Frequently Asked Questions About Child Support

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

Before May 26, 2017, Nova Scotia’s Maintenance and Custody Act referred to support as ‘maintenance’: child maintenance and spousal maintenance. The Parenting and Support Act, which came into effect on May 26, 2017, uses only the term ‘support.’ Old orders referring to ‘maintenance’ are still enforceable as child support or spousal support orders.

As of May 26, 2017, the Nova Scotia Child Maintenance Guidelines became the Child Support Guidelines.

These terminology changes have no effect on amounts of support, or how support is determined. 

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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 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.

You can also review Justice Canada's fact sheet on Income Disclosure for Child Support Purposes

 

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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.

For additional help calculating income with Schedule III adjustments, click here.

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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 their actual income, the court may attribute income to that person. This is called 'imputing' income.

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?

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.

Click here to learn how to make a court application for child support.

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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.

Under the Divorce Act, a person may be ordered to pay child support if they are found to stand in the place of a parent. If this is your situation, you should speak with a lawyer.

Under the Parenting and Support Act, which came into effect on May 26, 2017, the term ‘parent’ includes someone with a ‘settled intention’ to treat a child as their own. This means that a person who acted as a parent toward a child, or acted in place of a parent, may be ordered to pay child support for that child.

The situation could include a step-child, or the child of a ‘spouse’ or common law partner. Whether child support is ordered in these situations will depend on the circumstances of each case. This, however, does not apply to foster parents under the Children and Family Services Act

'Spouse'; child support and spousal support; paternity testing info sheet

 

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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. We have a shared custody arrangement. Does this affect our income tax?

Shared custody is when each parent has the child or children living with them for at least 40% of the time over the course of the year.

Set off Child Support

A ‘set off’ is one of the ways that parties can pay child support in situations where they share custody. There are two ways that ‘set off’ amounts may be paid.

Example 1:

Angela and Bob share custody of Mary and Susan.  Angela earns more money than Bob. With a set off, we first need to calculate what each parent would pay for a table amount of child support. Angela’s table amount to Bob is $600 per month. Bob’s table amount to Angela is $400. When we subtract the two table amounts from each other, there is a difference of $200. This means Angela will pay a child support amount of $200 to Bob.  In most set off situations, money is only paid by the higher income earner to the other parent, because the higher income earner pays the difference in the support amounts to the other parent. In this case, only Angela will be able to claim certain income tax benefits because of recent case law.

Example 2:

Sandy and Dale share custody of Joey and Carly. Sandy earns more money than Dale. Again, a set off table amount is calculated: Sandy would pay Dale $1000 per month if both children lived with Dale fulltime, and Dale would pay Sandy $600 per month if both children lived with Sandy fulltime. Rather than Sandy paying Dale the $400 difference each month, Sandy pays Dale $1000, and Dale pays Sandy $600. Because each parent is paying a child support amount, this allows both Sandy and Dale to claim certain income tax benefits.

Getting Professional Advice

There may be income tax implications with a shared custody arrangement.

Court officers cannot provide legal, accounting, or income tax advice and cannot tell you what the income tax implications of your shared custody arrangement might be.

The Canada Revenue Agency’s laws about claims - claiming child related deductions or credits - can be very complicated. These claims can involve a lot of money so it is important that you know how these laws may affect you.

In some cases, only one parent may make a certain claim.

In some cases, neither parent may make a certain claim unless both agree on who will make it.

Recently there has been case law about how income tax should be calculated in shared custody arrangements where set off child support payments are only paid by the higher income earner to the other parent. 

You should get professional advice about the tax implications of your shared custody agreement or order.

There is general information about tax issues available on the Canada Revenue Agency website. Getting advice about your situation is best to ensure that you are clear about what will happen in your situation. 

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

Most child support 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.

If your order is enrolled with the Administrative Recalculation Program, the Program clerk will send a reminder notice requiring the payor to provide their financial information every year before the anniversary date of the order. If the payor does not provide this information, the clerk has the authority to issue a new child support order, adding 10% to the payor’s last known income. Parties must update the clerk with their contact information to ensure that the reminder letter and all other information goes to the right address. For more about this Program, click here.

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19. Do I have to pay child support 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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20. 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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21. What do I do if the other parent isn’t paying their child support?

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 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.

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22. 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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23. 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 Division) and the Family Court operate using different sets of court rules, and may view jurisdiction differently.

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

To view the Guide for Applying to Change a Court Order, click here.

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24. What are ‘lying-in expenses’?

'Lying-in expenses' is a legal term that is used in the Parenting and Support Act. These expenses are meant to contribute to the reasonable costs that a 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 support 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 support , 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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