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When can a parent pay less 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.

Usually child support is the 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.

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

Sometimes a parent may not have to pay child support or may pay less than the basic monthly amount of child support set out in the Child Support Guidelines and the Government of Canada's child support tables.

The court looks at the facts of your case to see if:

  • the payor parent is a step-parent
  • there is a custody arrangement like shared custody or split custody
  • either parent has undue hardship
  • the child is over the age of majority, that is, over 18 years old
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Step-parents

The law says that step-parents may be responsible for paying child support where the child is a "child of the marriage" and the step-parent treated the child as a member of their own family.

The court looks to see if the step-parent has a parent-like relationship with their partner's child. For example:

  • How does the child feel about their relationship with the step-parent?
  • Does the child take part in the extended family in the same way as a biological child?
  • Does the step-parent provide financially for the child to the best of their ability?
  • Does the step-parent discipline the child?
  • Does the step-parent talk about themselves as a responsible parent to the child, the family, and the larger community?
  • What relationship does the child have with their absent biological parent?

It does not matter if the partners are married or in a common-law relationship.

Step-parents can pay child support even when the absent biological parent is already paying child support. This means that more than one parent can have a legal duty to pay child support for the same child.

But, the court may order the step-parent to pay an amount that is different from the Child Support Guidelines and the Government of Canada's child support tables.

Some judges look at the table amount and deduct the biological parent's support from the step-parent's support. Other judges order the step-parent to pay the full table amount. The judge makes a decision based on the facts of your situation.

For example, the more time that passes after separation and the end of the relationship, the less likely the court may order the step-parent to pay child support. This is especially true if the social and emotional relationship with the child has ended.

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Shared Custody

If your child lives with you and your partner for about the same amount of time over the year, this kind of custody arrangement is called shared custody or shared care.

This means spending at least 40% of the time with each parent. Time is generally calculated by counting the number of hours the parent is responsible for the child, not the number of hours the parent is physically with the child.

For example, the time the child is at swimming lessons or school is credited to the parent who is responsible for the child during that time.

The court usually decides the amount of child support by first looking at the table amount for each parent based on their gross annual income. Gross income means income before taxes and most other deductions. There are two ways to find this amount:

  • Look at line 150 income on the 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.

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

Usually, the court then subtracts the smaller amount from the larger amount. This amount is called the set off. The parent who would pay more in child support pays the set-off to the parent who would pay less in child support.

The court may also take into account the increased costs of shared custody on each parent, and the situation of each parent to meet those costs when deciding child support.

Example: George and Eva have shared custody of their daughter. George's gross income is $70,000. Eva's gross income is $40,000.

Using the Ontario Child Support Tables, George would have to pay monthly child support of $639 based on his gross income of $70,000 for one child. Eva would have to pay monthly child support of $360 based on her gross income of $40,000 for one child.

The monthly difference between $639 and $360 is $279. George pays Eva $279 in monthly child support for their daughter.

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Split Custody

If you and your partner each have one or more of your children living with you most of the time, this kind of custody arrangement is called split custody.

The court usually decides the amount of child support by first looking at the table amount for each parent based on their gross annual income and the number of children living with the other parent. Gross income means income before taxes and most other deductions. There are two ways to find this amount:

  • Look at line 150 income on the 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.

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 court then subtracts the smaller amount from the larger amount. The parent who would pay more in child support pays the difference to the parent who would pay less in child support.

Example: Charmaine and Louis have three children. When they separated, they agreed that two of the children would live with Charmaine most of the time, and the other child would live with Louis most of the time.

Charmaine's gross income is $70,000. Louis's gross income is $40,000. Using the Ontario Child Support Tables, Charmaine would have to pay monthly child support of $639 based on her gross income of $70,000 for the one child living with Louis. Louis would have to pay monthly child support of $579 based on his gross income of $40,000 for the two children living with Charmaine.

The difference between $639 and $579 is $60. Charmaine pays Louis $60 in monthly child support.

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Undue hardship

The term undue hardship means that financial difficulties are making it very hard for the payor parent to pay the amount of child support set out in the Child Support Guidelines and the Government of Canada’s child support tables.

Or, it can mean that the parent receiving child support is finding it very hard to support the child with the table amount.

Some reasons for undue hardship are:

  • You have an unusual or excessive amount of debt.
  • You have to make other support payments to children of another family.
  • You are supporting a disabled or ill person.
  • You have to spend a lot of money to have access to the child.

Undue hardship is difficult to prove.

The court uses a "Household Standards of Living Test". The court compares the standard of living in your household with your partner's household.

The court compares all the money coming into your house, including income from a new partner, to the money coming into the other parent's house. This is the only time that the income of a new partner is relevant.

If you can show that the standard of living in your household is less than the other parent's, you may be successful. But, if you have a higher standard of living than the other parent’s household, you cannot get a reduction in child support payments.

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Children over the age of majority

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.

A child is not a dependant if they:

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

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 issue for children over the age of majority is whether the table amount should be reduced, and if so, by how much.

The court looks at things like:

  • How much can the child contribute to their expenses?
  • If the child is studying away from home, how many months are they not living with a parent?
  • Is the child in school full-time or part-time?
  • If the child is going for a second degree or diploma, will it help them get a job after graduation?
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Reviewed: 
September, 2015

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