Child Support (Script 117)

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

What is child support?

Child support is money paid by a parent, or a stepparent, to the parent with whom the child or children reside with, for the financial benefit of the child. Child support is paid when the relationship between the parents or a parent and a step-parent 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 or a parent and step-parent, such as a separation agreement, a child support agreement or a parenting agreement, an arbitration award or a court order.

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

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 surrogate 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.

A stepparent and can also 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 or under the Family Law Act, where 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 cannot agree, they can start a court case and ask the court for an order that child support be paid.

If a parent is receiving income assistance, she or he may request assistance from the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, to obtain an agreement of an order for child support, and assign their maintenance rights to the ministry if they meet certain criteria (see list of eligibility criteria).

Which court to apply to?

An application for a child support order can be submitted to either the Provincial 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 Provincial Court. However, the Provincial 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 needs 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 is determined under the Federal Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines specify the amount of support based on the paying parent’s income, Province/Territory of residence, and the number of children 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 Select “Family Law”, click on “Child Support” link, and then select “guidelines” or “child support amounts”.

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; clothing and shoes; haircuts, basic school supplies and toiletries, and so forth.

What are “special or extraordinary” expenses?

In some cases, both parents may be obliged to contribute to certain expenses for the child on top of the basic amount of child support. These are four types of expenses that normally qualify as special or extraordinary expenses (there could be others as well):

  • child care expenses, 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 post-secondary education or private school fees; and
  • some expenses for extracurricular activities like music, 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 not less than 40 per cent of the time over the course of a year, this is called “shared custody.” In this case, the parent may be able to pay a lower amount of child support than what the Federal Child Support Guidelines normally require. In shared custody arrangement each parent pays child support to the other, since the child/children live with each parent equally or close to equal time. In cases like these, a court will look at each parent’s income, household financial circumstances and the financial needs of the child to determine the appropriate child support amount payable by the parent with greater income.

What if each parent has a child in their care?

When each parent has one of the children in their care, this is called “split custody.” In this case, each parent is supposed to pay the full 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.

What if the person paying child support is a stepparent?

If the person paying child support is a stepparent, he or she may pay less child support than what the Federal Child Support Guidelines would normally require. 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 natural parent. For more information on this, refer to script 147 on “Unmarried Spouses: About the Children in Your Family”.

What if the amount set by the Federal 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 Federal 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 about it before making a court application.

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 sharing “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 and financial circumstances is usually available. Interim orders are meant to last until the case 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 Divorce Act or the Family Law Act. 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 over the age of 19.

Can a child support order cover the past?

Child support orders can be made to start at an earlier date than the date when an agreement is reached or a court order is made. These are called “retroactive” orders. In general, the court will make a retroactive order when there is an obligation to pay child support that was not 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. To ensure the appropriate child support amount is being paid, parents should review child support payments annually by exchanging updated financial information once a year. If there has been a change, the Federal 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 (FMEP) can help. FMEP staff will help you to collect support payments that are owed and monitor a support order or an agreement to make sure payments continue to be made. For more information on this, refer to script 132 on “Enforcing Orders and Agreements for Support”.

More information

  • 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 Provincial 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. Also, see the Family Justice website at
  • For more information about the Federal Child Support Guidelines, Child Support Officers are 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.

[updated May 2017]

The above was last reviewed for accuracy by Zahra H. Jimale.

© Copyright 2018, 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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