Child support is the obligation of every parent during cohabitation and on separation for so long as their offspring is a “child of the marriage”. Child support in is governed by Child Support Guidelines, provincial or federal. For most cases, the Guidelines operate as a tariff, respecting which the court has very limited discretion.
Child support, unlike spousal support which is almost completely discretionary, is governed by Child Support Guidelines, the application of which is mandatory in child support cases.
Where the parties do not agree on child support, the court will set it. On divorce, the court has a duty to withhold the divorce unless “reasonable” child support arrangements are in place.
Reasonable child support is deemed to be the amount set out pursuant to the Regulations called Child Support Guidelines which have been made under the Divorce Act (Canada) and The Family Maintenance Act (Manitoba).
Federal Child Support Guidelines
The Federal Child Support Guidelines apply to divorce cases in each province, except those provinces, including Manitoba, which have passed their own Guidelines.
Manitoba Child Support Guidelines
The Manitoba Child Support Guidelines apply to all children in the province, with minor exception, whether their parents were married or not, or whether they are divorcing or only separating.
The Child Support Tables, which set out the amounts payable depending on which province the one paying support lives, are the same, whether under federal divorce legislation or Manitoba's legislation.
See the Fishman Beley Primer on:
Sole Custody or Primary Care:
A sole custody or primary care situation, for Guideline purposes, is one in which the children are in the care of one parent more than 60% of the time throughout the year.
In a sole custody or primary care situation, the non-custodial parent will pay the amount dictated by the tables based on his or her income and the number of children.
Once income is determined, the amount of child support payable will be determined by looking at the provincial table, last updated in 2017. First, look down the left hand column to locate the income figure and then across the row to the column for the number of children.
A split custody scenario is one in which each parent has custody of one or more children, more than 60% of the time throughout the year.
In a split custody case, one child living primarily with dad and one with mom, we look up the amount payable by each parent for the one child in the other parent’s custody and subtract the lower figure from the higher one.
If one parent had two children and the other parent had one child then the look-up would work the same way, except that the amount payable for two children would be used by the parent who has custody of one and vice versa.
Joint Custody – Shared Care and Control:
Where the parties share care and control of the children between 40% and 60% of the time over the year, they are said to have “shared custody” and in those situations the amount payable might be:
There are often battles between parents counting the hours to get into that magic zone of “shared custody” or "shared parenting time", too often for financial reasons. The assessment of time with each parent most typically involves the counting of overnights. For example, a typical formulation of every second weekend (Friday and Saturday overnight with a return on Sunday evening) and one overnight during the week works out to 35.71%, whereas if you add one more overnight, the percentage jumps to 42.85%.
For the court to apply an amount different than the basic table or the offset amount requires that the parties lead evidence of the increased costs of the shared custody arrangement, an exercise that few litigants undertake. This is known colloquially as a Contino analysis, named for the famous case. This approach is rarely used in litigation, given the costs and uncertainty. Most shared custody support cases, particularly where there isn’t a significant disparity in the parents’ incomes, are determined on the “split custody” or offset formula.
Child support is usually a two-part obligation. The first is for the payment of Basic Table support, which is intended to cover the general day-to-day or basic costs of raising a child, and for special or extraordinary expenses, known as Section 7 Expenses, which cover expenses that are unusual and not required in every situation, such as health expenses, daycare and extraordinary costs for activities.
The application of the Guidelines involves the following steps:
a. Does the expense qualify under the statute as a “special or extraordinary expense?”
b. Determine the parties’ respective incomes.
c. Determine if the sharing of Section 7 Expenses should be proportional to the parties’ incomes, less the threshold amount, or in some other manner.
d. If the child is an adult, consider whether and how much the child should contribute to her expenses?
What is a Section 7 Expense?
In addition to the basic table amount, a parent may be required to contribute to the net cost of special or extraordinary expenses as those are defined in Section 7 of the Guidelines.
These add-ons must fall into specific categories, as set out in the legislation, for:
These "add-ons" must be reasonable, having regard to the means of the parents and the child, necessary in relation to the child’s best interests, and bear a relationship to the family’s spending pattern prior to the separation. In Manitoba, only the custodial parent can apply for add-ons.
Section 7 expenses are treated somewhat differently in Manitoba compared to the Federal Guidelines and other provinces, so be extremely careful in reviewing case law from other provinces.
