Child Support When Parenting is Shared: Who Pays What?

October 3, 2018

Shared parenting by separated spouses is becoming more and more common.  According to a 2017 Canadian study, 20% of all court orders dealing with parenting in Canada contemplated shared parenting – a 100% increase in just 10 years.

Despite this increased prevalence, many ex-spouses are still confused about their child support obligations when parenting is shared. One common myth is that neither parent is required to pay child support where both parents share parenting roughly equally.  In fact, the law is more complicated than that.

When children live primarily with one parent, the amount of child support the other parent (the “payor”) must pay is determined based on two factors: the number of children in the family and the payor’s income (see Schedule I of Canada’s Federal Child Support Guidelines).

However, when children spend at least 40% of their time over the course of a year with each parent, the courts have discretion to deviate from the usual amount set out in the Guidelines. In these cases, the amount of child support payable depends on three things:

1. The amount each parent would pay the other under the Guidelines;

2. The increased costs of shared parenting arrangements; and

3. The conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each parent and child.

The intent behind this approach is to provide a degree of financial relief to parents whose child-related costs increase along with their parenting time.  However, the courts have been clear that they will apply these considerations flexibly and not according to any set formula.  

This is because more parenting time will not necessarily entail increased spending by one parent or reduced spending by the other.  Many child-related expenses, such as housing and transportation, are fixed.  In some cases, even when a child lives with one parent 40% of the time, the other parent is still paying most of the major child-related expenses.  In these situations, the regular Guideline amount may be appropriate.    

In other cases, where there is a significant disparity between the parents’ income, reduced child support may undermine the lower-income parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs, and therefore not be in the best interests of the child.  On the other hand, a reduction may be appropriate where the parent who would normally pay child support has a much lower income than the other parent.  

The bottom line? There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to child support in shared parenting situations. When faced with calculating child support in these cases, the court will consider all of the facts and use its discretion to determine the appropriate amount.