Child Support Guidelines Commentary

What are the Child Support Guidelines?

The Child Support Guidelines were introduced by the Federal government in 1997 (later amended in 2006 and again in 2012) and were later adopted by the province of Ontario. The Guidelines provide rules and tables to help calculate the support a parent, who does not have custody of his or her child, owes to the custodial parent.

The Guidelines are applied for children under the age of 18. For children over the age of 18, a judge can either make an order according to the table amount or can award a different amount that he or she thinks works in the circumstances, taking into consideration the financial abilities of the parents.

The Guidelines are applied by the court in the vast majority of cases and can be applied whether the order sought is a new order for support or a variation to support. In order for the Guidelines to apply, a judge must accept the parent’s statement of income. If the judge does not feel that the parent has provided the required income information, is deliberately unemployed or underemployed, or is self-employed or not reporting all of their income, the judge may deviate from the table amount and use a higher amount or based on an imputed amount of income that he or she deems fit.

If you make an agreement about support with the other parent. You should be clear on what you are entitled to under the Guidelines to make sure you are receiving a fair amount. If you choose to use an amount that is not the table amount, the agreement should also state why you are not following the Guidelines. Remember that if you do wind up in court over child support at some point down the line, the court will be using the Guidelines in any potential change to the support payments.

Calculating Child Support

Child support is calculated based on the “gross income” of the paying parent and on the number of children to whom support is owed. Gross income is income earned before taxes and other deductions are taken out. The Guidelines were created to reflect the average amount of money that parents within different income brackets spend on raising a child.

Although the Guidelines are Federal, each province has its own set of tables. The Ontario table applies whenever the parent with custody resides in Ontario.

The tables are intended for families where one parent has the child most of the time. If each parent has the child at least 40% of the time, the amount owed to the parent with custody may be different from the table amount. In this circumstance, the Guidelines deem the parents to have “shared custody”. This is not to be confused with “joint custody” as it has nothing to do with who has authority to make decisions about the child. In such circumstances, the Guidelines do not provide a formula for calculating child support and judges have the discretion to consider all relevant facts and make an order for support that makes sense in the circumstances.

Another circumstance, one in which the Guidelines do apply, is in “split custody”, or when one or more children from the same family live with each parent. Child support will depend on the incomes of both parents and child support owed for the child not living with the parent is calculated according to the Guidelines for each parent. Whichever parent owes the most, pays the difference between the two amounts to the other parent.

Special Expenses

In some cases, the Guidelines are merely a starting point from which to calculate child support. Some additional expenses may require contribution from parents paying child support. Such “special expenses” may include: costs of childcare, medical or dental insurance premiums, health-related expenses (i.e. orthodontics, prescription drugs, therapy or hearing aids), school or educational programs, post-secondary education, and, in some cases, extra curricular expenses.

These amounts are not automatically added to the Guidelines amount. The expenses will only be included if they are reasonable and necessary for the child’s best interests. Part of the determination will be whether such expenses were part of the spending pattern of the family before separation. If the “special expenses” are deemed to be reasonable and necessary, they are divided in proportion to the parents’ gross incomes. If the child contributes to the expense, the amount he or she contributes will be deducted before the expense is divided between the parents.

Undue Hardship

A court may order that the amount in the Guidelines is either too high or too low in some circumstances. If the amount in the Guidelines would cause undue hardship to either the paying or receiving parent or to the child, the court will order another amount. High levels of debt, travel costs to see the child or a legal duty to support another dependant are circumstances in which undue hardship have been found. It is rare, however, that undue hardship will be found to impact the standard of living of the household enough to warrant a change of the Guidelines.