Child support is an issue where we deal with a lot of misconceptions.
There are lots of people who see child support as a sword in the whole divorce process. If you take anything from this blog, let it be that child support is not a sword, but a tool that helps you support your children, no matter the situation between you and the other parent.
The bottom line is that the child support is just that: support for the children and should only be that.
If you have been following me and my blogs, you know what I am going to say next. In mediation and collaborative family law you have the flexibility to figure out what works for you as compared to the court, which has very strict rules.
Child Support Tables
In Canada, we have a tool called the Child Support Tables. To use the tables, you look up your income and the number of children you have and then there is a “table amount” listed. If you went to Court and one parent has the children for most of the time, then the other would pay the table amount of child support. The court must order that the table amount be paid by the other parent.
Where both parents have a shared parenting arrangement, meaning that they have the children for almost equal amounts of time, we also use the Tables to give us a “setoff amount” which gives us a baseline for the amount of child support that should be paid.
The setoff amount is the difference between each parent’s table amounts, where the parent with the higher income may end up paying the other parent some child support even though both parents have the children for an almost equal amount of time. The logic behind the possibility of continuing to pay some child support is to make sure that the children’s level of living does not change significantly going between their parent’s homes, and so one parent will not be struggling to provide the basics while another parent has lots of extra income for fun things.
In an almost equal shared parenting arrangement, child support does not have to be ordered, but it may. There is more flexibility with the amount of child support that can be ordered in these situations, but the setoff amount gives a good starting point.
Section 7 Expenses
So what I just described is the table or base amount, but in some cases parents may have to pay on top of the table amount. We call these Section 7 expenses (because they are in section 7 of Federal Child Support Guidelines — creative, I know).
These are for the extraordinary or special expenses of your child. Childcare falls under this section, meaning that parents may be required to pay for some portion of the childcare expenses on top of the base amount of child support. The “special and extraordinary” part of these expenses can create some confusion for some people, but generally it means that it needs to be more than what an ordinary cost would be.
For instance, the cost of school supplies is not extraordinary, but if your child requires a tutor, then that would likely be considered a section 7 expense, and the parent paying child support would be expected to contribute to that cost on top of the base amount. In the case of sports, regular seasonal hockey fees are not often considered to be extra expenses to pay. But, for example, if your child makes the provincial team and must travel to Toronto, the paying parent could be required to contribute an amount on top of the base or table amount to help to cover a portion of that cost.
I am sure that many of you notice how non-committal my language is when I talk about section 7 expenses. That is because section 7 is not a hard rule where there is an easy yes or no as it depends on your specific circumstances.
When considering whether section 7 expenses will be required to be paid, the court looks at the incomes of the parents, the special needs or talents of the children and what the parent is already paying for child support. The question then becomes, is it reasonable for the paying parent to be required to pay more.
In order to have the necessary conversations around child support, we need to start with the financial disclosure that we talked about in my “Show me the Money” blog and Facebook live. But once we have those details, my best advice is to not get stuck on the numbers. Make sure that your kids are the focus, because they are who child support is for.
As always, flexibility and reasonableness is key, and it is more available to you in a collaborative or mediation process.