Frequently Asked Questions About Child Support

1. What’s the difference between child maintenance and child support?

There is practically no difference between the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the provincial Child Maintenance Guidelines, and both are usually referred to simply as ‘the Guidelines.’ Child ‘maintenance’ is governed by the provincial Maintenance and Custody Act, while child ‘support’ is governed by the federal Divorce Act.

The Guidelines apply to all parents who pay or receive child support, regardless of whether the parents have been married to each other, were living as common law partners, or have never lived together at all. They also apply to grandparents or other third parties paying or receiving child support under a court order.

In general, this website uses the term 'child support' when referring to either child support or maintenance, and uses the term 'parent' when referring to anyone who has custody of a child under a court order.

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2. Why do we use the Guidelines and Tables to determine child support?

The Guidelines and Tables came into effect in May, 1997. Before they existed, judges in different areas of the country decided child support matters using many different factors, including the ‘means and needs’ of the parties and the children. As a result, child support decisions were not consistent, and were not always being based on the same factors. The Guidelines and the Tables were developed to give parents and courts a set of rules, so that child support issues were decided consistently across Canada.

The table amounts have changed twice since 1997 – once in 2006, and again on December 31st, 2011. For the most recent version of the simplified child support tables, click here.

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3. What is child support meant to cover?

Child support is meant to help with the living expenses of the child. This includes things like food, diapers, clothing, personal care items, school supplies, and, generally, basic extracurricular activities. Child support is also meant to help with the extra cost a parent has to pay to provide living space for a child. For example, having to pay for a 2 bedroom apartment instead of a 1 bedroom, once you have a child.

There are also ‘special or extraordinary’ expenses that can be paid in addition to the table amount.

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4. How do I know the child support is being spent properly?

Neither the court nor the Maintenance Enforcement Program will keep track of what the parent receiving child support spends it on. Child support is meant to contribute to basic necessities, such as housing, food, and clothing. The table amount assumes that the parent who is caring for the child is already contributing to the financial support of the child. The table amount being paid is the paying parent’s contribution to meet the child’s basic needs, just as if they were living with the child and helping with the child’s expenses.

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5. How is child support calculated? What does the ‘table amount of support’ mean?

The basic amount of child support or maintenance paid is called the table amount. It is based on the paying parent’s gross (before tax) yearly income, the province or territory where the paying parent is living, and the number of children they are paying support for. Every province and territory has a table that takes into account what it costs to raise a child there, and the standard of living and tax rates in that province/territory. This is why gross income is used to determine the monthly amount.

Nova Scotia Guidelines use the Federal tables to determine child support amounts.

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6. How is ‘income’ calculated for figuring out child support amounts?

Generally, income is calculated using income tax returns and notices of assessment and reassessment from the Canada Revenue Agency for the past three tax years, as well as information showing current year-to-date income, such as paystubs. There may be additional information required, depending on the situation. For example, a business owner will have to provide the financial statements from their business.

To request copies of your income tax returns or notices of assessment or reassessment, contact the Canada Revenue Agency at 1-800-959-8281, or access your information online by setting up an online account. Click here for more information.

 

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7. Does the court look at my net income, or my gross income?

The court will look at your gross income when determining child support, not your net income. Gross income is the total money you earn before taxes or other deductions are taken out. Net income is your 'take home' pay, once taxes and deductions are removed.

The Child Support Tables are set up using gross income amounts, as they already take into account the tax rates, costs of living, and average costs of raising a child, in each province and territory. This is why each province and territory may use a different table.

 

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8. Can I deduct any expenses from my gross income when determining child support? What are Schedule III adjustments?

If you are an employee, generally the only expenses that may be deducted from your gross income when determining your income for calculating child support are 'Schedule III adjustments.' The most common Schedule III adjustment is union dues. Union dues are the money you pay if you are a member of a union at work. The rest of the possible Schedule III adjustments do not apply to most people, and many of these adjustments are something that you would include on your Income Tax Returns if they applied to you.

