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Who pays 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.

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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Biological parents

The law says that biological mothers and fathers have a legal duty to support their children financially. 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

When it is not clear who the father of the child is, the law has a presumption of paternity in some cases. This means the law says a man is likely to be the father of the child if:

  • The man lived with the mother when the child was born.
  • The man was certified as the father under the Vital Statistics Act.
  • The man was married to the mother when the child was born.
  • The man was married to the mother within 300 days of when the child was born, but the marriage ended by death, divorce, or annulment.
  • The man was married to the mother after the child was born and he agrees that he is the father.

If you and your partner are not married, do not live together, or he does not acknowledge that he is the father of your child, you can apply to the court for a declaration of paternity. This means asking the court to decide if he is the father.

The court will usually give your partner a chance to have a blood or DNA test. If he says no, the court may assume that he is the biological father, especially if he does not give evidence showing he is not the father.

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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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LGBT parents

The law says that lesbian and gay partners have the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual partners. This includes getting or paying child support.

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

The responsibility to pay child support exists whenever the child is a "child of the marriage" regardless of biology or sexual orientation or gender expression.

Whether you're straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans, and you're a parent or step-parent, child support is generally 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. 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.

If your partner does not acknowledge that they are a parent to the child, you can apply to the court for a declaration of parentage. This means asking the court to decide if your partner is a parent to your child.

The law does not define parentage solely on the basis of biology. This means you can apply for a declaration of parentage even if the other parent doesn't have a genetic connection to the child. For example, if your partner is a non-biological parent.

But, the amount of child support may be different from the Child Support Guidelines and the Government of Canada's child support tables if there is no "natural" or legal relationship.

There are other issues to think about if there are surrogates, known sperm donors, unknown sperm donors, etc. This may complicate decisions about who is a parent and how much child support they should pay.

Adoptive parents

If you adopt a child, the legal relationship between the child and their birth parents end. As the adoptive parents, you take on the full legal rights and responsibilities to the child.

If you adopt a child from another country, the rules of the child’s country of birth about how a parent or family is defined are not relevant to the issue of child support in Ontario.

For example, two men who adopt a child from China may have to name only one of them in the adoption application because the Government of China does not allow adoptions by same-sex couples. This does not mean that both parents do not take on the full legal rights and responsibilities to the child including child support in Ontario.

If you separate, the law treats you and your partner as the biological parents of the child. This includes getting or paying child support.

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

The responsibility to pay child support exists whenever the child is a "child of the marriage" regardless of biology or sexual orientation.

Child support is generally 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. 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.

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Parents on social assistance

You receive child support

The law requires people on social assistance to seek out all available sources of income, including child support.

If you're on social assistance, and your children live with you, you must try to get child support from your partner. If you don't make reasonable efforts to get child support from your partner, you may get less assistance or none at all.

You pay child support

If you're responsible for paying child support and you're on social assistance, you're still expected to pay child support according to the Child Support Guidelines and the Government of Canada’s child support tables.

The Guidelines do not require child support payments from a parent whose income is less than about $10,820 a year.

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Reviewed: 
September, 2015