This article is the second of a two-part series on the basics of child support. In the first article I talked about who can ask for support and who has to pay it. In this article, I’ll talk about how much child support is paid, including how children’s extraordinary expenses are covered.
How Much Gets Paid as Support
Most of the time, the amount of child support payments is determined by looking up the payor’s income, and the number of children child support is being paid for, in the tables attached to the Child Support Guidelines. For example, someone with an income of $58,000 per year who is supporting three children, would find his or her income in the table for three children and pay the amount set out, in this case $1,093 per month.
There are some exceptions to this general rule that allow the court to order, or the parents to agree to, payment in a different amount than the Guidelines tables require:
- if the payor earns more than $150,000;
- if the child is 18 or older;
- if the payor stands in the place of a parent to the child;
- if each parent has the primary residence of one or more siblings, called “split custody”;
- if the payor has the children for 40% or more of their time, called “shared custody”; or
- if payment of the table amount would cause “undue hardship” for either the payor or the recipient.
In cases of split custody and shared custody, most of the time the amount paid is the difference between the parents’ obligations under the Guidelines tables. In all other cases, the court and the parties can decide the amount that is fair and necessary to meet the child’s needs.
The amount of support payable is usually adjusted once each year, to keep the amount of support payments in line with the payor’s income.
How Extraordinary Expenses Are Covered
Child support payments are meant to cover all of the payor’s responsibility for a child’s living expenses, from groceries to clothes to the child’s share of the rent. The Child Support Guidelines require that both parents contribute to a child’s extraordinary expenses. Parents cover the cost of extraordinary expenses, net of any deductions and benefits, in proportion to their incomes. These expenses are usually for big-ticket items like daycare, orthodontics, summer camp, school trips and extracurricular activities.
Not every large expense will qualify as an extraordinary expense to which both parents must contribute. In general, the court looks at the reasonableness of the expense in light of the parents’ incomes and the child’s needs. For example, hockey costs might be too expensive for a low-income family, but equally expensive tutoring might qualify as an extraordinary expense if the child is falling behind in class.
Parents cover the cost of extraordinary expenses, net of any deductions and benefits, in proportion to their incomes. If Parent A has an income of $30,000 and Parent B has an income of $20,000, for example, Parent A’s income is 60% of their combined incomes of $50,000 and would pay for 60% of the net cost of a qualifying expense.
Math: To figure out how much each parent’s proportionate share of extraordinary expenses is, add the parents’ incomes together and divide each parent’s income by their total income:
- Parent A’s income $40,000
- Parent B’s income + $20,000
- Total income = $60,000
- Parent A’s income $40,000
- Total income ÷ $60,000
- Parent A’s proportionate share = 0.67 or 67%
- Parent B’s income $20,000
- Total income ÷ $60,000
- Parent B’s proportionate share = 0.33 or 33%
How Income Is Determined
For the purposes of child support, “income” means the payor’s annual income from all sources, except for any spousal support, welfare payments or universal child care benefits he or she may receive. It includes the actual amount of dividends and capital gains, bonuses, taxable benefits and self-employment income. However, most of the time, the payor’s income is the amount set out at Line 150 of his or her income tax return (PDF).
For the purposes of child support, “income” means the payor’s annual income from all sources, except for any spousal support, welfare payments or universal child care benefits he or she may receive.
For people with incomes that change from year to year, the income used is the payor’s income for the most recent complete tax year. This means that there can be a lag from one year to the next, so that, for example, the amount of support paid in 2014 is based on the payor’s income in 2013.
The Child Support Guidelines also allow income to be imputed to the payor – to make an order for support based on a higher amount of income than the payor claims to have – if the payor is underemployed, has diverted income, unreasonably deducts expenses from his or her income, or lives in a place with a lower tax rate.
Myth: You don’t have to pay child support if you quit your job. In fact, if a payor quits his or her job, or even starts working fewer hours, the court can make the payor pay child support based on his or her normal income.
For payors whose income fluctuates significantly from year to year, the Guidelines allow income to be calculated as a rolling three-year average, so that the amount paid in 2014 would be based on the average of the payor’s income in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and the amount in 2015 would be based on the payor’s income in 2012, 2013 and 2014. This helps to even out the amount payable, so that the recipient can budget more reliably and the payor is protected from paying high amounts of support in low-earning years.
Resources on Support
The federal government maintains a very useful website on child support, which includes a look-up tool for the table amounts of support. Alberta Justice also has some information about child support on its website, including the Child Support Recalculation Program.