A list of Schedule III adjustments can be found here. These amounts are very specific, and can be difficult to calculate. Some of the amounts apply to people who earn income other than employment income. Do not assume that you understand what the amounts are just by reading the category they fall under.

You can find information on how to calculate Schedule III adjustments on Justice Canada's website. It is recommended that you get help from a lawyer, accountant or tax professional to calculate any Schedule III adjustments.

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9. Does the court use current income to set child support amounts?

Usually the amount of child support will be determined by the current income of the payor. If the court feels that using current income would not be fair, however, they may look at the payor’s pattern of income or changes in income over the last 3 years. This is why the court requires parties to file their last 3 years of income tax documents when dealing with support issues.

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10. What is ‘imputed income’?

If the court feels that the amount of income a parent claims they earn is not a fair reflection of his or her actual income, the court may attribute (impute) income to that person. If the court imputes income to someone, this means that they can set the child support amount based on what the person should be earning (their imputed income), as opposed to what they actually are earning, or are claiming to be earning. The circumstances where the court may impute income include:

  • the parent is purposely unemployed or underemployed (unless this is because of the parent’s reasonable educational or health needs, or is required by the needs of the child)
  • the parent is exempt from (does not have to pay) income tax
  • the parent lives in a country where income tax is significantly lower than in Canada
  • the parent appears to have diverted (hidden) income which would affect the level of child support
  • the parent’s property is not reasonably used to generate income
  • the parent has failed to provide income information as required
  • the parent unreasonably deducts expenses from income
  • the parent gets a significant portion of their income from dividends, capital gains, or other sources, that are taxed at a lower rate than employment or business income, or are exempt from tax
  • the parent is a beneficiary under a trust, and is or will be receiving income or other benefits from the trust

If you think that your situation might require having a judge impute income to the other party, you should speak with a lawyer for advice. The court cannot search for evidence for you – you must figure out a way to show the court why the other party should have income imputed to them.

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11. Are there situations where the table amounts may not apply?

Yes. Generally speaking, the tables apply to situations where the children live most of the time with one parent, and the other parent pays child support.  Exceptions to the tables can include situations where the children are over the age of majority (19 in Nova Scotia) but are still dependent, there is a split or shared custody arrangement, or when one parent may experience undue hardship by paying or receiving the table amount. There are some basic rules in the Guidelines for calculating child support in these situations, but there are no specific formulas (except for split custody situations).

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12. Do I have to apply to the court to get child support/maintenance?

In some situations, you may be asked to apply for a child support order. For example, if you are collecting income assistance from Community Services, your worker may require that you make an application for child support from the other party. In most circumstances, though, you are not required to get a court order for child support.

In law, it is considered the child’s right to have financial support from both parents. You and the other parent can figure out how you will deal with child support and payments, but you should use the Guidelines and tables to determine how much will be paid. If you are paying or receiving child support that is not outlined in a court order (and therefore is not going through the Maintenance Enforcement Program) you may want to use receipts between the two of you when child support is paid. You should keep these receipts in case you and the other parent have a disagreement about child support later on.

If you want to have your child support payments enforced through the Maintenance Enforcement Program, you must have a court order or registered separation agreement to do this. You cannot go through the Maintenance Enforcement Program on your own, without an order or court-registered agreement.

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13. Can the other parent and I decide on our own how much child support will be paid?

The Child Support Guidelines are law, and should be followed when determining child support, whether or not you are applying to the court to deal with this issue. If you make an application to the court for child support, or are dealing with child support as part of a divorce, a judge has to use the Guidelines and tables to determine child support, regardless of what you and other parent decide. If you do not follow the table amounts, you must explain why you are not using them, and how your alternative arrangements adequately provide for the child’s needs. Ultimately, though, the amount of child support is still up to the judge to decide.

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14. Does my new partner’s income affect support payments?

No. The only time the court will look at your new partner’s income is if one of the parties makes an application for undue hardship, or if you are dealing with a spousal support issue.

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15. Do I have to pay support for my step-children?

