Child Support in Alberta

What is child support?

Child support the money paid by one parent to the other parent to help support their child.  Typically, child support is paid to the primary parent, although both parents may owe support if they share parenting of the child.

Child support is based upon the payor parent’s current actual income.  Lawyers and Judges have very little discretion when it comes to apply for, or granting child support orders.  In most cases, parents must pay what the Guidelines say.

Importantly, child support is available to both married and unmarried parents.

Why is there Child Support?

In Alberta, all parents have a legal responsibility to financially support their child, whether or not the parent spends any time with the child.  This is because child support is the right of the child—not the right of the parent receiving child support.  This means that parents cannot agree to refuse child support.  Basically, child support is there to ensure that children benefit from the incomes of both parents.

Ongoing Child Support

According to the Federal Child Support Guidelines, there are two kinds of child support: Section 3 (monthly) and Section 7 (extraordinary) child support.

1. Base (Section 3) Child Support This is the “basic” amount of child support. Typically, it is paid monthly. It covers the child’s “fixed” expenses like food, clothing, shelter, and small incidental expenses like toothpaste or toys.

The amount of monthly child support depends upon the payor parent’s income.  Revenue Canada provides an online child support calculator which makes it easy for parents to see how much they may be obligated to pay.  In cases where parents share parenting, the courts may set-off the parent’s child support obligations so that the overall payment is less.

2. Extraordinary (Section 7) Child Support – This covers “special or extraordinary” expenses, which typically include:

    • Childcare expenses that one parent incurs due to their employment, illness, disability, or education/training for employment (For example, daycare or babysitting).
    • Medical and dental insurance premiums attributable to the child.
    • Health-related expenses like orthodontic work, prescription drugs, or glasses.
    • Extraordinary expenses for the child’s schooling, for example, if there were increased costs to attend a special German language program.
    • Post-secondary educational expenses like university tuition.  If the child is over the age of majority, then they will typically have an obligation to contribute something towards their own education as well.
    • Extracurricular expenses like hockey registration fees and equipment or ballet lessons.

The amount that each parent contributes to a special expenses is based on their proportional incomes.  For example, if mom earns $60,000 annually and dad earns $40,000 annually, then together they would earn $100,000.  Therefore, the mom would pay for 60% of the expenses, while dad would pay for 40% of the expenses.

A parent’s child support obligations do not always end when the child turns 18.  They may still be entitled to child support if they enroll in post-secondary education, or if they are unable to become independent for health or psychological reasons.

Retroactive Child Support (Arrears)

If a parent has not paid child support, or has been paying the wrong amount of child support, then the matter can be brought to court to calculate the amount of child support that ought to be owed.  Typically, the court will not go back more than three years when dealing with a retroactive child support application.

Retroactive child support applications can cut both ways.  For example, if the mother refused to pay child support after separation, then the father could apply for retroactive child support for those months that she refused to pay.  Another example: if dad has been paying $1,000 monthly due to an old court order, but he has since lost his job, he could apply to retroactively vary his payments to an amount commensurate with his income.

How is Child Support Calculated?

Calculating child support is not complicated, but there are a number of steps involved.

Step 1 – Determine the Parenting Arrangement

In a primary parenting arrangement, the primary parent receives monthly (Section 3) child support from the other parent.  In a shared parenting arrangement, both parents typically receive monthly (Section 3) child support from the other.  Often, these amounts are set off, so that only one net payment is made.

In both parenting arrangements, the parents split the extraordinary (Section 7) expenses on a proportional basis.

Step 2 – Determine the Parent’s Income

In order to calculate the amount of child support payable, we need to know both parent’s gross annual incomes.  In order to do this, the parents will need to exchange financial information.  This is usually done voluntarily, however, if a parent refuses to provide their information, then you may need to file a ‘Notice to Disclose’ Application to compel them to provide their information.

Typically, income will be determined by looking at the payor’s most recent tax returns or notices of assessment, and their most recent paystubs.  If a parent is self-employed, then it may be necessary to review their corporation’s financial statements, general ledgers, and bank records.

If it is not possible to accurately determine the payor’s income, then the court will impute the payor with an income that it deems reasonable under the circumstances.  The court may also impute incomes in situations where a payor is deliberately underemployed or unemployed.  For example, if a surgeon quits his job to become a barista because he no longer feels like paying so much in child support, he may still need to pay child support based on the surgeon’s income.

Step 3 – Calculate Monthly (Section 3) Child Support

Revenue Canada provides an online child support calculator which can provide parents with their estimated child support obligations.  However, you should speak with a family lawyer before finalizing a child support agreement, or applying for a child support order, because the lawyer will have access to the latest child support software.

Step 4 – Calculate Extraordinary (Section 7) Child Support

Parents will need to compile all of their receipts for any valid special expense.  These receipts are then submitted for reimbursement from the other party, based on a proportional split.  It is important that your child support order specifically mentions which Section 7 expenses are applicable, because otherwise it will be difficult to enforce an expense.

Step 5 – Consider Enrolling in the Alberta Child Support Recalculation Program

The Alberta Child Support Recalculation Program is a free service offered by the government which automatically recalculates simple child support orders annually, based on the new year’s financial information.

This program is helpful for parents who work as employees, however, it is not available for parents who are self-employed, or earn significant amounts of income from non-employment sources (like dividends or capital gains).

How is Child Support Enforced?

In Alberta, child support orders are often registered with the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program (“MEP”).  MEP is an Alberta government initiative that automatically enforces orders and agreements relating to child support, spousal support, and partner support.

Once an order or agreement is registered with MEP, they will handle all of the collections actions.  For example, if a parent stops paying child support, MEP may seize their bank accounts, garnish their wages, or suspend their driver’s license until they resume making payments.

Stay of Enforcement

Sometimes the payor parent will lose their job due to injury, illness, or economic/business reasons.  They may also take a new job that pays less than the old one so that they can spend more time with the kids.  Unfortunately, MEP will still continue to enforce the payor’s child support obligations until there is a new court order in place.

It may take months to get before a judge.  In that case, the payor parent may need to a apply for a stay of enforcement from MEP—this will temporarily prohibit MEP from taking enforcement actions against the payor.  A stay of enforcement may be granted for a maximum of 9 months, and the payor may still need to make smaller payments in the meantime.

Contact an Alberta Child Support Lawyer Today

If you are in need of child support, or have lost your job and are paying too much, feel free to call a family lawyer at Morrison LLP at 587-758-1099 to speak about your child support matter.  The first 30 minutes are free.

Although we are based in Edmonton, our family & divorce lawyers—and practicing mediators—are proud to serve much of northern Alberta, including the following communities:

  • Edmonton & Area – Sherwood Park, Beaumont, Leduc, Fort Saskatchewan, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain.
  • North – Athabasca, Morinville, Westlock, Gibbons, Barrhead, Redwater, Peace River, High Level, Fort McMurray.
  • West – Drayton Valley, Edson, Hinton, Whitecourt, Devon.
  • South – Camrose, Wetaskiwin, Millet, Calmar.
  • East – Vegreville, St. Paul, Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Vermillion, Wainwright, Tofield.
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