nearest Family Justice Centre nearest. Also see the Family Justice website at www.justicebc.ca/en/fam/.
  • For more information about the Child Support Guidelines, a Child Support Office is available in Vancouver, Surrey, Kelowna and Nanaimo. The contact numbers are 604.660.2084 and 604.501.3100 in the lower mainland or toll-free 1.800.578.8511 and 1.888.227.7734.
  • See info about Child Support from the federal Department of Justice website at www.canada.justice.gc.ca.
  • See the Child Support section of the wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law, from Courthouse Libraries BC.


[updated February 2015]

The above was last reviewed for accuracy by JP Boyd and Anna Kurt.


© Copyright 2017, Canadian Bar Association British Columbia Branch. Dial-A-Law is a registered trademark owned by Canadian Bar Association British Columbia Branch, a non-profit membership corporation.


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