Children need financial support from their parents – and they have a legal right to it. Your family’s situation may have changed, but you are still parents and your children still need your love and support.
When parents separate or divorce, they should try to agree on the amount of child support, it is generally best for everyone, especially the children. Asking a judge to make the decisions can be costly, time-consuming and very stressful for families. If you work out a child support agreement together, it’s important it is in writing so that you can remember what you agreed to.
If parents ask a court to decide, the court will use guidelines to determine child support payments. Some child support guidelines fall under federal law, while others are under provincial or territorial law. The guidelines that apply depend on the family’s situation.
For complete information on child support guidelines in Canada please go to The Federal Child Support Guidelines: Step-by-Step.
When you are trying to agree on child support or want to go to court to deal with certain issues, it is important to speak with a family law lawyer to make sure you understand:
- your legal rights and responsibilities, and the rights of your children;
- the options for resolving differences between you and the other parent;
- how the court system works.
There are many people who can help you reach an agreement on child support issues. For example, mediators, lawyers and accountants often work with parents. Also, every province and territory offers services for separating or divorcing parents. Some of these provincial and territorial family justice services are listed on the federal Department of Justice website. You may find others on the website of your provincial or territorial Department of Justice or Attorney General.
If you cannot agree or if you want to have your agreement put into a court order, either or both of you can apply to go to court to get a child support order.
How Much Child Support Should I Pay – or Receive?
In Canada, child support is calculated following the Federal Child Support Guidelines, which came into law May 1, 1997. An amendment to the Divorce Act, the guidelines are designed to:
- protect the best interests of the children;
- provide a formula for calculating child support that is fair and consistent;
- reduce the likelihood of conflict between parents and lawyers regarding child support and to encourage settlement; and
- provide a fast and less costly way of resolving the issue of child support.
Please refer to the Department of Justice Child Support Calculator to help you find the base amount of child support that you may be required to pay.
Custody Arrangements Affect Support Payments
The guidelines provide lookup tables for each province to calculate the amount of child support based on the gross annual income of the non-custodial parent. Custody arrangements affect the calculation of support payments.
In sole custody, where the children live with one parent 60 percent or more of the time, the other parent, known as the non-custodial parent, will pay child support based on his or her gross annual income and the number of children, with the amount coming from the tables under their respective province.
In shared or joint custody, where the children live at least 40 percent of the time with each parent, the tables are used to look up the income of both parents. The respective support payments are tallied and the difference between the two figures is the amount to be paid by the higher income earner.
In split custody, where for example, one child lives with the father and two children live with the mother, the tables are used to figure out the support owed by each parent based on their incomes. The father will owe support for two children and the mother for one. Again, the difference between the two amounts equals the net support owed by the parent with the higher obligation.
High Income Earners
Where a paying parent’s income is more than $150,000 a year, the tables are used for the first $150,000, and a percentage calculation found in the tables is made to cover the remaining income. Alternatively, the parents can agree to an additional amount based on the needs of the children and the circumstances of the parents.
Length of Support
As a general rule, child support will continue until the child reaches the age of majority for the province of residence or until they have completed their first degree, should they continue on into higher education.
Variation of Support
Variations in child support are common where income levels change. Either party can return to court to have the support amount increased or decreased if there is a change in circumstance.
While the federal guidelines have taken away much of the debate over child support, it is still a complex and potentially contentious issue, and you should ask your lawyer for guidance in calculating child support amounts.
In most circumstances, child support payments are neither tax-deductible for the payor nor taxable for the recipient. The payor is shouldering the tax burden for these funds. But if you can get your court order to specify an offset in child support payments – where each parent actually pays the other support even though the net amount is all on one parent – some of the tax burden becomes shared. This has an added benefit for the primary payor: since he or she has received child support, a portion of his or her legal fees are now tax deductible, because fees spent to obtain either child or spousal support are tax deductible. Talk to your lawyer or financial advisor about this possibility.
Sometimes called Section 7 expenses, after the section of the federal Child Support Guidelines that defines them, things like orthodontic treatment, professional counseling, hockey league costs, private schooling, ballet or piano lessons are considered special or extraordinary expenses, and are factored in separately from child support. Generally, these extraordinary expenses are divided between the parents in proportion to their respective incomes. They must be in the child’s best interests, reasonable in relation to the means of the parents, and consistent with the family’s spending patterns before the separation. The key point is that both parents must agree to the expense before it can be treated as extraordinary; one parent cannot simply sign up a child to sports camp and send the other a bill. There is obviously a need for some cooperation between parents regarding these kinds of expenses.