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Child support for newly separated parents: a primer

Separation is often a stressful, emotional time, especially if you have children. Determining the amount of child support each parent pays can also be complex so it’s important to know your rights and responsibilities to make the best decisions for your family. 

Your financial obligations to your children after separation are outlined in the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the Ontario Child Support Guidelines.

These guidelines include rules and formulas to determine the amounts you and/or the other parent have to pay. These guidelines set a fair standard of support for children so they continue to be supported by both parents after they separate or divorce. Both the federal and provincial governments have comprehensive online resources to help you understand the rules.

Child support payments are based on:

  • the number of children,
  • where the children reside and how much time they spend with both parents,
  • the gross annual income of the parents, and
  • the province or territory where the parent lives. 

Who pays child support?

Generally, the parent with whom the child(ren) lives 60 per cent of the time or more (primary residence) receives child support from the other parent for the children’s financial needs. In these circumstances, the basic child support calculator is used and the payor parent is expected to pay the Guideline amount in addition to any special and extraordinary expenses. Special and extraordinary expenses (also known as Section 7 expenses) are those expenses that do not fall into the categories of food, housing, and regular clothing. 

In shared-residential arrangements, where both parents have the children between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of the time, the amount of child support paid is calculated a little differently. The Federal Child Support Guidelines allow some discretion about how to weigh different factors to determine an appropriate child support amount in your circumstances.

Beyond the basics

When people reach out to Morgan and Philips to help them with their child support, they often already have a basic understanding of the issues. They may even have an idea of what they might be expected to pay to the other parent based on the tables in the Federal Child Support Guidelines, which are largely driven by income. However, many are still left with questions that focus on the finer details of child support, including:

  • how to calculate the gross income of the paying parent,
  • determination of special expenses that need to be paid beyond food, housing and clothing, and
  • what happens once a child(ren) reaches the age of 18 and becomes a legal adult.

Income calculations and adult children

Let’s first look at the determination of income. This is straightforward when the person is an employee and has a T4. However, figuring out gross annual income can be more challenging when the paying parent is self-employed and controls the amount of income they report to the Canada Revenue Agency. In this circumstance, determination of income is more difficult and can involve both more investigation and a possible application to the courts for a determination of income. 

Another big question concerns what happens when children reach the age of 18. The possibility of child support continuing at that point is dependent on that child, now legally described as a ‘child of the marriage’ still being dependent on their parent’s support for reasons of continued education, or if they are battling a physical illness or disability. In these specific situations, child support can continue for an extended period.

An important proviso to note for children pursuing post-secondary education is that the continuing education must be full-time in order for those children to be eligible for child support. A student wouldn’t be entitled to child support if they were taking a 40-per-cent course load. Child support can also continue into graduate studies.

To be eligible for continued child support after age 18 because of a disability, judges will often consider several factors, including:

  • whether it’s a lifelong disability that would prevent the person from achieving a level of independence (financially and socially),
  • to what degree the disability impacts the person’s ability to work, and
  • whether they will receive assistance from the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Section 7 expenses

Another area of confusion often lies with Section 7 expenses, which are special or extraordinary expenses that are beyond those basic living costs related to feeding, housing and clothing a child. Section 7 expenses include necessary and reasonable expenses that are deemed important to a child’s well-being and future success, such as:

  • post-secondary education
  • private school or tutoring
  • health-related expenses such as orthodontics, glasses, professional counselling, and speech therapy
  • childcare expenses (daycare and after-school care)
  • certain extracurricular activities such as sports and any related sports gear
  • cellphones (for children’s safety), although this expense is sometimes disputed.

A list of all eligible Section 7 expenses can be found in the Federal Child Support Guidelines.

If you have any questions about child support, I’d be happy to hear from you.

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by Stephen Morgan

Stephen Morgan practices exclusively in family law and is highly skilled and experienced in litigation. He aims to guide clients through a difficult and stressful time in their lives with understanding, support, and practical advice.