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What is child support?

The law says that both parents are responsible for financially supporting their dependent children. Dependent usually means until the child turns 18 and sometimes longer.

Generally, child support is money paid by the parent that spends the least amount of time with the child to the parent who takes care of the child most of the time. It is used to help cover the costs of caring for the child.

Even if your child spends an equal amount of time with each of you, the parent with the higher income may still have to pay some child support.

The parent who pays support is called the payor parent. A parent can be the birth or biological mother or father, a non-biological parent, an adoptive parent, and sometimes a step-parent.

You and your partner can try to reach an agreement about child support before going to court. You can use the Child Support Guidelines and the Government of Canada's child support tables to see how much child support a judge might order.

The tables show the basic monthly amounts of child support to cover expenses like clothes, groceries, and school supplies. It is based on the gross annual income of the payor parent and the number of children entitled to support. There is a separate table for each province and territory.

There are other factors that may affect the amount of child support a judge might order. For example:

  • special or extraordinary expenses, like daycare that are not covered in the table amount
  • the type of custody arrangement, such as shared custody or split custody
  • undue hardship or financial difficulties that make it very hard for the payor parent to pay child support
  • retroactive support with a start date before the date of the court order
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1. Decide who pays child support

The law says that both parents are responsible for financially supporting their dependent children.

The parent who pays child support is called the payor parent. A parent can be the birth or biological mother or father, a non-biological parent, an adoptive parent, and sometimes a step-parent.

Parents must support their children even if they:

  • do not live with the children
  • do not see the children
  • are not married to the other parent
  • did not live with the other parent
  • did not have an ongoing relationship with the other parent
  • have other children from a new relationship

Child support is separate from access

The right to child support and access are two different things. They are both rights of the child. A parent cannot be denied access to their child because they do not pay child support. And a parent who does not have access may still have to pay child support.

You can only refuse to allow access in limited situations, such as if you're afraid for your child's safety. You may have to call child protection services if you believe your child is being abused by your partner or someone in their home. If you’re in this situation, get help right away.

You can talk to a lawyer who can tell you what to do to keep your children safe. If you can't afford to hire a lawyer, you may be able to find legal help in other places.

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2. Calculate the income of the payor parent

Basic monthly amounts of child support are set out in the Child Support Guidelines and the Government of Canada's child support tables. It is based on the gross annual income of the payor parent and the number of children entitled to support.

Gross income means income before taxes and most other deductions. There are two ways to find this amount:

  • Look at line 150 of the payor parent's income tax return or notice of assessment from the Canada Revenue Agency.
  • Look at pay stubs for a full year and add up the earnings before deductions.

Payor parents must give detailed information about their income. This can include:

  • income tax returns and notices of assessment
  • pay stubs or statements from employers
  • financial statements of any business they own
  • statements from employment insurance, social assistance, a pension, worker's compensation, or disability payments
  • proof of income from a trust

Sometimes these documents do not show the whole picture of what the payor parent makes or could be making. This can be because they are trying to avoid paying child support by:

  • working for cash
  • not actively looking for a job
  • being underemployed by only working part-time or in a low paying job
  • not reporting all their income
  • giving false information

In these situations, you can ask the judge to impute income. This means asking the judge to decide that your partner earns more than they say or can earn more.

A judge imputes income based on what the payor parent is capable of earning or what the judge thinks the payor parent actually earns. The judge looks at things like their work history, past income, education, lifestyle, and job opportunities.

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3. Figure out who is a dependent child

Dependent usually means until the child turns 18 and sometimes longer.

A child is not a dependant if they:

  • marry, or
  • are at least 16 years old and leave home ("voluntarily withdraw from parental control").

Withdrawal from parental control means your child decides not to live with you anymore and not to follow your rules. The withdrawal from parental control must be voluntary. This means your child cannot be forced to leave.

For example, if your child is "kicked out" or if the living conditions at your home is so bad that your child is forced to leave, the withdrawal is not voluntary. You will continue to be responsible for supporting your child.

A child who is over the age of majority, that is, 18 or older, may still be dependent if they cannot support themselves because they:

  • have a disability or illness, or
  • are going to school full-time.

In the case of disability or chronic illness, a child over the age of majority can remain dependent for their entire life.

In the case of post-secondary students, a child who is diligently pursuing (not just enrolled in) their first undergraduate degree or diploma is generally in need of support until they finish school. This usually lasts until the child turns 22 or gets a degree or diploma. Sometimes support can be ordered to allow the child to get more than one degree.

If the judge finds that a child over the age of majority should receive child support, they can order the table amount or something different. The child may also have to contribute to their expenses. This depends on the facts of your case.

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4. Calculate the table amount of child support

Basic monthly amounts of child support are set out in the Child Support Guidelines and the Government of Canada's child support tables. It is based on the gross annual income of the payor parent and the number of children entitled to support.

When calculating the table amount of support, the income of the parent receiving support is usually not relevant. The table amount assumes that the parent who is caring for the child most of the time contributes to their financial support.

There is a separate table for each province and territory. If the payor parent lives in a province or territory other than Ontario, use the table for that province or territory. If the payor parent lives outside of Canada, and the other parent in Ontario, use the Ontario table.

There is an online calculator at the Child Support Table Look-up that can help you figure out the table amount of child support.

The tables only show the basic monthly amount of child support that cover things like:

  • a share of the rent or mortgage to cover the cost of the child's housing
  • bills for household expenses
  • groceries
  • clothes
  • toiletries
  • haircuts
  • school supplies

There are other factors that may affect the amount of child support a judge might order. For example, there may be additional expenses, called special or extraordinary expenses, like daycare that are not covered by the table amount.

Or, sometimes a parent may not have to pay child support or may pay less than the table amount of child support. For example:

  • the payor parent is a step-parent
  • the type of custody arrangement is either shared custody or split custody
  • the payor parent has undue hardship or financial difficulties that make it very hard for them to pay child support
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Reviewed: 
September, 2015

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