In some cases, yes, but this will depend on your particular situation, and whether the law dealing with your case provides for payment of support by a person who acts in the place of a parent. This is called acting ‘in loco parentis.’ If this is your situation, you should speak with a lawyer.

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16. Do I have to claim child support on my taxes?

No – as of 1997, the table amount of child support does not get claimed as income by the person receiving it, and it does not get claimed as a deduction for the person paying it. Some special expenses may get claimed on one of the party’s taxes, for example, you may claim your contribution to child-care or tuition costs when you file your taxes. The Canada Revenue Agency has their own rules about who can claim these expenses – speak with a tax professional about what will work in your situation.

If you had an order for child support before 1997, and you apply to the court for a new order, your new order will automatically fall under the new rules.

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17. What if the payor doesn’t give me their financial information every year as required in our order?

Most child support/maintenance orders have a clause in them that requires one or both parties to give their updated financial information to the other party every year (usually by June 1st). Neither the court nor the Maintenance Enforcement Program checks to see if this is done. If the other party does not give you their information as required, but you have good reason to believe that their income has changed, you may apply to the court to change your court order. As part of your application, the court will request certain income information from that party. You should speak with a lawyer, though, to see if this is in your best interests (for example, if the other party’s income went down, you could end up with lower child support than what you already have).

There may be other ways to get this information - get advice from a lawyer for information about what to do in your situation.

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18. What is ‘undue hardship’?

In some circumstances, a parent may claim undue hardship. Undue hardship is one of the exceptions to the table amount talked about above. Undue hardship means that the person’s circumstances would either make it difficult to pay the required amount of support (if they are the payor), or support the child on the amount they are receiving (if they are the recipient). Undue hardship is not about claiming that you ‘can’t afford it.’

Undue hardship is a very difficult argument to make, and it requires a two-step test to be passed. First, the person making the application must show that they have an ‘undue hardship circumstance.’ If you cannot show that you have at least one of these specific circumstances, you cannot go on with the second part of the test. If you can show that you have an undue hardship circumstance, you then have to perform a standard-of-living comparison between your household, and the other party’s household. You, or a lawyer acting on your behalf, must do the calculations for this test – the court will usually not do this for you.

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19. What are ‘undue hardship circumstances’?

The first part of the undue hardship test is showing that you have at least one of the undue hardship circumstances. If you do not meet this first part of the test, you cannot go onto the second part (your application has failed).

Undue hardship circumstances include:

  • unusually high debts from supporting your family before the separation or  to earn a living
  • unusually high costs related to access visits with the child
  • a legal duty to support another person, including a person who, because of illness, disability, or other cause (including education) cannot support themselves
  • a legal duty to support another child (for example, a child you had from a different relationship)

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20. What is the ‘household standard of living comparison’?

This comparison is the second part of the undue hardship test. Once you have shown that you have at least one undue hardship circumstance, you must then show that the standard of living for your household is lower than that of the other parent’s household.

When doing the household comparison, the court requires you to take into account the money earned by anyone else in your household that is earning an income. For example, if you have a new partner, roommate or adult child living with you, you will need to show their incomes and include them in your comparison. They will usually have to file some sort of financial statement or documents with the court (like tax information or paystubs, for example). You will also need to take into account the income earned by anyone else in the other party's household. The income of these household members will not affect the amount of support – this information is only used for calculating the standard of living of each household.

The undue hardship test is explained in section 10 of the Guidelines.

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21. Do I have to pay maintenance if my child is no longer living with either parent?

Generally, yes. If the child is still a minor (under 19 in Nova Scotia) and is living with a third party (for example, a grandparent), you may be able to apply to have child support given to the person caring for the child. The person caring for the child may also be able to apply for child support, from one or both parents.

In some circumstances, you may be able to apply to have the support paid directly to the child, but this will depend on the age and maturity of the child, and the situation.

If your child is not living with you or the other parent, you should speak with a lawyer for advice on what to do in your situation.

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22. What is retroactive support?

