Child Support in Ontario, Explained

• by David Frenkel

Child Support in Ontario, Explained

In Ontario, dependent children are legally entitled to be financially supported by their parents. When parents separate into two different households, this entitlement does not disappear. After a breakdown of a family, arrangements must be made to ensure that the children of the marriage or relationship are supported. In fact, during divorce proceedings, it is the duty of the court to ensure that reasonable arrangements have been made by the parties for the support of the children of the marriage. If these arrangements have not been made, the court may not proceed with ordering a divorce. Further, when claims for both spousal and child support have been made, courts must prioritize the support for children.

The following will outline the general principles behind child support, what is its purpose, where it can be found in the legislation, and how it is calculated.

  1. What is Child Support?

    In many cases, post-separation, a child will live with only one of the parents most of the time. With this parent having the main responsibility for the child’s well-being, they will have most of the ordinary expenses associated with raising a child. To ensure that the child is adequately financially supported, the other parent should provide monthly financial assistance called child support.

  2. Child Support in Legislation: Ontario’s Family Law Act and the Federal Divorce Act

    In Ontario, child support obligations arise from two legislative texts. One, the Federal Child Support Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) under the Divorce Act, and two, the Ontario Child Support Guidelines under Ontario’s Family Law Act (the “FLA”). Whether one or the other applies to you depends on your marital status and other circumstances. For parents of a child who are married and are divorcing or who have been divorced, may pursue a claim for child support under section 15.1 of the Divorce Act using the Guidelines. In contrast, for parents who have never been married, or who have been previously married but are choosing to separate rather than divorce, may pursue a claim for child support under section 33 of the FLA using Ontario’s Child Support Guidelines.

  3. What is the Purpose of Child Support?

    The Guidelines under the Divorce Act provide the following four objectives of child support. One, to set fair standards of support to safeguard a child’s right to benefit from the financial means of their parents after separation. Second, to make the calculated amounts of child support more objective to reduce conflict and disagreement between parents. Third, to encourage settlement by providing courts and parents with guidance in setting child support amounts. Fourth, to ensure that parents and children in similar circumstances are treated consistently.

  4. How is Child Support Calculated?

    The amount for child support will be calculated on a percentage of the paying parent’s gross income with reference to the number of children requiring financial support. The Guidelines provides a chart of amounts, known as the Child Support Table (“Table”) which lists monthly values required to be paid based on the payor’s gross income and the number of children. The amount indicated is the minimum amount which can be increased depending on whether there are additional special or extraordinary expenses (i.e. private school tuition, extra-curricular activities, etc.). Also, courts have the discretion to deviate from the Table amounts if i) by increasing child support to cover special provisions would result in inequity, and ii) if the parents have consented in a domestic contract to deviate from the Table amount. Typically, special expenses are apportioned between the parents based on their respective gross incomes. To provide an example:

    • If Parent A earns $150,000 and Parent B earns $50,000, the total gross income for both households is $200,000. $150,000 / $200,000 = 75%.
    • If special expenses equate to $3000 a month, then Parent A will cover $2,250 and Parent B will cover $750.

    Also, in some situations, courts may alter a paying parent’s gross income for child support purposes by imputing income. Some reasons the courts have imputed income include but are not limited to the following: intentional under-employment, failure to properly disclose financial information, or for having deducted an unreasonable expense from income.

    In other situations, courts have the discretion to deviate from the Table amount if it can be found that a parent or child would suffer undue hardship.

    Further, not only may child support obligations survive the child reaching the age of majority (18-years-old in Ontario), courts have discretion to deviate from the Table amount if the court considers the amount dictated as inappropriate in consideration of the financial needs of the child and the parents.

    In situations where a paying parent earns more than $150,000 annually, courts have discretion to deviate from the Table amount if they find the amount inappropriate in consideration of the child’s reasonable expenses.

With the safety, well-being, and support of children in family law disputes taking priority, it is important to be aware of the relevant laws that apply to your situation. If you are considering divorce or separation, and children are involved, it is paramount to ensure that their livelihood is guaranteed and that arrangements for their support have been made before any other matter can proceed.