What You Need to Know About Child Support in Ontario
What is Child Support?
In Ontario, all dependent children have a legal right to be financially supported by both (or all) of their parents.
Parents who do not live together often have an arrangement where the child or children live mostly with one parent. The parent that the child primarily lives with most often burdens the costs of raising the child. The other parent is legally obligated to help with the expenses by paying money to the parent the child resides with; this payment is referred to as “child support”.
Who Pays Child Support?
All parents have a legal duty and obligation to financially support their dependent children, to the extent that they can. Parents are legally required to financially support their child even if they do not live with the child, do not see the child, are not married to the other parent, or never lived with the other parent.
A parent can be the birth (biological) mother or father, an adoptive parent, or sometimes a step-parent. A step-parent is someone who has treated their spouse’s children as members of their own family, and has a social and emotional relationship with the child. Under certain circumstances, more than one parent could have the legal duty to pay child support for the same child.
How is Child Support Calculated?
The amount of child support is based on and set according to the Child Support Guidelines (CSG), unless the parents jointly and mutually agree to something different. The CSG provide a “Child Support Table” for each province and territory; and each table shows the monthly amounts of support to be paid, based on the paying parent’s “gross income” and the number of children the support is for.
In simple and straightforward cases, the CSG Table determines the amount of support. In more complicated cases, the CSG Table amount is used as a starting point in deciding how much money will be paid.
How is Child Support Enforced?
Post-divorce, parents are legally required to comply with support court orders or agreements. The amount of support set out in the order or agreement is the amount that needs to be paid.
In Ontario, the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) has a duty to enforce support orders. If and when a parent fails to comply with a child support order, the FRO may take action by using one of the following enforcement mechanisms: taking the payments directly from the parent’s wages or other sources of income; garnishing or seizing the parent’s bank accounts; suspending the parent’s driver’s license or passport; or ordering that the parent be imprisoned and serve time in jail.
If a parent cannot afford to pay child support, they may either legally reduce the support agreement outside of court, or petition to the court for a reduction citing “undue hardship”. The FRO cannot change the amount that the order or agreement stipulates.
It is important to note that child access and child support are separate issues; therefore, a parent cannot refuse to pay child support because they do not have access to their children, and similarly, access cannot be prevented if a parent stops paying child support.
When Does Child Support End?
In Ontario, there is no automatic end date for child support; and so, it must be paid up until a child remains dependent. Typically, a dependent child is any child under the age of 18, unless the child has married, or is 16 years of age or over and has voluntarily withdrawn from parental control. For the purposes of child support however, there is no necessary or automatic cut-off at the age of 18. Child support may continue after a child turn 18 years of age if the child is unable to be self-sufficient and self-supporting because they have a disability or illness, or are still enrolled in school full-time.
Additionally, child support does not end when the parent receiving it gets married or starts to live with someone else.
Can Child Support Amounts be Changed?
If the parents have an existing agreement regarding child support, and they both agree that the amount should change, they may sign a new agreement. If one parent dos not agree about changing the existing agreement, either parent can ask the Court to make an order to change the child support.
If the parents have a court order that governs child support, they will have to ask the Court to change the amount of child support or any other terms of the existing order. The Court will only change the amount of child support if the situation has materially changed (if the paying parent’s income has increased or decreased, if the child’s living arrangements have changed, if there are new special expenses, or if new CSG become law).