Retroactive child support is back-dated child support. For example, if you have a child support order in place, and you recently found out that the paying parent got a large pay increase 2 years ago but did not tell you, you may apply to the court for a change in child support, going back those 2 years.

Generally, if you are making an application for retroactive child support, you can ask for the change as far back as the most recent court order that also dealt with child support. However, whether or not the court will grant retroactive child support for some or all of the time you are asking for will depend on your situation.

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23. What do I do if the other parent isn’t paying their child support/maintenance?

If you do not have a court order for child support, you can apply to the court for one. Where you make your application can depend on where you live, where the other party is living, where your child is living, and whether you were ever divorced from the other person. Sorting out jurisdiction for child support issues is difficult, and you should speak with a lawyer or court staff for help.

If you and the other parent have a separation agreement, you can register the agreement with the court. Once it is registered, it is a ‘court order,’ and support amounts can be enforced through the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP).

If you have a court order or registered separation agreement that deals with child support, and the other party is not paying it, you should contact the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) at 424-0050 in the Halifax area, or toll-free at 1-800-357-9248 from anywhere else in Nova Scotia. All child support/maintenance orders in Nova Scotia are automatically sent to MEP for enforcement. For more information about MEP, click here

If you are already enrolled with MEP, you will need to speak with your enforcement officer if you are having difficulty getting your support payments, or if the other party is not paying. If MEP is not enforcing the order, there may be other options available to you, but you will need to get advice from a lawyer about what to do.

Many forms for starting applications are available online, as well. You should get advice from a lawyer or speak with court staff to make sure you are filing the right documents for your case. You will usually have to file several documents to start an application, not just one or two.

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24. When do I stop paying child support?

In most cases, child support is paid until a child reaches the age of majority (which can differ between provinces – in Nova Scotia, the age is 19). Child support can extend past that time if the child is still dependent (for example, if they are still in school, or cannot support themselves because of a disability).

If you are paying support for a child over 19 who is in school, the obligation to pay support usually ends when the child finishes their first program or degree; however, this is not always the case, and will depend on your particular situation.

Child support orders do not stop automatically. If you want to terminate a child support order, you must apply to the court to do this. If you are not sure whether you should make an application to stop your child support, speak to a lawyer for advice.

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25. I already have a child support order. How do I change it?

You can apply to change, or ‘vary,’ your court order if you have a material change in circumstances. This means that something important in your situation, the other party’s situation, or your child’s situation, has changed since the last court order, and you need to change something in the order as a result.

Generally, the same process applies for changing an order as it does for getting an order in the first place.

If you have a court order that you want to apply to change (vary), you use the same basic rules around where to apply as if you have never had an order before. Where you file your court application will depend on what issue you are applying to deal with, and where you, the other party, and perhaps the children, live. It may also depend on whether or not you were divorced from the other party. The Supreme Court (Family Divisions) and the Family Courts operate using different sets of court rules, and may view jurisdiction differently.

For a variation application to succeed (an application to change a court order), you must be able to show that there has been a material change in circumstances.

For more information about applying to change a court order, click here.

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26. What are ‘lying-in expenses’?

'Lying-in expenses' is a legal term that is used in the Maintenance and Custody Act. These expenses are meant to contribute to the reasonable costs that a single woman has while pregnant to carry the baby and prepare for the birth of the baby. These costs usually include things like maternity vitamins, maternity clothes and baby-related items, like a crib, stroller, or car seat. They can also include maintenance of the mother during the pregnancy and expenses related to the birth of the child.

An unmarried woman may ask to have lying-in expenses paid as part of a child maintenance application to the court. A judge can order the mother or the possible father, or both of them, to pay certain amounts toward these expenses. The costs have to be proven (for example, by giving receipts or confirmation of costs) and they have to be reasonable and necessary.

Applications for lying-in expenses can be made during the pregnancy, or after the birth of the child. Often, the application is made after the child is born, and combined with the application for child maintenance, to make things easier (making one application instead of two).

Talk to a lawyer to find out more about these expenses, and what they include.

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