By Lara Pendrel
The reality of the depressed oil and gas market is being felt by everyone these days. We all know someone in our lives who has been laid off over these past few months and many people are fearful that it may happen to them next.
On top of the obvious concerns about paying bills, supporting our families and finding a new job, some people are also worried about how to vary their child support obligations.
When it comes to child support, there is no doubt that when a payor parent’s income changes child support changes as well.
The Federal Child Support Guidelines (CSG) are mandatory in Canada and provide a clear framework for linking income with monthly child support payments.
The CSG include tables, which set out gross annual incomes and the corresponding amount of monthly child support that should be paid in Alberta based on the number of children. These tables are readily available online and make it easy to know how a change in income can affect your child support payments.
Child support changes with income
If your income has changed, and you know that your child support payment should change as well, there are three easy (and sometimes-not-so-easy) steps to take to vary your child support obligation.
Step 1. Take a look at your signed separation agreement, current court order, or divorce judgment.
If you are currently paying child support to your ex-spouse, what document sets out the terms of that child support payment?
Many people have signed a comprehensive separation agreement or minutes of settlement which set out the agreed upon terms of child support.
This is usually then incorporated into either a court order (a consent order) or a divorce judgment which is signed by a judge. Other times, there is no settlement agreement at all but only a court order for child support. Either way, the most recent court order for support is the important document here and this is the document that you need to have changed. If you don’t have a copy, get one from the appropriate level of court.
You must consider whether the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) is involved. All orders involving support can be enforced by MEP. If your order is registered with MEP, then the only way to change the amount of child support that MEP is collecting from you is to get a new court order.
Step 2 . Get your financial information together and provide copies to your ex-spouse.
If your income has changed since the last court order, get something to document this. This may be a copy of your last year’s income tax return, which shows that your income has decreased but if you have just been laid off, then you want to have a copy of your record of employment and copies of any statements showing your new income or unemployment insurance payments.
Copies of these documents should be delivered to your ex-spouse as soon as possible.
Step 3. Execute a plan to negotiate, mediate, or litigate with your ex-spouse to come up with a new child support arrangement.
If you and your ex-spouse are amiable, then negotiating a resolution is the easiest and most cost-effective way to go. Sometimes people need to get their lawyers involved to assist with negotiating a change to child support but good counsel should be able to do this quite effectively without taking away resources that could be better spent on the paying bills and supporting the children.
Mediation can also be quite efficient and relatively cost effective and people can, and often do, go to mediation without lawyers. Litigation is always a last resort and for most people, it is cost-prohibitive. Although it is possible to represent yourself in court, it is always a good idea to get some sound legal advice first.
Finally, if your current court order is registered with MEP, be sure to notify MEP of the change by sending them a copy of the variation order.
If you have any questions child support or any other family law issues, pleases contact us. Our family lawyers are here to help.