Things My Ex Told Me #1: Child Support

As a family law lawyer, one phrase I hear regularly from clients is “My ex told me that…”. Since a lot of the information that follows that introduction is often incomplete at best and absolutely incorrect at worst, I thought it might be helpful to start blogging about some of the “ex misconceptions” that are circulating out there.

For my first post in this ongoing series, I tackle the topic of child support. Specifically:

My ex told me that we don’t need to deal with child support.  He’s just going to pay for half of everything for the kids.

I’ve heard this little gem so many times.  Child support is such an easy thing to calculate and yet it causes so much grief.  Generally speaking, to calculate it, you take the income of the parent who will be paying support and you run it through the appropriate table for the province where that person lives and it spits out a number.  That becomes the amount of child support to be paid by the paying parent.  (As with everything in law, there are some exceptions to this rule. These include where the payor has an income of over $150,000 or self-employed, and instances of shared parenting.)

So easy and yet so much resistance.  Fundamentally, people just do not want to write a cheque or send an e-transfer to their ex.  They forget it’s for their kids.  I often have people ask if they can send gift cards for grocery stores or big box retailers.  The answer is a hard no.

The very first section of the Federal Child Support Guidelines lays out its objectives – all of which are incredibly reasonable.  They are:

  1. to establish a fair standard of support for children that ensures that they continue to benefit from the financial means of both spouses after separation;
  2. to reduce conflict and tension between spouses by making the calculation of child support orders more objective;
  3. to improve the efficiency of the legal process by giving courts and spouses guidance in setting the levels of child support orders and encouraging settlement; and
  4. to ensure consistent treatment of spouses and children who are in similar circumstances.

Another important thing to keep in mind when considering child support is that it is the child’s right to support, not the parent’s.  This means that while you can make all kinds of deals between you to avoid making that payment, you put yourself at risk that if the issue of child support ends up in front of a court, the judge may not agree with your scheme and order that the table amount be paid.  A typical time for this to occur is when the application for a divorce order is filed and the Court requires you to show what provisions have been made for child support.  If the judge sees an amount other than the Guidelines table amount, he/she may (and generally will) not grant the divorce until satisfied with the explanation or the paying parent starts paying the table amount.  Judges have seen it all and they take child support very seriously.

There are ways to soften the blow of sending those transfers to your ex.  Either party can file with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP), which is an agency that both tracks and enforces maintenance orders or agreements.  You then send the money to them and they send it to your ex, making the transaction and tracking less painful.  

Of course, the other way is just to make peace with the fact that the money is meant for your kids and that any money that flows into the other household budget is going to improve the overall circumstance for your children.