Discussing child support and custody issues after a separation can be especially challenging for parents — but they are high on the list of items that must be decided.
When it comes to child support, it helps to know more about the rules in Alberta, as well as what it’s meant to cover and how it’s determined.
And, importantly, what should you do if you and your ex-partner cannot agree on the amount of child support to be paid?
These matters can be settled out of court, but you may need the assistance of a qualified family lawyer to reach a satisfactory arrangement that meets the needs of the child(ren).
Learn More → Steps in the Alberta Child Custody Mediation Process
What is child support and how is it determined?
Child support refers to an amount of money paid by one parent to the other to help cover the needs of the child(ren). Support is intended to cover the costs of raising the child, from food, clothing, medical costs, housing, school costs and transportation costs to other special or “extraordinary” expenses that may arise.
Generally, even in a joint or shared custody arrangement, the child will naturally spend more time with one parent than the other. The parent who doesn’t usually live with the child will need to meet their share of the costs of raising the child.
The courts will assess each parent’s gross annual income and other factors to determine how much child support should be paid.
Judges refer to the Child Support Guidelines when making orders about how much should be paid, who pays it, and how often it is paid.
What if we don’t agree on the amount of child support?
It is quite common for disagreements to arise between parents when discussing the amount of child support that must be paid. Separations and divorces can be emotional and it can be challenging to make rational decisions.
There are generally four ways to resolve the situation in Alberta:
- Attending the Parenting After Separation Program (free)
- Mediation (either free or paid)
- Collaborative family law services (fee-based)
- Going to family court
Learn More → Alternative Family Dispute Resolutions in Alberta
Parenting After Separation Program
The PAS Program is a voluntary one-day seminar that passes on relevant information to separating and divorcing parents. It focuses on the effects of separation and divorce on children, providing legal information and communication techniques for parents.
This may be useful if you can’t agree on the amount of child support as it encourages the process of working together for the interests of the children.
Family Mediation Services in Calgary
Attending family mediation is your second option if you can’t agree on support. A mediator is a neutral third party, who may or may not be a lawyer.
The mediator’s role is to understand your different viewpoints, facilitate communication between you and your partner, and use negotiation and cooperation to resolve the dispute without going to court.
You will meet in an informal and neutral setting, define the outstanding issue(s) to resolve and try to negotiate a settlement by working together. The final decision, however, is made by you and your partner — not the mediator — so you retain control of the outcome (unlike if you go to court). The details of any agreement also remain private, unlike in court.
Mediated agreements are often considered more likely to endure as there is no “winner” or “loser” as in court-based decisions.
Free Family Mediation Services are available to families in Alberta where there is at least one dependent child under the age of 18 and one or both parties have an income of less than $40,000 per year.
Going to Calgary family court
If alternative dispute resolution options don’t work — and collaborating between your lawyers doesn’t decide the matter — you’ll need to go to court and ask a judge to determine how much child support must be paid.
To do this in Alberta, you must apply for a child support order at either the Provincial Court (also known as the “family court’, which is usually the most convenient option) or the Court of Queen’s Bench.
If you choose to file at the Court of Queen’s Bench, you’ll first need to file a certificate showing that you completed the Parenting After Separation Program.
Both the paying and receiving parents generally need to prove their present income and provide recent income tax returns, as well as other financial documents.
What if the paying parent doesn’t pay?
If the paying parent doesn’t meet his/her obligations by paying child support, you may be able to take your case to the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP).
This program can help parents enforce payment of child support. The MEP can enforce full payment on time using the following methods:
- Garnishing funds from the federal government, employer and bank accounts.
- Restricting licences (driver’s licence, hunting and fishing licence, passport, etc.)
- Registering against real property or personal property
- Seizing assets
- Affecting your credit rating
Is child support enforceable without a written agreement or order?
The MEP can only enforce child support orders made by the court or agreements in writing and approved by the court.
If a paying parent is not fulfilling his/her obligations, seek legal advice if you’re unsure what to do next.
Can we change our child support agreement?
Court orders and signed child support agreements must be followed but if your circumstances change substantially, you can apply for a modification of a child support order or agreement.
To be eligible for a modification, you must be able to prove a major change in circumstances. This may include any of the following:
- A significant increase/decrease in the paying parent’s income
- A significant change in the parenting arrangements
- A change in special expenses
- A child reaches the age of majority (which is 18 in Alberta)
It’s best to discuss potential changes with the other parent first and, remember, until a new court order or agreement is made, the old arrangements stand.
The Child Support Recalculation Program is designed to help parents who are reconsidering their child support arrangements.
What if I pay child support and then have a second family?
Having a second family to support does not absolve you of your responsibilities to the children from a first marriage. You must still pay child support according to the amounts determined in your agreement or by court order.
However, if you can prove that supporting both sets of children causes you “undue hardship”, a modification may be approved by the court. For this to happen, you will need to show that your second family will have a lower standard of living than your first family unless the child support payments are reduced.
Parents in these situations may require legal assistance as the court will consider both households’ standard of living, the income of all household members, and the number of people in each household. Making a solid case for a reduction of child support can, therefore, be challenging.
At Jennings Family Law in Calgary, our lawyers can help you resolve even the most complex child support disputes through family mediation, collaboration or by going to court. Book a confidential case evaluation to get started.