You and your spouse paid for your children’s needs during your relationship. Once you separate, meeting those financial obligations are formalized in the form of child support.
For some parents, the term and logistics of child support may take some getting used to. Ultimately, parents continue to be financially responsible for their children and the law of child support enforces this serious obligation.
Child support is the money paid by the parent who the children do not primarily live with to parent that the children do live with to help pay for the basic costs of raising the children, like shelter, food, clothing, and basic day-to-day needs.
There are a number of complex issues in child support, including the age of the children, undue hardship, second families, determining income, extraordinary expenses, arrears, varying support and shared custody that will require more detailed information and advice from a lawyer.
The Federal Child Support Guidelines are the law that governs the payment of support by married or unmarried parents. The court has to be satisfied that proper support arrangements are in place for the children before it will grant a divorce or other Order.
Child support is tax neutral. It is not taxable to the recipient parent or tax-deductible to the payor parent.
There are two categories of child support expenses:
- The base table amount (Section 3 child support) for basic expenses, like shelter, food, clothing and day-to-day costs; and
- Special or extraordinary expenses (Section 7 Expenses) for additional reasonable and necessary expenses for the children, like medical and dental costs, childcare, and extracurricular activities.
1. Base child support is calculated based on the payor parent’s income.
The Federal Child Support Guidelines apply to married parents and the Alberta Child Support Guidelines apply to unmarried parents. The law is the same and the amounts you pay whether you are married or unmarried are the same.
The law sets out the appropriate amount of support based on the payor’s gross annual income, the province where he or she lives, and the number of children. Child support is not based on the payee’s income. Child support is usually paid monthly.
All parents in the same province, who earn the same gross annual income and have the same number of children they are paying support for, pay the same monthly child support amount.
For example, if you earn $80,000, live in Alberta, and have two children, your base child support is $1,169.00 per month.
Child support is calculated differently in shared or split parenting situations.
Under the Federal Child Support Guidelines, shared parenting is defined as each parent having 40% or more of parenting time with the children. A more broad, contextual analysis is used to calculated child support because both parents are incurring similar basic costs to care for the children. For the same reasons, child support is calculated differently where siblings live with different parents.
2. Special or extraordinary expenses are discretionary based on what is necessary for the children and reasonable for the family.
A list of special or extraordinary expenses is listed in the Federal Child Support Guidelines:
- Childcare expenses incurred as a result of the custodial parent’s employment, illness, disability, education, or re-training;
- The child’s portion of medical and dental insurance premiums;
- Healthcare-related expenses that exceed insurance reimbursement by at least $100.00 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;
- Extraordinary expenses for primary and secondary school education or other educational programs that meet the child’s particular needs;
- Extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities; and
- Expenses for post-secondary education.
If a special or extraordinary expense is necessary for the children and reasonable given the family situation, it is paid by each parent proportionate to their income.
Proportionate share is calculated by dividing a parent’s gross annual income by the total gross annual income of the parents. This means that if each parent has the same gross annual income, they will each pay 50% of the expense. If one parent has a gross annual income that is double that of the other parent, the higher income-earning parent will pay 66% of the expense.
Whether an expense is a valid special or extraordinary expense is dependent on the unique circumstances of your family. An expense may be special or extraordinary for one family and not for another. For example, competitive hockey may be covered in base child support for a high-income family and be considered extraordinary for a modest-income family.
Children support doesn’t necessarily stop when the child turns 18 years old.
Child support is paid for as long as a child is considered a “child of the marriage” or over 18 and unable to withdraw from their parents’ financial care due to education, illness, disability, or other reason.
This usually means that child support continues to be paid while a child attends post-secondary if they live with one parent.
Your total income for child support purposes may be different from your total income for income tax purposes.
Calculating income for child support purposes may be different than just looking at your total income on your Income Tax Return. The income for child support of parents who are T4 employees, with no other income or income adjustments, is usually the same as their gross employment income.
Parents who work for themselves or own businesses often deduct expenses for income tax purposes, that are not deducted for child support purposes. This may include the rent expense for working from home or the total car expense you claim.
Child support is generally based on your most current income information. Practically, families often rely on the previous years’ Income Tax Return information when calculating support, along as the incomes of the parents have not changed very much.