When an expense is determined to qualify as a Section 7 Expense, the Guidelines suggest, as a “guiding principle”, that the expense should be shared proportionately as to incomes after deduction of the “threshold amount” (the amount below which no child support is payable) of approximately $12,000.00.
The payor earns $75,000 and the payee earns $50,000 annually. They would, therefore, share the eligible Section
7 Expenses based on the following calculation:
Their combined incomes for calculation of S. 7 expenses is $101,000 and, therefore, their respective proportional share would be:
When making the calculation, however, most laypeople will forget about the threshold amount and round the calculation off at $75,000 / $125,000 or 60% and 40%. Often, the parties, or the court, may simply assess the cost sharing at equality.
It is important to remember that the costs sharing is of the "net" cost. For example, tax deductions or credits will reduce the actual cost of daycare costs and insurance may reduce the cost of health expenses. The added cost of the insurance, individual versus family plan, may be added back on as an expense.
The internet is alive with child support calculators, and the federal government maintains a highly informative selection of materials on child support. See it here.
The determination of income is a critical component of the calculation or look-up. In most cases, where the parties earn their incomes from salaried jobs, their incomes for Guideline purposes may simply be exactly the same as the income shown on Line 150 of their most recent income tax return. There may be adjustments to that amount, however, the most common one being the deduction of union dues to determine the party’s income for Guideline purposes.
The Guidelines, which are really for the most part a tariff, apply strictly in all cases except the following:
While in these exceptional situations, the court may have some discretion to alter or add on to the table amount, the result, typically, is that the court will stick with the table amount for basic support and order the payment of Section 7 Expenses proportionately.
A person found to be standing in the place of a parent, or to use the archaic phrase, standing in loco parentis may be required to provide child support to that child, notwithstanding that there may be a biological parent who has a prior and continuing obligation to support that child.
The determination that a person stands in the place of a parent is seen as a declaration of status and is therefore not easily changed. Unfortunately, what often happens is that the non-biological parent who has cared for the child and supported the child, historically, may find themselves paying support while the emotional bonds and contact deteriorate rapidly.
The court may actually require both the biological and in loco parentis "parents" to pay support to the custodial parent, the total amount of which may exceed what either of the payors might have had to pay individually. The Guidelines, in S. 5, provides that the amount to be awarded is "such amount as the court considers appropriate, having regard to these Guidelines and the child’s parents’ legal duty to support the child.”
Where the child is over the age of 18 and still eligible for support as a “child of the marriage”, the court may order the regular table amount or, if the court considers that amount inappropriate, the court may order a different amount, more or less, "having regard to the condition, means, needs and other circumstances of the child and the financial ability of each parent to contribute to the support of the child."
Typically, unless there is a huge disparity between the parents’ incomes or if the child has significant means, the amount awarded will follow the tables.
“Child of the marriage” is a term of art that is defined in the Divorce Act. It allows the court to order support for adult children who continue to be dependent on their parents. It thus can extend the usual parental responsibilities, from moral or emotionally based ones (for example, some parent’s willingness to assist in the financing of a post-secondary education of their children) when the family is intact, into a legal ones where the parents have separated.
This provision may also find application in the cases of disabled or needy children, although at some point in those cases, the burden will likely fall to the state.
Typically, the courts have held that the obligation for separated parents to support their children continues while the individual is seen as a “child of the marriage” which extends the support beyond the age of 18 to the completion of a first post-secondary degree or training program. This obligation can be fixed to terminate at a particular age, say 21 or 22, or perhaps to the diligent completion of a first degree. The Family Maintenance Act in Manitoba sets the age of 24 as the presumptive termination date for support of children, even if the court order reads "until further order of the court"
One problem that comes up, when communication has broken down between the parties or the non-custodial parent and the child, is whether the adult child continues to be entitled to be supported, perhaps having dropped out of their program or not pursuing it diligently.
This issue is now to be addressed by the Maintenance Enforcement Program at first instance when the child reaches the age of 24. They will reach out to the creditor parent to ascertain if the child remains eligible for support. Failure of the creditor parent to respond may lead to the termination of support and, given the information, MEP will also have the reviewable power to terminate the order’s provision.
Where the payor's income exceeds $150,000 annually, the court has the discretion to order the amount which would be provided by the tables or, if it considers the amount to be inappropriate, it will order the table amount up to income of $150,000, or more depending on the court's view of the appropriateness of its award "having regard to the condition, means, needs and other circumstances of the children who are entitled to support and the financial ability of each parent to contribute to the support of the children".
