Child Support – Some Common Misconceptions

When parents separate with dependent children both parents have a legal obligation to continue to financially support their children to the best of their abilities.

The legal obligation is met through child support which is set out in the Federal Child Support Guidelines. The child support obligation comes in two categories. The first one is a monthly amount that is set according to the payor parent’s income.

The second child support obligation is in section 7 of the Child Support Guidelines and can often be a source of much confusion.

Section 7 of the Child Support Guidelines deals with “special and extraordinary expenses” which are as follows:

  • child care costs to allow the parent who looks after the child to go to work or school;
  • any portion of medical and dental insurance premiums a parent pays to cover their child;
  • a child’s other healthcare expenses, such as orthodontics, prescriptions, eyeglasses, counselling, or hearing aids (provided these costs exceed $100 annually);
  • expenses for school or educational programs to meet the child’s particular needs, such as tutors or private school fees (if they are found to be reasonable and necessary);
  • expenses for post-secondary education; and
  • extraordinary expenses for the child’s extracurricular activities.

The first common misconception is that frequently parents split these costs equally between them when the legislation says that these expenses are to be shared by the parents in proportion to their respective incomes. If your incomes are the same, then you would divide these costs equally. Otherwise, the higher income earner should be paying a larger portion.

You and your former spouse can come to whatever agreement that you like for sharing these expenses but if you are choosing to divide the expenses differently then it must be in your child’s best interests and you should have a written agreement to clarify your intentions.

The second common misconception comes over what qualifies as an “extraordinary expense” for extracurricular activities. Whether an extracurricular expense is “extraordinary” can sometimes be a source of dispute.

These are activities that have an unusually high cost to the extent that the parent enrolling the child cannot be expected to pay for the entire cost on their own. Generally these are activities that a child is playing at a high level and involve a correspondingly high cost of coaching or possibly equipment and travel.

The legislation says that these costs are only shared if they are necessary when taking into account the child’s best interests and reasonable in the circumstances.

Factors that a Court will consider on whether a cost is necessary are:

  • Does your child have special needs or talents?
  • Was your child involved in this activity before you separated from your spouse?
  • Is the activity in your child’s best interests?

When considering whether a cost is reasonable, some of the factors a Court may consider are:

  • What is the overall expense and what are the financial means of the parties?
  • What was the spending pattern of the family before the parents separated and was this expense a priority for them previously?

The best case scenario is always for you and your spouse to come to an agreement on which extracurricular activities you wish to enroll your children in and how you will share that cost.

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