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How can child support be changed?

You may want to change child support because of changes to your situation. For example:

  • The payor parent loses their job and can no longer pay the current amount of child support.
  • The payor parent makes more money and the other parent wants them to pay more child support.
  • Your child finishes school, marries, or moves out on their own.
  • Your child is working full-time.
  • Your child is living with the other parent or a different person.
  • There are new special or extraordinary expenses.

A change in the income of the parent receiving support is generally not a reason to change child support. This is because that parent's income is usually not taken into account when deciding how much child support should be paid.

How you change child support depends on how you and your partner agreed on the amount of child support:

Separation agreement or court order

If you have a separation agreement or court order that includes child support, check it to see if it deals with these kinds of situations. For example, it might say that child support ends when your child gets their degree or diploma.

If your separation agreement or court order does not say what should happen if there are changes to your situation, you and your partner can agree to make a new separation agreement. If you can't agree, you can get help from a family law professional or go to court and ask a judge to decide.

Notice of Calculation

If you and your partner used the Ontario government's the online Child Support Service (CSS) to decide the amount, you can use it again to change the amount. The government then mails you a Notice of Recalculation that has the new amount. Only one parent needs to ask to change child support online. The other parent does not need to agree.

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Make a new separation agreement

You and your partner can agree to make a new separation agreement on child support to deal with the changes in your situation. You can talk to your partner on your own, with the help of someone you both trust, or with the help of a lawyer.

For example, if the payor parent is making more money, you can agree on a new amount of child support.

If the new agreement changes an old agreement that was filed with the court, a "Notice of Calculation", or a "Notice of Recalculation", then any new agreement should also be filed with the court. If it is not filed with the court, the Family Responsibility Office cannot enforce the new support amount.

If the new agreement changes a final court order, you need to ask the court to change their order based on their new agreement.

Your child support agreement can include:

  • the names and birthdays of the children receiving child support
  • where the children will live
  • the amount of monthly child support payments
  • the date when child support will be paid, including a start date
  • the amount of additional payments for special or extraordinary expenses like daycare, if any
  • a repayment schedule for the missed child support payments
  • how child support payments will be made, for example, cash with a receipt, cheque, direct deposit, money order, interac e-transfer, or through the Family Responsibility Office
  • how you plan to deal with child support if there are changes in your situation such as changes in income or employment
  • how the payor parent will give updated income information

Your separation agreement has to follow certain rules to make it binding and enforceable under the law. This means your agreement is made in a way that allows the court to order you or your partner to do what the agreement says, if either of you stop following it.

You don't need a lawyer to make a separation agreement. But it's a very good idea for each of you to get your own legal advice before signing one. It is important for each of you to get your own legal advice from different lawyers. This is sometimes called independent legal advice. The advice is independent because each lawyer is only working for one of you.

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Get help from a family law professional

If you and your partner cannot agree on making a new separation agreement to deal with the changes to your situation, you can get help from a family law professional. These are neutral people who are trained to work with both of you to help you reach an agreement or make a decision for you.

Family law professionals can work in:

  • mediation
  • arbitration
  • mediation-arbitration
  • collaborative family law
  • parenting coordination

All of these processes are sometimes called alternative dispute resolution (ADR). They help solve your issues without going to court. Deciding which process is best for you depends on the facts of your situation and what you want. For example, a mediator doesn't make decisions for you, but an arbitrator does.

Your separation agreement might even require that you first try a process like mediation to work out your issues before taking any further steps like going to court.

Some of the reasons to use ADR instead of going to court are:

  • You have more control over what happens to your case.
  • It can be faster and cheaper.
  • It can be less stressful.
  • It takes place in a private setting.

But, there are some situations where it may be better not to use ADR, such as:

  • There is a history of family violence, mental illness, or drug abuse.
  • You can't talk to your partner.
  • You can't work cooperatively with your partner.

Each family court location in Ontario offers subsidized mediation services. You can get up to 8 hours of mediation for a fee that is based on each person's income. You can use this service whether or not you’re in court. If you're already in court, you can get up to 2 hours of mediation at the court free of charge.

In some areas, Legal Aid Ontario has a mediation service that is free if you or your partner's income is low enough. These mediators help with issues of custody, access, parenting plans, travel and vacation plans, parent communication, and child support.

You can also find mediators who offer their services at lower rates through JusticeNet. JusticeNet is a not-for-profit that helps people in Ontario whose income is too high to get legal aid and too low to afford standard legal fees.

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Use the Child Support Service

In some cases, you may be able to use the online Child Support Service (CSS) to change child support where there has been a change to the payor parent's income.

The government calculates the amount of child support to be paid using the new income information. They then mail you and your partner a Notice of Recalculation that tells you how much child support must be paid.

But sometimes you cannot use the CSS to change child support. For example, if any of these are true:

  • you used CSS to decide or change the child support amount less than 6 months ago
  • you or your partner live outside of Ontario
  • the payor parent earns more than 20% of their income from self-employment, rental income, or investment income
  • you have shared custody or split custody

Important: Only one parent needs to ask to change child support online. The other parent does not need to agree. They get a notice in the mail from the Ministry of the Attorney General that says the other parent applied to change child support online and the CSS agrees that it can make the change.

That payor parent can disagree if the information the other parent gave was wrong. If they do not respond within 25 days of the notice being sent, the CSS might change their support payment without their response. So it is important to respond to a notice from the Ministry of the Attorney General if you don't agree with the change.

You can talk to a lawyer about whether you should use the CSS.

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Go to court

You can go to court to change child support if you and your partner:

  • cannot agree on changing your separation agreement on child support even with the help of a family law professional, or if this is not the right option for you, and
  • cannot use or do not want to use the online Child Support Service

Going to court can be a complicated process and it can take a lot of time. It can be stressful and expensive, but it is sometimes necessary to decide your issues. This family law court process flowchart explains each step in a family law court case.

You ask a judge to change child support by bringing a motion to change. A motion to change is the name of the court process used to ask a judge to make changes to support.

You can talk to a lawyer who can explain your rights and responsibilities under the existing child support agreement, Notice of Calculation, or court order. A lawyer can also tell you if facts exist that may convince a judge that the child support should be changed.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, some lawyers will provide "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means you pay them to help you with part of your case.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer at all, you may be able to find legal help in other places.

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August, 2016

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