What is child support?
Parents have a legal responsibility to support their children financially. They have this duty even when they separate or divorce. This is called child support. It means that one parent pays the other to help cover the costs of caring for their children. Parents should think about child support as soon as they separate. While all the other long-term details of the separation and divorce get worked out, children still need a regular routine. They need to be fed, housed, and clothed.
Most separating and divorcing couples don’t have to go to court to figure out child support. Instead, they can come to an agreement on their own; sometimes with the help of professionals. The federal government created the Child Support Guidelines to help parents figure out what a fair amount of child support should be. The amount is based on who has the children most of the time, the number of children, the province where the paying parent lives, and the annual income of the parents.
While working out an agreement with the other parent is ideal, there are exceptions. If your safety or the safety of your children is at risk because of family violence, you should see a Family Justice Counsellor. Their services are free throughout BC. A Family Justice Counsellor can help you make a safety plan and prepare a child support agreement. You should also see a Family Justice Counsellor if there is a power imbalance between you and the other parent. For example, if you are new to the country and the other parent isn’t, or if they have a much higher education than you.
Why is there child support?
Children have the legal right to receive financial support from both of their parents because it is in the children’s best interests. When both parents contribute to their children’s expenses, the children’s living conditions are better than if only one parent provides support.
Child support is the right of every child. It is not the right of either parent. A parent cannot agree to “give up” receiving child support just because they don’t want to deal with the other parent. When parents separate, the law says they are both responsible for the costs of raising their children. This is the case even if a parent has never lived with the children or the other parent.
Child support is not the same as spousal support. Child support is money paid for the benefit of the child – not the parent who receives the child support payment. Child support is not a fee that is paid in exchange for spending time with the children. Whatever the parenting arrangements may be, children have the right to receive child support.
Do we need to go to court to get a child support agreement?
You don’t have to go to court for a child support agreement. It is better if you can work out an agreement with the other parent and avoid going to court. You and the other parent know more about your children’s needs than a judge. Going to court will also cost you time and money.
Court can be slow, which can increase the stress of separation on both you and your family. If you hire a lawyer, it can be expensive.
If you cannot come to an agreement on your own, you might want to try mediation. A mediator is a neutral person who is specially trained to help both sides in a dispute come to an agreement they can both live with. Family Justice Counsellors are trained and certified mediators.
Does the agreement need to be in writing?
You don’t have to write out your child support agreement, but it is a good idea. If there is any disagreement in the future, it will be helpful to have a signed and dated agreement to go back to. Your agreement can still be informal, though. It doesn’t have to be a final document that you take to a lawyer. You can decide, with the other parent, to change the agreement later on. What’s most important during the separation is that the children are taken care of.
You may decide to make an agreement on your own, or get the help of a Family Justice Counsellor. You can also make child support part of any other agreements you might make, like a separation agreement or parenting plan. If you make the agreement on your own, some of the things that you should put in your child support agreement are:
* The names and birthdates of the children included in the child support
* Where the children are going to live (the primary residence)
* The amount of monthly child support payments, including a start date. How do I calculate child support?
* How you are going to make those child support payments – such as through payroll deduction, the Family Maintenance and Enforcement Program, or directly to the other parent in the form of cash or a cheque
* Any other things you agreed to – this may include additional payments for the children’s special and extraordinary expenses
* Something about how you and the other parent plan to cooperate about child support – for example, you might agree to keep each other informed of changes in address and income
A witness should watch you sign your agreement and then the witness should also sign the document. Witnesses prove that your signatures are really yours. Witnesses can be anyone you trust.
The information in the next section will help you figure out how much child support should be. Even if you and the other parent don’t agree on the amount of support, Family Justice Counsellors throughout BC can help you work out your differences without going to court.
The first step in figuring out who pays child support is to agree on where the children will live and for how much of the time. In most cases, the parent who has the children most of the time gets child support from the other parent. This is because the parent who has the children most of the time already pays their “share” of child support in household expenses that aren’t covered by the other parent.
The parent who has the children the least amount of time pays the other parent child support to help cover the children’s expenses. This parent has to pay a specific amount of child support each month. The paying parent will also have to contribute money towards special expenses for the children – such as day care or soccer.
Sometimes, however, parents split up the children between them. So, for example, one child lives with one parent, and the other child lives with the other parent. This is a split parenting arrangement.
In other cases, the children live with each parent about the same amount of time. This is a shared parenting arrangement. If you are not sure if you each have the children for at least 40% of the time, here are a few general guidelines to help you figure out if you have a shared parenting arrangement:
* Both parents should be maintaining a residence for the child or children
* You should base your calculation on the average amount of time children spend with each parent in a typical one or two-week period, not during holidays. That’s because during holidays, children might spend an unusual amount of time with one parent or the other
* Consider which parent is responsible for the children if something happens during school hours. School hours are usually considered time in the care of whichever parent is responsible during that time. For example, the parent who would care for the children on a professional development day or go to the school or daycare if there’s an emergency
The next section explains how you calculate the amount of child support based on your parenting arrangement.