How much child support should I be paying, and for how long?

How Long, and How Much?

As a loving parent, you are determined to support your child. But how do you determine how much child support you should pay? How long will you be required to pay? If you can’t pay, will you be prevented from seeing your child?

The Child’s Right, the Parent’s Responsibility

Child support is paid by one parent (the “Payor”) to the parent with whom your child spends the majority their time (the “Payee”). If you are the Payor, then you have a legal responsibility to provide child support. This remains true even if you don’t see or communicate with your child. And, since child support is the right of the child, parents cannot abandon or ‘bargain away’ their responsibility to pay. In other words, as a parent, your obligation to pay child support is set in stone.

Do I have to pay child support for access to my child?

You do not have to pay child support in order to see your child. Access to your child is an important value that the Courts will protect. Judges in Canada will seek to ensure that a child has as much contact with each parent as is in their best interest. Therefore, one parent cannot prevent the other from seeing their children because they refuse to pay, or are in arrears.

How much child support do I pay?

The short answer is that the level of your income (gross) determines the amount you pay. The Courts determine child support by referring to the Federal Child Support Guidelines (the “Guidelines”). The Guidelines were created to establish a fair standard of support for children whose parents have separated, and to ensure that they continue to benefit from the financial means of both parents. Judges may depart from the Guidelines where the Payor is experiencing financial hardship, or where their income is over $150,000.00.

Our free child support calculator can help you calculate the child support payable in your situation.

Special and extraordinary expenses

Basic child support covers common day-to-day expenses associated with raising children. Special and extraordinary expenses include the costs of extracurricular activities, special educational programs, health-related expenses, et cetera. When these expenses are both reasonable and necessary, then you will likely have to pay for these in addition to the Guideline amount of child support. You and your former spouse must share these additional costs, in proportion to your incomes. There is more discussion on this topic in our article on Special and Extraordinary Expenses.

How long do I have to pay child support?

The short answer is that you are responsible for paying child support until your child becomes an adult (19 years old). At this point in their lives, your child is presumed to have finished high school and is now able to provide for themselves. If, however, your child is not able to become financially independent, for example because of illness or disability, then your obligation to pay child support will continue. Your child support obligations will also likely continue if your child decides to attend post-secondary education.

If your child has decided to continue studying, the recent Supreme Court decision in Espersen v Espersen, 2017 BCSC 1206 sets out factors that help determine whether you must continue to pay child support:

1. whether your child is enrolled in a full-time course;
2. whether or not your child has applied for or is eligible for student loans or other financial assistance;
3. the career plans of your child, or whether your child is simply going to college because there is nothing better to do;
4. the ability of your child to contribute to his or her own support through part-time employment;
5. the age of your child;
6. your child's past academic performance, whether your child is demonstrating success in the chosen course of studies;
7. your plans for your child, especially where those plans were made during cohabitation/marriage; and
8. whether or not your child has unilaterally terminated a relationship from the parent from whom support is sought.

A family lawyer can help clarify your child’s entitlement to support and will help you rebalance the financial scales. Call to arrange a free, 15 minute consultation with an experienced family lawyer in Vancouver or Calgary.

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