When most people think of child support in Alberta, they usually think of a set monthly payment that covers daily expenses.
But did you know that child support expenses may extend past these fixed monthly commitments? Or that one parent must usually pay expenses over and above the monthly basis amount to help the other parent meet the costs of raising a child?
These additional or “extraordinary” child support expenses are covered at both the federal level in Section 7 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the provincial level.
If you understand what these so-called Section 7 child support expenses cover and how much they are likely to be, there will be fewer surprises when you prepare your budgets as parents.
What do Section 7 expenses include in Alberta?
Beyond the regular day-to-day expenses of raising a child (food, clothing, transport, etc.) all families must meet some additional expenses from time to time.
Section 7 expenses cover the following areas of additional child support costs:
THE COSTS OF CHILDCARE
In many cases, both parents work or one parent works and the other faces a period of disability when they cannot care for the child. This may incur additional expenses for hiring a nanny or leaving a child in a daycare centre. If so, the payor parent must usually contribute to the extra costs incurred.
EXTRAORDINARY SCHOOL FEES
Extra costs for private tutoring, charter school fees, etc. may be incurred when a child is at primary or secondary school.
THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Children in Alberta commonly go to college or university after they complete secondary school. The child support obligation doesn’t necessarily end at the age of 18, so parents are expected to meet the costs of tuition and living expenses associated with a child pursuing higher education.
Often, help with continued education is volunteered by parents even after their child has reached 18 but if not, the child may be expected to contribute reasonably to the costs of living associated with higher education and the parents must usually cover the remainder between them.
THE COSTS OF HEALTHCARE INSURANCE
Healthcare insurance premiums need to be met by the parents of the child as these are also considered Section 7 expenses.
UNINSURED HEALTHCARE COSTS
From time to time, a child may need medical or dental care that is not covered by insurance. Parents must usually meet these costs as part of their financial obligation to their children under Section 7 child support expenses.
EXTRAORDINARY (“EXTRACURRICULAR”) EXPENSES
Activities such as sports, extra lessons, school excursions, etc. also often incur extra costs that need to be met by the parents, meaning that the payor parent must pay more child support,
Similarly, if there is a precondition for joining a particular course or activity, such as the requirement for a laptop computer or special sports equipment, this may be considered a necessary extraordinary expense that the parents must meet the costs of.
How are extra child support expenses determined under Section 7?
Sometimes, additional child support expenses are contested by the payor spouse. This is usually due either to a claim that the recipient can afford to pay for the expenses without extra support or that the extracurricular activity is not necessary or not in the child’s best interests.
Section 7 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines covers how the court will determine “extraordinary” child support expenses over and above the monthly payments.
The standard used in cases that affect children in Alberta is the child’s best interests but judges must also remain cognizant of the parents’ ability to pay according to their respective incomes — and the two needs must be balanced.
Some extracurricular activities may be optional but still considered educational and informative for a child, such as musical activities, arts, and participation in sports teams.
Every case is unique and dealt with according to the facts and circumstances: a necessary expense in one family may not be considered so in another.
Is the Section 7 expense “necessary” and “reasonable”?
The court must decide whether the expense serves the best interests of the child (is it “necessary”?) and if the financial position of the parents allows them to meet it (is it “reasonable”?)
Considerable discretion can be applied in these rulings. The guidelines say the following:
(1) In a child support order the Court may, on either spouse’s request, provide for an amount to cover all or any portion of the following expenses, which expenses may be estimated, taking into account the necessity of the expense in relation to the child’s best interests and the reasonableness of the expense in relation to the means of the spouses and those of the child and the family’s spending pattern prior to the separation:
(a) child care expenses incurred as a result of the custodial parent’s employment, illness, disability or education or training for employment;
(b) that portion of the medical and dental insurance premiums attributable to the child;
(c) health-related expenses that exceed insurance reimbursement by at least $100 annually, including orthodontic treatment, professional counseling provided by a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist or any other person, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and prescription drugs, hearing aids, glasses and contact lenses;
(d) extraordinary expenses for primary or secondary school education or for any other educational programs that meet the child’s particular needs;
(e) expenses for post-secondary education; and
(f) extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities.
When determining extraordinary support amounts, the court must take into account any subsidies, benefits or income tax deductions or credits that may relate to the expense. However, universal child care benefit or any eligibility to claim that benefit will not be taken into account.
The court will try to relieve any potential financial pressure on families by minimizing the expenses if possible.
Must each parent contribute to Section 7 expenses in Alberta?
The Federal Child Support Guidelines state that each parent must contribute to the Section 7 expenses incurred in raising a child as part of their parental obligation.
In calculating the contribution required by each parent, a Judge or Justice will consider their respective incomes and order payments in proportion if necessary.
If, for instance, the payor of child support receives a 25 percent higher income than the recipient, he/she will also pay 25 percent more of the additional expenses. If both parents earn equal incomes, they must usually split the costs evenly between them.
Rather than letting the court decide, parents can also agree on who pays which expenses without the involvement of the courts.
Are family spending patterns taken into account?
The Alberta courts will generally consider a family’s historic spending patterns as much as possible when considering whether an expense is necessary under Section 7.
The intention of child support is to maintain the child’s lifestyle as close as possible to how it was before the parents separated. So, if the recipient parent suddenly requests an extraordinary expense that goes against the previous spending history (and is not, therefore, considered necessary for the child), it is less likely to be approved as a Section 7 expense by the court.
Section 7 child expenses are discretionary. So, with disputes, it can be beneficial to have a child support lawyer argue your case and provide the necessary evidence to back up your claims.
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