When parents do not live together, the parent with whom the child does not live most of the time must pay money to the other parent to help cover the expenses associated with taking care of the child. This payment is referred to as child support. Child support must be paid no matter how much or how little time the parent paying support spends with the child.
The child involved can be a biological child, an adopted child, a stepchild or a child for whom an adult has acted as a parent. In the case of an adult who has acted as a parent, the closeness of the relationship with the child will determine whether or not child support must be paid. It also does not matter if the parents were legally married to each other or living common-law. Children of unmarried parents have the same rights to support from their parents as the children of married couples.
In Ontario, the amount of child support to be paid is set out in the Child Support Guidelines. It is based upon the income of the parent paying child support and the number of children that need support. The income of the parent receiving child support is usually not a factor which is taken into account. The Child Support Guidelines help to ensure that the calculation of child support is fair, consistent and predictable. In many instances, if you know the gross annual income of the parent paying support and the number of children for whom support must be paid, then you can use the guidelines to calculate the legally stipulated child support amount. However, there may be special circumstances where the application of the guidelines may become more difficult. One such example is where the parent paying child support is self-employed. The income a self-employed person claims for tax purposes may not necessarily be the income that should be used for calculating child support with the guidelines.
Parents who pay support may also have to contribute toward certain expenses in addition to the amount set out in the Child Support Guidelines. These are called "special" or "extraordinary" expenses. Some examples include daycare, extracurricular activities and post-secondary education. Parents will usually share these expenses in proportion to their respective incomes. The income of both parents must therefore be determined before calculating how these expenses should be shared.
Unless the parents agree otherwise, each year, the person paying support is required to provide the recipient parent with confirmation of his or her income. If the income of the parent paying support changes, the two parents can agree to adjust the child support so that the amount paid is in accordance with the Child Support Guidelines. If the parents cannot agree, they may need to have a court decide if the amount should be changed and to set the new amount.
Aside from a change in the income of the parent paying support, there may be other reasons for changing child support. For example, if the child changes his or her residence by moving from one parent to another or goes away to school.