The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic is about the Child Support Guidelines in Alberta.
Child Support Guidelines
In Alberta, there are two Child Support Guidelines:
- (a) The Federal Child Support Guidelines, as part of the Divorce Act apply to parents who are in the process of divorcing; and
- (b) The Alberta Child Support Guidelines, as part of the Family Law Act apply to all other parents.
Both of these Guidelines are very similar, and the principles discussed in this topic apply to both guidelines.
The Guidelines allow the Court to deviate from the methods for calculating Child Support payments if it is necessary in the circumstances. For example, where a paying parent earns more than $150,000.00 per year and the other parent is suffering an undue hardship.
The Department of Justice Canada’s publications on Child Support are available on the Internet Child Support (justice.gc.ca). For advice on exactly how the guidelines apply to your personal situation, you may wish to speak to a lawyer.
Paying Child Support
A parent may be required to make child support payments if the child is in the other parent’s primary care. Under the Child Support Guidelines (above), tables calculate the base amount of child support that the payor is required to pay. This base amount takes the following into consideration: the province or territory where the parents live, the number of children in the recipient’s custody that the payor is obligated to support, and the income of the parent making the payments. The guideline income is usually the parent’s gross annual income. The table amounts take into account the usual deductions from income (such as taxes), and the usual costs of access to the children.
Child Support amounts are intended to cover the direct costs for the children, and indirect costs. Indirect costs include housing and transportation. Paying child support takes priority over paying any other expenses.
Child Support and Shared Custody
Shared custody occurs when the children live with each parent approximately the same amount of time. In this case, Child Support payments are calculated by determining the base amount in the Guidelines for each parent. The parent with the higher income will pay the difference between the two table amounts to the parent with the lower income.
Child Support and Split Custody
Split custody is when one or more children live with each parent. In this case, Child Support payments are calculated by determining the base amount in the Guidelines for each parent, based on the number of children living with the other parent. The parent pays to the other the difference between the two table amounts.
Special or Extraordinary Expenses
In addition to the table amount, the Court may make an Order for payment of special expenses. These special expenses are divided between the two parents proportionately to their incomes. For example, if Parent A makes $50,000.00 per year and Parent B makes $100,000.00 per year, Parent A will pay one-third and Parent B will pay two thirds of any special expenses. These expenses can include:
- Child care expenses;
- Medical and dental insurance for the child;
- Medical and dental expenses not covered by insurance;
- Extraordinary school expenses;
- Extraordinary extracurricular expenses; and
- Post-secondary education expenses.
These special expenses may be subsidized or there may be a tax deduction. The amount that is claimed as part of child support is net of any subsidy or tax deduction.
Changes to Child Support Agreement
Because child support is based upon income, it can be changed as the parent’s incomes change or as the special expenses change. It is important for both parents to exchange all income information when Child Support payments are determined. It is also important to exchange income information every year thereafter, to ensure that the Child Support payments are up to date.
The income information that both parents should exchange includes;
- Complete tax returns;
- Notice of Assessments;
- If self-employed, other documents showing the income earned by the business.
Note if you are the parent receiving the Child Support payments, you only need to exchange income information if there are special expenses being paid, or if you are seeking special expenses.
The income that is used to determine Child Support payments is called a guideline income. This is typically the person’s gross annual income from line 150 of their last years’ tax return or based on their current year-to-date income. There are some cases when a different amount may be used, including when:
- Union dues are paid;
- The income varies widely from year to year;
- There is a one-time source of income;
- A parent is self-employed;
- A parent has stock options, dividends or capital gains;
- A parent has tax free income; or
- A parent is intentionally unemployed or under-employed.
A parent may argue that they cannot afford to pay the amount of support calculated by the guidelines, or, the receiving parent may argue that they need more than the guidelines require. In that case, each parent may make an undue hardship argument to the Court at the time that the child support is being determined.
For a parent to demonstrate undue hardship, they must first show that they either have:
- Child Support payments for another child;
- Unusually high access costs; or
- Unusually high debts incurred while they were together.
Second, the parent must show that they have a lower household standard of living than the other parent. A mathematical formula may be used to compare standards of living between the parents or the Court may decide to do the comparison using another method. If you are successful in establishing undue hardship, then the Judge will decide the appropriate amount of Child Support to be paid.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.