When parents separate and there are children involved in the relationship, child support will usually be payable by one parent to the other.
The parent that the child lives with most of the time usually has most of the expenses of raising the child. The other parent must usually help with those expenses by paying money to the parent with whom the child or children live. This is called child support.
All parents have a legal duty to support their dependent children. A parent can be a birth parent, a nonbirth parent or an adoptive parent.
What is child support in BC?
In British Columbia, child support is the right of the child and every child has the legal right to financial support. This fact tends to get overlooked when parents are trying to figure out their respective financial obligations and legal rights after a separation or divorce. If you are the biological parent of a child, you must contribute to the financial support of that child, even if:
- You never lived with the other parent
- You never lived with the child
- You lived together but were not legally married
- You are legally married and are separated but not divorced
BC family law requires that both parents share child support until the child is at least 19 years old. The aim of the court is to ensure that children do not experience a decline in their standard of living because their parents separated.
Since child support agreements are made to protect the child’s legal rights, parents do not have the option to:
- Bar the other parent from scheduled visitation if they haven’t made child support payments;
- Withhold child support because they haven’t been allowed to see their child;
- Release the other parent from their child support obligations; or
- Refuse to make payments because they are a stepparent or guardian.
Looking after the welfare of the child after a separation is the court’s primary concern, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have legal rights as a parent. Spectrum Family Law will give expert guidance and counsel about a child support arrangement that is best for your circumstances.
What are the child support guidelines in BC?
Judges in Vancouver family law courts follow the Federal Child Support Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) to calculate how much the paying parent must contribute each month toward child support. These Guidelines attempt to ensure that child support responsibilities are shared equally by both parents based on:
- Number of children who require child support
- Parenting time arrangements
- Paying parent’s pre-tax income
If the children spend most of their time at a primary residence with one parent, then the other parent will be the paying parent. If the children spend at least 40% of their time in the households of both parents, this is considered shared parenting time. In these cases, the parent with the higher income will be the paying parent.
The court encourages separated couples to come to a fair and equitable child support settlement since it is in the best interests of everyone, especially the child, to avoid an extended, acrimonious trial. The child support lawyers at Spectrum Law will do everything in their power to make this possible—while emphasizing the best interests of your child, but not at the expense of your best interests.
Child support paid by stepparents in BC
Under the BC Family Law Act, stepparents may also have a legal obligation to pay child support after they have separated from the child’s parent—in some circumstances. When a stepparent moves into a household, this does not release the biological parent from making the agreed-upon child support payments. The biological parent always has the primary responsibility to provide financial support for their children.
If the relationship with the stepparent ends, the ex-partner
can may ask for additional child support from the stepparent if:
- The stepparent provided support for at least one year
- This support established a certain standard of living for the child
- The application is made within one year after the separation
If it can be shown that a stepparent’s contributions increased the standard of living of the household, perhaps because they had a higher income than the biological parent, the courts may agree that the stepparent should pay child support.
If you have questions about the child support obligations of a stepparent, contact Spectrum Family Law. Sorting out the financial duties of adults in blended households with children can get complicated, but we will make sure your legal rights are protected.
How do I calculate child support in BC?
In Vancouver, child support will be determined using the algorithms established by the guidelines. The basic factors are:
- Paying parent’s annual gross income
- Number of children
- Parenting time arrangements (primary, shared, split)
- Average costs of raising a child (per income level)
Gross income is the pre-tax amount reported on the federal income tax return, and parenting arrangements are spelled out in the child custody agreement. The tables showing recommended monthly awards use data from economic studies of the average costs of households with children within each province.
Have you ever tried to calculate how much of your household expenses could be attributed to your child? Beyond the basics of housing, food, and clothing, there are a host of other expenses, from braces, Girl Guide registration to hockey equipment.
Spectrum Family Law can explain how the Guidelines apply to your situation. Further, we will make sure that you get a child support determination that is equitable and fair.
How long do I have to pay child support in BC?
Children have the legal right to child support until they reach the age of majority, which is 19 in the province of British Columbia. After that point, the paying parent no longer has a legal responsibility to provide support—theoretically at least. There are exceptions where support may extend past the age of majority when children remain dependent.
An exception might be made for a 19-year-old individual who is not able to support themselves because of illness or disability. If your child requires ongoing care and resources and their condition prevents them from being independent, you will likely need to continue your child support obligations.
A less obvious exception is post-secondary education. The courts don’t expect that 19-year-olds will be able to support themselves while they are enrolled in post-secondary studies and therefore may require you to extend your child support payment term to cover this period.
What types of child support are there in BC?
The child support payment tables in the guidelines only cover basic child-related costs such as housing, food, and clothing. The amounts listed per income bracket are averages calculated from economic data for BC.
The courts are aware that this base amount does not account for the entirety of a family’s child-related expenses and so will take other costs, known as extraordinary expenses, into consideration. Extraordinary expenses are not limited to, but include, the following:
- Medical and dental bills over $100 per year not covered by insurance
- Portion of medical and dental insurance premiums that cover the child
- Daycare or after-school care
- Extra educational costs for special needs child (tutoring, accommodations, assistive devices, therapy)
- Extracurricular pursuits or interests (lessons, clubs, hobbies, sports)
- Post-secondary school expenses including tuition, housing, and books (Note: In some cases, an adult child pursuing further education for a professional or advanced degree may be eligible for child support payments)
Extraordinary expenses must, however, be reasonable and necessary. The courts will assess the costs of the expense in light of the incomes of the parents when determining whether the expense is reasonable and necessary for the child.
Accordingly, extraordinary expenses are often decided on a case-by-case basis according to your individual family circumstances, which may sometimes be tricky to identify.
The experienced child support attorneys at Spectrum Family Law understand the impact extraordinary expenses can have on a child support determination—and on your personal financial situation. We can help you identify all the costs that should be accounted for in a reasonable child support agreement.
What if a parent refuses to pay child support in BC?
Along with other official agreements you make with a spouse after separation, you should both come to mutually acceptable terms regarding child support. If that is not possible, the court will issue child support orders.
It is good practice to file your child support agreement with the court registry and enrol in the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (“FMEP”), an organization that has the power to enforce child support agreements. If the paying parent won’t make payments or is late with a payment, notify FMEP.
The one thing you should not do is in this situation is cut off contact between your ex-spouse and child. As far as the courts are concerned, after both parents sign a custody agreement detailing how much parenting time each parent has, the agreement is not invalidated when one parent fails to meet their child support obligation. Similarly, a paying parent can’t argue that they are withholding child support because the terms of their custody agreement were violated.
Contact Our Child Support Lawyers in Vancouver Today
Disagreements about child support and other agreements are not uncommon. Spectrum Family Law is skilled in resolving disputes and negotiating resolutions out of court, but if necessary, we will move aggressively to protect your legal rights and the well-being of you and your family.
We also have a dedicated intake form to help you get the ball rolling. Our intake team will review your specific case and advise you on the next steps to take as well as what to expect moving forward.
Our Vancouver office is open 8:30 a.m.—4:30 p.m., Mon—Fri.
Alfonso is a lawyer of our Vancouver office who provides services in both English and Mandarin. Prior to joining our firm, he worked at a full-service law firm for over four years, where he helped clients with a wide variety of family law matters, from drafting prenuptial agreements to negotiating terms for and drafting separation agreements to representing clients for divorces.