Shared Parenting (Part 3 of 3)
Christine Doucet – April 2017
The first and second posts in this series focused on shared parenting agreements and the litigated aspects of shared parenting. Once a shared parenting arrangement is set – whether by agreement or court order – the next step is to determine the child support arrangement.
Many parents assume that the set-off amount of child support will automatically be used. The set-off is the difference between the amounts of child support that each parent would pay to the other if the child or children were in the other parent’s primary care. Take, as an example, two Nova Scotia parents with two children. The father earns $75,000 (requiring a $1,035 monthly payment) and the mother earns $35,000 (requiring a $505 monthly payment), so the set-off would be $530.
Determining the set-off is, however, only the first step. Parents are required by law to consider two additional financial aspects of shared parenting before determining the amount of child support. According to Section 9 of the federal Child Support Guidelines, they must consider “the increased costs of shared parenting arrangements” and “the conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each parent and of each child.”
Increased parenting time can involve an increase in basic costs such as clothes for the children, household utilities, groceries, and gas. It can also mean an increase in the money a parent spends on activities with the children, school supplies, birthday party gifts, and the like. For some, shared parenting can mean a significant increase in the cost of accommodation if the parent moves to a larger home or a home closer to the other parent or the children’s school. The other parent’s expenses may decrease as a result of a new shared parenting arrangement, but this is not always the case.
The conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each parent and of each child can involve a very broad variety of factors, such as:
- Whether there is a large discrepancy in the incomes of each parent. Gross income is the starting point, but the real comparison involves looking at the “net disposable income” of each household, after taking into account income tax and government benefits;
- The expenses of the children and how the parents share or allocate those expenses; and
- Whether there are other income-earners in the household such as a new partner.
It is clear from the Guidelines that parents must consider the increased costs of the shared parenting arrangements and the conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each parent and child. Unfortunately, the Guidelines do not tell us how these factors are to be applied. This means that many parents simply default to the set-off. In the past, it was not uncommon for the courts to routinely apply the set-off as well.
Recent cases, however, have made it clear that every shared parenting arrangement is unique, and the calculation of child support must reflect the circumstances of that particular family. In other words, all factors in Section 9 of the Guidelines must be considered. In Woodford v. MacDonald, 2014 NSCA 31, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal overturned a trial decision and sent the matter back to the trial court to consider the budgets of each parent and the specific expenses of the children, in order to determine the correct amount of child support.
In the example above, we are aware only of the level of income of both parties and that they share the parenting of two children. Based on that information, we calculated the set-off amount of support to be $530. If we knew that the father pays for the majority of the children’s expenses, including their school supplies, extra-curricular activities, seasonal clothes and sports, and the mother lives with her new spouse (who has an annual income of $80,000) in a mortgage-free home, we may consider the set-off to be too high. If, on the other hand, it was the father who had remarried and was living mortgage-free, and the mother was paying the majority of the children’s expenses, we would likely consider the set-off to be too low.
In shared parenting situations, the set-off calculation is only the starting point. To discuss child support in your unique shared parenting situation, we invite you to schedule a consult with one of our family lawyers.