In the landmark case of Frances v. Baker, the Supreme Court of Canada indicated quite strongly that most of the time the court will order the table amount, notwithstanding that the payment might be excessive in relation to the child's actual needs, that is, that effectively part of the amount paid might be considered a contribution to spousal support, even where there is no spousal support obligation.
The court may award an amount different from the table amount, higher or lower, upon a finding of "undue hardship". Undue hardship is defined in the Guidelines. It can affect the payor, the recipient, or any child of either.
The court, to find undue hardship, must determine that the payor's household's standard of living will be less than the standard of living in the household of the parent receiving the support, and must set out their reasons in writing including, where applicable, its assessment of when the hardship will be relieved.
Hardship may be caused, amongst other possibilities, the list not being exclusive, by:
A complex test, although not specifically required to be followed by the court, is set out in Schedule II to the Guideline Regulation. While a great number of cases begin with a claim for undue hardship, the reality is that very few are actually pursued and the vast majority of those pursued are dismissed by the courts.
Because the Guidelines are income-driven, they contain extensive provisions for financial disclosure. A party can demand complete financial disclosure annually, including copies of tax returns and assessments for the preceding three years (if not previously supplied), a statement of income for the year-to-date, and other information if the payor is in business or a partnership. The Rules now require a Demand for Financial Informaiton to be served with the Petition.
Most court orders for child support will usually contain a provision for ongoing financial disclosure, such as the annual exchange of income tax returns and notices of assessment.
Failure to provide disclosure can lead to serious consequences, fines or payment of the other party's legal costs. A recipient of child support can demand updated disclosure annually and many court orders for support include the annual exchange of tax returns and corporate financial statements.
The Supreme Court of Canada, in a ruling dealing with 4 cases out of Alberta, has stipulated that child support is the "right of the child" and that retroactive child support is appropriate where the payor's income has increased. See D.B.S. v. S.R.G.; L.J.W. v. T.A.R.; Henry v. Henry; Hiemstra v. Hiemstra, 2006 SCC 37.
The theory behind the argument for retroactive child support follows the notion that the payor is uniquely aware of his or her own income and, therefore, should have paid the amount that would be ordered on the Tables.
Where there was an explicit obligation to disclose financial information, in a court order, for example, that the payor flouted, this “blameworthy conduct” might militate a court going back a number of years, but in the typical case three years is the limit.
When incomes change significantly or child custody arrangements change, such as when a child moves from one parent’s home to the other, is no longer eligible to be supported, or where some other material change of circumstances for the parties and/or the children occurs, the courts have the power to alter the child support order.
The applicant must prove a “material change of circumstances”.
Although the parties can adjust child support on their own, if the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) is enforcing the order, it is imperative that the parties vary their child support order in a timely way or opt out of enforcement as, without more, MEP will continue to enforce a valid court order.
Recent changes to The Family Maintenance Act allow MEP to make changes without a court order, to recalculate support where the number of children changes, or to adjust mathematical errors.
If there has been a significant change, MEP has the administrative power to suspend enforcement of a child or spousal support order for up to 6 months, and in fact the parties are required to seek this remedy before turning to the court for a suspension.
The Manitoba Department of Justice has created a very helpful Guide to Changing Child Support Orders in Manitoba, which walks you through the necessary steps to vary a court order for child support.
The Child Support Service Act replaces the former provisions for recalculation of child support. The Child Support Service can now calculate and recalculate child support orders. The Child Support Service Act allows the service on the application of a party or on behalf of a child the program to administratively calculate the amount of initial child support orders and the recalculation of child support orders based on new information.
The Service cannot proceed if there is a question of the right or obligation to support or if it has not been provided with appropriate and necessary information. The determination will be enforceable as a court order. An aggrieved party may apply to court to challenge the determination.
The Service will have powers to seek out financial information from a payor, the government or another entity necessary to make determinations under the Child Support Guidelines. It will not make determinations in shared custody cases, in complex cases or where the payor is a non-resident.
Some provisions of the income tax regime in Canada will apply to the separated parents of children, such as the Child Tax Benefits, the Alternative Eligible Dependent (AED) deduction, and provincial credits for fitness and the like. The rules are complex and can easily be a trap for the unwary. See the Fishman Beley Family Law Primer section on Taxation of Support for greater detail.
Amendments recently made to The Family Maintenance Act alter the role and increase the powers and responsibilities of the Maintenance Enforcement Program ("MEP"). MEP will have the power through its designated officers to: