Families Change Parent Guide to Separation & Divorce

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Are there exceptions to how much a parent has to pay?

In certain rare cases, a parent may legally pay a different amount of support than what the Child Support Guidelines require. For example, when the paying parent faces extreme difficulties that make it hard to pay, called “undue” hardship, or when a child becomes independent. These exceptions are explained below.

“Undue hardship”

In some situations, a parent might find they cannot afford to pay the amount of child support required by the Child Support Guidelines. If this is the case, the paying parent must prove that the child support payments would cause “undue hardship.” Undue hardship means the required payments would cause a very big financial problem — not just hardship, but undue hardship. It is not easy to claim undue hardship. It may include having:

  • an unusual or excessive amount of debt
  • to make other support payments to children of another family
  • to support a disabled or ill person
  • to spend a lot of money to visit the child

You will have to go to court to prove undue hardship and a judge will ask you to provide a lot of financial documents. The judge will compare the standard of living of your household and the other parent’s household, including the incomes of any new spouses. If you have a higher standard of living than the other parent’s household you will not get a reduction in child support payments. Before you go to court to claim undue hardship, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer or get legal help.

Independent children

Child support is generally required until a child turns 18 (the age of majority in Ontario), which is the age that they should be able to live on their own and take care of themselves. This is the case except when a child over 18 is still a dependent, for example, if they are still going to school full-time or have an illness or disability. For example, if your child is a full time student at a university or college until they are 22 years old, your legal responsibility to provide financial support continues until the child finishes school. But independence can occur before a child turns 18, and in these cases, a parent may not be required to pay support.

If a paying parent can prove that a child under 18 (a minor) has married or voluntarily left parental control, the child may not be entitled to benefit from child support.

Children are considered independent of their parents’ care and control when:

  • The child lives with a boyfriend or girlfriend who provides for or helps to provide for their needs
  • The child has moved out from their parents’ home and refuses to return
  • The child lives on their own, maintains a job and pays their own bills without relying on money from their parents

The withdrawal from parental control must be voluntary. For example, if the child was “kicked out” or if living conditions at home were intolerable so the child was forced to leave, the withdrawal from parental control is not voluntary. In this case, you may still be required to pay child support.

Do step-parents have to pay child support?

A step-parent may have a responsibility to pay child support even if they no longer live with the other parent. But, after separation, the more time that has passed since the step-parent had an ongoing relationship with the child, the less likely it is that the court will order the step-parent to pay child support. This is especially true if their social and emotional relationship with the child has ended.

Step-parents can have a parent-like relationship with their partner’s children if they have treated the child as members of their own family. The court will look at things like:

  • the child's opinion on the relationship with the step-parent
  • if the child participates in the extended family in the same way as a biological child
  • if the step-parent provides financially for the child (depending on ability to pay)
  • if the step-parent disciplines the child
  • if the step-parent represents to the child, the family, and the world, that they are responsible as a parent to the child
  • the nature or existence of the child’s relationship with the absent biologicial parent

Step-parents can pay child support even when the other biological parent is already paying child support. This means that more than one parent could have a legal duty to pay child support for the same child.

What if the other parent doesn’t live in the same province or country?

Ontario has arrangements with other provinces and some countries so that a parent can apply for child support or apply to make changes to child support even if the other parent lives in a different province or country.

These arrangements make it possible to do this without having to go there. Depending on where the other parent moved, it may be possible to get what’s called an interjurisdictional support order. See the Interjurisdictional Support Orders (ISO) website for more information and forms.

Also, if you have an order for child support, the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) can help collect money from a paying parent who lives in Canada, the United States, or another country that Ontario has an agreement with. For example, Bermuda, Ghana, Hong Kong, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom. If Ontario doesn't have an agreement with the country where the paying parent lives, the FRO can't help you collect support. You will have to use the laws of the country where the paying parent lives. A lawyer may be able to help you do this.