In a family law decision written nearly 20 years ago, a BC Supreme Court judge described many of the excuses offered by parents who were then failing to pay child support. Two decades later, these “explanations” are still often heard as there continue to be parents who refuse to satisfy their child support obligations or simply think they can unilaterally reduce what they pay.
Here are some of the most common of these excuses, and the Court’s typical reply:
- “I can’t afford it.” This is not a valid legal reason to cancel or reduce child support that is owed. If a parent has legitimate financial issues, the courts can and may postpone payment for a period of time or order a reasonable payment plan.
- “My financial circumstances have changed.” It is not enough to say that you earned less or took on new family responsibilities. You can only get a reduction or cancellation of owed support if it would be grossly unfair not to considering your efforts to comply with the agreement or order, the reasons why you cannot pay what is owing, and any circumstances that the court considers relevant.
- “I have new obligations.” Financial responsibility for a second family does not relieve you of your legal obligation to support your first family.
- “The children have not suffered because other people have provided assistance.” A parent’s child support obligations arise because of the payor’s duty to provide for her or her children. The fact that someone else is providing for your child does not make this obligation disappear.
- “My former spouse agreed that I did not have to pay.” This argument was rejected by the BC Court of Appeal because even if such an agreement exists, it cannot be relied on or enforced because it denies the children the right to support. A child’s rights cannot be waived by the child nor “bargained away” by a parent who is caring for them.
- “My former spouse prevented me from having parenting time or contact with my child(ren).” Even if your child’s other parent is wrongfully denying you parenting time or contact with your child(ren), this is not relevant to whether you must pay child support. Your joint and ongoing obligations to financially support your child remain.
- “I spent a lot of money on my children, even if I was not paying all that was required by law.” It is not up to you, but to the parent who is entitled to receive it, to decide how child support monies should be spent in the best interests of the children. You cannot simply purchase items or pay for expenses for your child and call that child support, giving yourself permission to reduce the support you pay to your former spouse.
- “I am not going to pay because there is nothing my former spouse can do about it anyways.” – The BC Family Law Act does assist in enforcing agreements and court order. If you refuse to pay child support, you may find yourself required to give security (i.e. pay money into court where it will be held to cover future payments), pay fines or pay for expenses incurred by the other parent, including legal fees. In more severe cases, you could be imprisoned for up to 30 days. If your former spouse decides to enrol with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP), you could find your wages or income tax return garnished or a renewal of a passport or driver’s license denied.
We are all aware of how expensive life can be. When there are now two households to support after separation, costs can seem insurmountable. Yet, your children must continue to be cared for. If you are struggling to meet your child support obligations, seek legal advice about your options before there is a mountain of debt in front of you. Difficult decisions about what you can continue to afford in your monthly budget might need to take place. A financial advisor may offer assistance. A review of support obligations may be justified. Just don’t ignore the problem. Face it and ask for help before it becomes more than you can handle.
(This post was adapted from a fact sheet originally written by Rebecca Stanley for the People’s Law School).