Parents must provide their financial disclosure to calculate child support.
Parents are obligated to provide to the other parent all relevant information about their income for the purpose of child support. Typically, disclosure is exchanged after the income tax filing deadline each year and calculated on a retroactive and/or go forward basis.
The Child Support Recalculation Program is a government program that recalculates child support for families each year at no charge. The program is not able to help families where one parent is self-employed or their income is complicated.
A Child Support Order will set out whether your child support can be recalculated by this program.
Child support is usually reviewed annually or on a material change in circumstance.
Base child support is paid based on the payor parent’s current income. This is usually reviewed each year after the income tax filing deadline to ensure the child support amounts are up-to-date.
Child support may also be reviewed on a material change in circumstance. This may include a significant change in either parent’s income or the circumstances of the children, like a change in their primary residence or finishing their post-secondary education and becoming financially independent.
In very special circumstances, either parent may bring a claim for “undue hardship” because child support is too high or too low.
Determining undue hardship is very complicated and you should speak with a lawyer for more details.
One-hour of free mediation is available at the courthouse to deal with child support.
The Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) program offers one-hour free mediation with a third-party lawyer as your mediator. You can take your layer with you or go alone.
This is a great opportunity to do a child support review or resolve your child support issues with the help of a lawyer, at no cost to you.
Attending the DRO program is mandatory, if you want to file a child support Court Application, unless you qualify for an exception, which is not common.
Missed child support payments have to be paid.
If a payor parent does not pay their child support as they are obligated to, under a Court Order, the payor parent falls into child support arrears. This means that they owe an amount based on previous payments they missed. Certain material changes in circumstances can reduce or eliminate arrears.
The Maintenance Enforcement Program enforces payment of arrears.
In Alberta, the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) enforces the payment of child support.
Every Child Support Order should include an MEP clause. Either parent may register the Order with MEP. Once the Order is registered, the payor parent pays child support to MEP and the program then forwards the money to the recipient parent. MEP tracks payments received, forwarded and arrears in their statements.
If the Order is not registered with MEP, which is rare, the payor parent pays child support to the recipient parent directly. It is a good idea for these payments to be sent by e-transfer or cheque so that there is a record of the payments. This helps to avoid any potential disagreement in the future about what payments were made.
If a situation arises where a parent is unable to pay child support, that parent should contact a lawyer immediately to prevent arrears from accumulating, which can have very serious consequences.
MEP can enforcement payment of ongoing child support and arrears through a variety of enforcement mechanisms. They do so at their discretion. These mechanisms include restricting a passport renewal or Driver’s License, garnisheeing wages, and federal refunds.
Retroactive child support may be calculated for a period in the past.
If a payor parent has not paid or underpaid child support since separation or upon a review, they may owe retroactive child support. The amount may be paid all at once or over a period of time, as decided by a court or agreed to by the recipient parent.
If your income has increased but that increase is not reflected in your child support payments, the arrears amount you owe may be significant. There are also obligations on the recipient to seek a review of child support. The decisions are complex and you should obtain advice specific to your situation.
There are rules for which parent receives the benefits and certain tax deductions related to the children.
An eligible parent who the children live with primarily receives the Canada Child Benefit. If parents have shared parenting, the benefit is split, with each parent receiving the payment for 6 months of the year.
There are rules for claiming child care deductions and other benefits. Speak with an accountant for information pertaining to your specific information.
Federal Child Support Guidelines (married and unmarried spouses)
The statute that governs child support for married and unmarried spouses.
Alberta Child Support Guidelines (unmarried spouses)
The statute that governs child support for unmarried spouses, which sets out that the Federal Child Support Guidelines also apply to unmarried spouses.
Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines
Guidelines to help make spousal support more predictable and consistent through suggested support ranges.
Maintenance Enforcement Program
Provincial program that collects and enforces child, spousal and partner support.
Child Support Recalculation Program
“Administrative service that annually recalculates court-ordered child support based on current income tax information.”
The Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) Program
The Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) Program is mandatory for all applications for child support in the Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench. If both parties agree, DRO meetings are also available on a voluntary basis for applications for child support made in the Provincial Court.