You and your spouse paid for your children’s needs during your relationship. Child support formalizes financial obligations after separation.
Some parents have to adjust to the terms and logistics. Ultimately, parents continue to be financially responsible for their children and the law enforces this serious obligation.
The parent who the children do not primarily live with pays support to the other parent to help cover the basic costs of raising the children.
Complex issues including the age of the children, undue hardship, second families, determining income, extraordinary expenses, arrears, varying support, and shared custody require more detailed information and advice from a lawyer.
Child support is separate from parenting (married or unmarried). Even if a parent does not have parenting time with the children, they still must pay.
The Federal Child Support Guidelines is the law that governs the payment of support by married or unmarried parents. The court must 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 and it is not taxable to the recipient parent or tax-deductible to the payor parent.
There are two categories 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. The payor parent’s income determines the base child support amount.
The Federal Child Support Guidelines apply to married parents and the Alberta Child Support Guidelines apply to unmarried parents. Whether married or unmarried, you pay the same amounts.
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 and the payor parent usually pays 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 amount because of the Guidelines.
For example, if you earn $80,000, live in Alberta, and have two children, your base child support is $1,169.00 per month.
It is calculated differently in shared or split parenting situations.
Under the Federal Child Support Guidelines, shared parenting is each parent having 40% or more of parenting time with the children. A more broad, contextual analysis is used to calculate support because both parents incur similar basic costs to care for the children. For the same reasons, it 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.
The Federal Child Support Guidelines lists special or extraordinary expenses:
- 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.
Each parent pay necessary and reasonable special or extraordinary expenses proportionate to their income.
Dividing each parent’s gross annual income by the total gross annual income of the parents calculates the proportionate shares. 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.
Support doesn’t necessarily stop when the child turns 18 years old.
Support continues 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 it continues 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.
If they are self-employed or own a business, parents deduct expenses for income tax purposes. Parents do not deduct these expenses 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. Families often rely on the previous years’ Income Tax Return information when calculating support if the incomes of the parents have not changed very much.
Parents must provide their financial disclosure.
Parents must provide the other parent all relevant information about their income. Typically, parents exchange disclosure after the income tax filing deadline each year. They then calculate support on a retroactive and/or go-forward basis.
The Child Support Recalculation Program (CSRP) is a government program that recalculates child support for families each year at no charge. The program is not available to families where one parent is self-employed or their income is complicated.
A Child Support Order sets out if CSRP can recalculate your child support.
Child support is usually reviewed annually or on a material change in circumstance.
The payor parent pays base child support based on their current income. To ensure the child support amounts are up-to-date, you should review it every year after the income tax filing deadline.
A material change in circumstance can also cause a review. This may include a significant change in either parent’s income or the circumstances of the children. This includes 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 your payment is too high or too low.
Speak to a lawyer for more details about determining undue hardship.
One-hour of free mediation is available at the courthouse.
The Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) program offers one-hour free mediation with a third-party lawyer as your mediator. You can take your lawyer with you or go alone.
This is a great opportunity to do a child support review or resolve your issues with the help of a lawyer for free.
Attending the DRO program is mandatory if you want to file a child support Court Application. It is not common to qualify for an exemption.
The payor must pay missed payments.
The payor parent falls into child support arrears if they do not make their payments which 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 payment.
Every Child Support Order should include an MEP clause. Either parent may register the Order with MEP. 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.
The payor parent pays the recipient directly if you do not register the Order with MEP, which is rare. Sending payment by cheque or e-transfer decreases the chance of any potential disagreement in the future because there is a record of payment.
If a situation arises where a parent is unable to pay, that parent should contact a lawyer immediately. This prevents arrears from accumulating, which can have very serious consequences.
MEP can enforce ongoing payment and arrears through a variety of enforcement mechanisms and 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 since separation or upon a review, they may owe retroactive child support. The payor pays the amount all at once or over a period of time. The Court decides or the recipient parents agrees to the terms.
Your payments must reflect an increase in income or the arrears amount you owe may be significant. There are also obligations on the recipient to seek a review. 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 so each parent receives the payment six months of the year if they have shared parenting.
There are rules for claiming child care deductions and other benefits. Speak with an accountant for information pertaining to your specific information.