Following a separation or divorce, matters involving children, such as child support and parenting arrangements, can be highly contentious issues. Every parent has a responsibility to financially provide for their child and the courts take this financial obligation very seriously. Since child support is the right of the child, the provincial and federal Child Support Guidelines have been developed to establish a fair standard of support in each jurisdiction to ensure that they continue to benefit from the financial means of both parents after separation.
This blog post will explore frequently asked questions relating to child support in Alberta.
The federal Child Support Guidelines govern child support awards for parents who are divorced or are seeking to amend a child support order under the Divorce Act. For all other Alberta parents, the Alberta Child Support Guidelines provide a similar structure for support calculations. If your child is not living with you full-time as a result of a separation or divorce, you will likely be required to pay a monthly child support payment. The parent who pays child support is referred to as the “payor” and the parent who receives the payment is referred to as the “recipient.”
Child support is intended to cover your child’s basic living expenses and some necessary special expenses, such as housing, clothing, transportation and food.
When a child equally divides their time between their parents, or spends between 40-60% of their time with each parent, child support is often based on a set-off amount. In other words, a calculation is made to determine the child support amount each parent would be required to pay based on their respective incomes. The difference between the amounts is referred to as the “set-off amount” and the parent with the higher income would generally be ordered to pay the difference.
For example, if a Father’s child support is calculated at $500 per month, while the Mother’s child support is calculated at $250 per month, and the Father is the higher income earner, he will likely be ordered to pay the difference of $250 per month to the Mother.
Your monthly child support calculations are based on the applicable Child Support Guidelines, which are regulations that establish a grid for child support payments based on three key factors:
· The payor parent’s annual income;
· The number of children they are required to pay support for; and
· The province in which the payor parent resides.
Child support amounts may differ from the applicable Child Support Guidelines in cases where there is undue hardship or the payor parent’s income exceeds $150,000 per year. For these reasons, it is important to consult with a family lawyer to determine the amount that applies to your situation.
The situation becomes more complex when the payor parent is not an employee. For example, when a person is self-employed and operates a business in their own name (such as a plumber or contractor), they may earn a higher amount of gross income, however, their net income (after taxes and expenses) may be considerably less.
By contrast, there may be situations where a person’s annual earnings according to their income tax return are significantly lower than what they are earning. For example, some people might receive benefits or expense compensation through their work that should be taken into account when calculating their amount of child support. This could include having a company car, or living expenses that are paid for by their employer.
Things may become more complicated when a payor parent is a shareholder in a corporation that is used for their business. In these cases, the party may choose to receive income through dividends or other financial tools to relieve their tax burden. However, this type of arrangement can create opportunities for abuse, as a payor parent acting in bad faith could use their corporation as a vehicle to hide additional income in an effort to try to lower their child support payments.
If you cannot convince someone to pay child support, or if you cannot agree on an amount, you will be required to obtain a Child Support Order from the Court. In order to do this, you will have to provide the court with evidence of your income tax returns and other income evidence, among other documents, in order for a judge to make a decision.
If both parents agree on child support obligations, they may prepare a child support agreement setting out the particular terms of the agreement. However, it is recommended to work with a lawyer when preparing a child support agreement to ensure that it is enforceable.
In Alberta, the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) has been established to collect money for child support payable under Court Orders. The Maintenance Enforcement Program has many tools at their disposal to enforce child support orders, including punitive measures, which can include Driver’s License suspension or garnishing wages of a payor parent who has outstanding child support arrears.
If the payor parent has accumulated child support arrears, you can apply to the court for a “Retroactive Child Support Order.” The process is still the same and will require a calculation based on the parents’ income. This can become very complicated—and expensive—very quickly, especially when there are multiple years to catch up on.
Alberta’s Maintenance Enforcement Program has reciprocal registration agreements with enforcement programs in other jurisdictions throughout North America and international jurisdictions. With these agreements in place, the Maintenance Enforcement Program can monitor and enforce a court order when either the payor or recipient parent lives outside of the province.
The payor parent’s income determines the amount of a child support award. So, if your income increases or decreases, the amount of child support owed can change to reflect your new income. In many cases, the parent seeking to vary the child support order will be required to apply to the court and file additional evidence to confirm their new income. Varying child support can become very complicated if the payor parent earns income from gig-work or freelance work.
Generally, child support is required to be paid until your child reaches the age of majority, which is 18 years old in Alberta. However, child support may continue if your child attends post-secondary education or has a disability or illness which prevents them from withdrawing from their parents’ care.
In most cases, both parents will be required to pay for additional expenses on top of the base amount of child support. These expenses are called “special” or “extraordinary” expenses to cover costs associated with raising a child, including:
· education costs;
· certain medical and healthcare expenses;
· extracurricular activities.
Special expenses are usually divided on a proportional basis between the parents depending on their respective incomes. For example, if the Mother earns $60,000/ annually and the Father earns $40,000 annually, the Mother may pay 60% of a special expense cost while the Father pays the remaining 40%.
However, special expenses can be controversial and parties may disagree as to whether a particular expense is necessary. If the parents cannot come to an agreement on their own, a court may be asked to make a determination.
Child support is a simple concept, but it can become very complicated when it comes to establishing the correct amounts that each parent earns and should pay. The experienced family lawyers at DBB Law in Calgary regularly advise clients on their obligations under the applicable legislation and the Child Support Guidelines. However, in cases of high contention or when parties seek to evade their financial obligations to their children, disputes can become difficult to resolve. Whether you are seeking a determination on child support based on your parenting arrangement, or require assistance in enforcing an existing child support order, our lawyers are here to help. To schedule a confidential consultation with one of our family lawyers, contact us at 403-265-7777 or reach out to us online.