The Truth Behind Four Common Child Support Myths

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Child support is one of the most important and misunderstood topics in family law.

Whatever their level of income, it can take some time for newly separated parents to adjust to the reality of running two households on the same budget that previously covered the costs of just one.

As a result, child support payments are among the most noticeable elements of a parent’s new life apart from their former spouse, accounting for a significant chunk of their monthly incomings or outgoings, depending on their status as payor or recipient.

Parents are often not aware of the specifics of child support until they decide to separate, which may help explain why so many myths and misconceptions persist around the law governing the issue.

For those who are new to the topic, the following are four myths about child support:

Myth 1: Paying child support is optional

In B.C., every dependent child has the legal right to receive financial support from both of their parents.
In the immediate aftermath of a separation, when the wounds of the split are at their most raw, it’s easy to understand why some parents object reflexively to the idea that they must make payments to their ex, but they are not allowed to refuse to pay child support.

Any payors who are struggling to overcome their resentment may do better to think of their former partner receiving support on behalf of their shared offspring since the payments are intended as fulfilment of the child’s entitlement, rather than for the benefit of the recipient.

Payments are broken down into two main types: first, basic child support, which is generally determined pursuant to the Federal Child Support Guidelines, based on a calculation that takes into account the parenting schedule, gross incomes, and the number of children.

The second category of child support covers special or extraordinary expenses, often referred to as section 7 expenses, (section 7 of the federal guidelines). Some of the more significant expenses to fall under section 7 include post-secondary education, the portion of medical or dental insurance premiums attributable to the child, health-related expenses that exceed insurance reimbursement by at least $100 annually, and extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities. These expenses are most often shared between parents in proportion to their respective incomes.

Myth 2: Shared parenting schedules mean no child support by one parent

In cases where parents have agreed to a shared parenting time schedule, defined as anywhere from a 50-50 arrangement to 60-40, the federal guidelines set out rules for an offset calculation, which works by determining the basic amount each parent would owe if the other had sole parenting time. The person with the higher income will generally pay the other parent the difference between the two figures.

The court retains the discretion to depart from the guidelines to consider other factors, including annual incomes that exceed $150,000, additional costs of shared parenting, and the particular needs of either parent or child.

While there is no presumption in favour of a shared parenting arrangement, the primary consideration of what is in a child’s best interest often supports that child spending time with both parents. However, the court is not likely to respond well if it suspects that one parent is seeking to hit the 40-per-cent threshold for shared parenting simply to pay less child support.

Myth 3: If I earn less, I can pay less child support

Although the federal guidelines tie child support to income, a person’s actual annual earnings are not the whole story when it comes to setting income for the purposes of child support.

When one party believes the other has declared an artificially low figure or intentionally decreased his or her income, the court can look at evidence such as historic tax returns or other financial information to determine whether they think a parent is intentionally under-employed or hiding income.

In these cases, the court may “impute” a higher income for child support purposes to a parent whose actual or stated income is deemed to be below their earning capacity.

Once the court has made an order fixing child support payments at a certain amount, it can be very challenging for payors to have the figure lowered, even if they end up in a lower-paying job. The court will generally only make a new order if they are convinced that there has been a “material change” in circumstances.

Myth 4: My finances are my business

It’s not just a pay cut that can constitute a material change in circumstances for child support purposes. A big raise could also result in a request for higher payments from the other parent.

However, payors are not allowed to wait around for their ex to find out or ask about their good fortune. In fact, the onus is on the child support payor to notify recipients of any change in their income.

If the court determines that higher child support payments are warranted and that there was a failure by the payor to disclose a material change in income, whether intentional or not, the court could make an order for the payment of arrears, dating back to when the disclosure should have been made.

If you have questions about child support, please contact one of our lawyers. We would be happy to help you.

*This post is not intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Please contact McConnan Bion O’Connor & Peterson if you have any questions regarding this post or require assistance or legal advice regarding a Child Support.