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Family Law... Understanding the Basics of Child Support

Bernie Thibault – November 2017

In my meetings with clients, I deal with lots of questions, but none more than the issue of child support; it’s always a hot topic.  You may be asking yourself some of those questions, so I’ve included them below with answers:

What is child support? – Child support is money paid by one parent to the other as financial assistance for the day-to-day expenses associated with raising a child.

Who is paying? – The person who pays is usually determined by where the child lives most of the time.  If the child lives mostly with the mother, then the father will be paying, and vice versa.  If the child spends relatively equal times between households (ranging from 50/50 to 60/40), both parents will be required to pay child support to the other; in many cases, one parent ends up paying an amount representing the set-off between the amounts the parents would be paying to each other.

How much will I have to pay? – The amount of child support is determined by the payor’s annual income and how many children there are.  There are tables developed by the federal government which list levels of income and are based on the number of children.  You will often hear lawyers refer to this as the “table amount”.  The payor’s province of residence causes some variation in the child support amount, but not usually by a large amount.

Do I have a say in how child support is spent? – No.  When it comes to the “table amount”, the paying parent will not have any control in how the money is spent by the receiving parent.

What if I don’t want to pay or stop paying child support? – It is not usually recommended that you stop paying child support without the agreement of the receiving parent.  This is especially the case if you and the other parent have already dealt with child support in a separation agreement or court order.  Agreements and court orders can be and usually are registered with a provincial maintenance enforcement program.  This program will keep a record of what has been paid and compare it to what should have been paid, according to the agreement or order.  If you are behind or not paying at all, the program can take actions to persuade you to pay.  For instance, your pay cheques can be garnished, property or money can be seized, a lien can be registered against your home, your driver’s license and passport can be suspended, and you could even go to jail.

When can I stop paying child support? – In general, as long as a child is dependant upon the parents for financial assistance, child support will be required.  It is not always easy to determine when a child is no longer dependant.  Dependency status is presumed until the child reaches the age of majority.  In Nova Scotia, this is 19 years old.  In some rare cases, a child may be found to be independent while still under the age of majority.  Once the child is 19 years old, there is no longer the presumption of dependency.  However, in most cases, children over the age of majority continue to be dependant and entitled to child support.  This will usually be the case if the child is attending post-secondary education.  In some cases, child support will continue for a second degree, but this is less common.  Child support may be payable for a transitionary period after graduation from a post-secondary degree.   The requirement to pay child support will be determined by the unique facts of each case.

When should the amount of child support change? – There are several factors that can change the amount of child support.  The most obvious is a change of income.  If income increases, then so does the amount of child support, and vice versa.  A change in the child’s living arrangements can change child support.  If the child goes from living with one parent to the other, or if the child starts living with the parents for equal periods of time, then the amount of child support should be revisited.  Other times child support should be revisited are when the child attends university or other post-secondary education institution, when the child has finished school, or if the child is no longer dependant on the parents for financial support.

Do I have to tell my former spouse about a change of income? – Yes, the level of income determines how much child support should be paid.  If your income has increased and you didn’t notify the receiving parent, you could be looking at a sizeable back payment for support that you should have paid.

For a more fulsome review of frequently asked questions, please visit www.nsfamilylaw.ca.  If you require legal advice with respect to the issue of child support, please call us here at MDW Law.

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