As a rule of thumb, children are entitled to support payments as an established legal right. Though payments are typically disbursed to a custodial parent, they are legally considered as those funds necessary to the child’s comfort, safety, and well-being, and thus are an obligation due to the child and not the parent who may be a former spouse or partner.
Child support payments begin when a court issues an order and continue until the obligation is satisfied — usually when the child reaches the age of majority. Sometimes, when an arrears balance exists, support payments can continue beyond the age of majority until the full amount is paid.
The amount of child support ordered by a court can vary, but generally comports with established federal guidelines. A payor parent is responsible for making timely payments according to a schedule and amount set either by a court or by an approved agreement of both parents. While there are various considerations that may affect child support, a new partner, spouse, or living arrangement will most likely not change the obligation due the child.
Calculating Child Support Obligations
When parents divorce or separate, both remain legally responsible for the child’s financial support. However, a child may live with one parent for more time than another, the obligation to contribute to the child’s housing, sustenance, medical care, and other considerations remains for both parents.
In determining the amount of support due a child, courts will rely on the Federal Child Support Guidelines to establish the base amount owed by the paying parent. Three basic factors that affect the base amount generally include:
• the paying parent’s gross annual income
• the number of children
• the province or territory of residence of the paying parent
Once the base amount is established, a court may consider additional circumstances to establish the final support payment due. Additional factors that can affect the final amount include childcare expenses, medical insurance coverage and payments, or custody arrangements.
Custodial Parent’s Living Arrangements and Support Obligations
The primary consideration in calculating child support payments is the income of the paying parent at the time the support is calculated. Canada’s courts adhere to the widely held rule that children are entitled to their parent’s financial means despite separation or divorce. This means that a third party’s involvement will rarely affect the support guidelines.
When one parent who receives the child support payments has a change in living arrangements — whether by subsequent marriage or cohabitation — it does not automatically have bearing on the court-ordered support payment.
A paying parent is required to make support payments in the originally established amount even after the other parent remarries or enters into a new living arrangement. The reasoning behind the strict interpretation of the law is that a paying parent has an obligation to the child unaffected by a third party’s financial means. There are, however, some exceptions to the general rule.
Special Considerations May Affect Support Obligations
A parent’s obligation to their child is unaffected by either living arrangements or subsequent marriage. However, there are cases when a paying parent’s obligation can be adjusted because of a change in circumstances. One example is when a new household member’s financial condition allows the non-paying parent to play an increased role in the child’s financial support.
Additionally, child support may be reduced or adjusted if a new partner or spouse decides to adopt the child or assumes the legal responsibility of financial support. Agreements between parents regarding support obligations and custody may also be a means of terminating support in certain circumstances. In most cases though, out-of-court agreements must comply with Canada’s Supreme Court mandates.
Never Adjust or Ignore a Court Ordered Payment or Schedule
While a paying parent may have questions about support obligations when a child’s living arrangements change, it is always sound practice to continue making payments to avoid penalties. Court ordered amounts and payment schedules cannot be altered without revisiting the support issue under the guidance of both an attorney and the court with appropriate jurisdiction.
In most instances, when a child’s custodial parent moves in with a new partner, remarries, or enters into a shared living arrangement, it will not affect the amount that a non-custodial parent pays. However, as with all legal issues and questions, a lawyer familiar with the statutes and individual circumstances of the case can provide proper evaluation and instruction to benefit both the paying parent and the child’s best interests.