Child Support

Calculating Child Support under the Federal Child Support Guidelines

The amount of child support that is payable for a child is determined by the Federal Child Support Guidelines.

The Guidelines have a default rule for calculating the amount of child support payable (subsection 3(1)), followed by a number of exceptions. This article will explain how the default rule works.  A list of exceptions is found at the end of this article.

What is the default rule for calculating the amount of child support payable?

The default rule is found in section 3(1), which says

(1) Unless otherwise provided under these Guidelines, the amount of a child support order for children under the age of majority is

(a) the amount set out in the applicable table, according to the number of children under the age of majority to whom the order relates and the income of the spouse against whom the order is sought; and
(b) the amount, if any, determined under section 7.

In other words, child support is made up of a table amount and an amount for section 7 expenses.

 

What is the “table amount” of child support?

The “table amount” of child support is intended to help cover the “ordinary” costs of raising a child including food, housing, clothing, activities, and other expenses. The table amount is found in tables that are attached as “Schedule 1” of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. The tables set out a way to calculate child support based on the province of the payor, the income of the payor and the number of children. A quick online lookup of the table amount is found here.

 

What are section 7 expenses?

In addition to the table amount, there might be an amount for expenses under section 7 of the Guidelines. If the table amount is a contribution towards the “ordinary” costs of raising a child, section 7 expenses represent additional costs to which a parent should contribute. These are often called “section 7 expenses” or “special expenses”. Subsection 7(1) lists the types of expenses that can qualify as section 7 expenses:

(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 counselling 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.

“Extraordinary expenses” is defined in subsection 7(1.1):

(a) expenses that exceed those that the spouse requesting an amount for the extraordinary expenses can reasonably cover, taking into account that spouse’s income and the amount that the spouse would receive under the applicable table or, where the court has determined that the table amount is inappropriate, the amount that the court has otherwise determined is appropriate; or

(b) where paragraph (a) is not applicable, expenses that the court considers are extraordinary taking into account

(i) the amount of the expense in relation to the income of the spouse requesting the amount, including the amount that the spouse would receive under the applicable table or, where the court has determined that the table amount is inappropriate, the amount that the court has otherwise determined is appropriate,
(ii) the nature and number of the educational programs and extracurricular activities,
(iii) any special needs and talents of the child or children,
(iv) the overall cost of the programs and activities, and
(v) any other similar factor that the court considers relevant.

Keep in mind that these expenses are supposed to be special or extraordinary. Different expenses are going to be special or extraordinary in different circumstances.

For example, depending on the table amount of child support, an extracurricular activity may or may not be a section 7 expense. A certain amount of money for activities is included in the table amount. The higher the table amount, the more a judge might find that the cost of the activity is already included in the table amount.

In addition, Subsection 7(1) tells a us to consider the child’s best interests, the reasonableness of the expense, the means of the parents and the family’s spending pattern prior to separation. Depending on these factors, an expense may or may not qualify as a section 7 expense. An experienced family law can help you understand whether an expense, in the context of your particular case, will qualify as a section 7 expense.

 
 

Why are there disputes about the amount of child support?

The Federal Child Support Guidelines have six exceptions to the default rule for calculating child support. Those exceptions are listed at the end of this article. There can be a dispute about whether any of those sections of the Federal Child Support Guidelines apply. Several of those sections do not give a single, clear answer as to the amount of child support. Instead, they give a judge discretion over the amount of child support, and people might have different opinions on the appropriate amount of child support.

There can also be disagreements over what number is used for a spouse’s income to look up the table amount. There are a number of sections in the Federal Child Support Guidelines that deal with this issue, so I will just give three examples:

  • Schedule III of the Federal Child Support Guidelines lists some adjustments, including deductions, that should be made to a person’s income. There might be a disagreement over whether those deductions apply, or the amount of those deductions.
  • Section 17 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines allows the court to use the average of a person’s income over the last three years in certain circumstances;
  • Section 19 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines allows the court to award child support as if a person had a higher income. Lawyers call this “imputing” income to a person. The court will impute income to a person who is, for example, intentionally under-employed or unemployed.

What are the exceptions to the default rule for calculating child support?

There are six exceptions to the default rule (subsection 3(1)) for calculating child support:

  • Subsection 3(2), which deals with children who are 19 or older. Under that subsection, it can be inappropriate to use the default rule to calculate child support. If that is the case, then the amount of child support is “the amount that [the Court] considers appropriate, having regard to the condition, means, needs and other circumstances of the child and the financial ability of each spouse to contribute to the support of the child.”
  • Section 4, which deals with child support payors whose income is over $150,000.
  • Section 5, which deals with stepparents or people standing in the place of a parent.
  • Section 8, which deals with split custody. Split custody is when each parent has custody of one or more child.
  • Section 9, which deals with shared custody. Shared custody is when each spouse has a right of access to, or physical custody of, a child 40% of the time or more.
  • Section 10, which deals with undue hardship.

Each of these exceptions will be covered in its own article.