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When a relationship or marriage dissolves, parents’ first thoughts often centre on their children. All parents have an obligation to financially support their minor children, but how can one parent be assured the other will do so? This article addresses questions about child support and applicable laws.

What is child support?

Child support refers to payments made by one parent or guardian to another. These payments provide financial support for the benefit of the child or children. Payments are usually made monthly, and the same rules apply to both married and unmarried couples.

Which laws apply to Child support?

The federal Divorce Act and Alberta’s Family Law Act govern child support. The Divorce Act only applies to married couples. The Family Law Act applies whether you are married or unmarried. If you are going to make a court application, you need to decide which law applies to your situation and which you are going to use.

Who can apply for Child support?

You can apply for child support if you are the child or if you

  • are the child’s parent or guardian
  • have care and control of the child
  • have a judge’s permission to make an application

Who must pay Child support?

Under law, you must financially support a child if you

  • are the child’s biological or adoptive parent
  • are a stepparent that has acted like a parent
  • are an adult that has acted like a parent

How much child support must be paid?

Parents must pay a basic child support amount to cover children’s basic living expenses. The amount of child support payments is determined by the Federal Child Support Guidelines under the Divorce Act and the Alberta Child Support Guidelines under the Family Law Act. The amount to be paid is based on the number of children being supported and the payor’s income. It is up to the judge to apply a set of legal tests to decide whether child support should be paid. These tests are very similar under both laws.

How does a judge make a child support order?

When making a child support order, the judge must weigh

  • the parenting arrangements
  • whether the children are entitled to child support
  • whether the children have any special expenses that must be paid
  • whether there is reason to deviate from the Federal Child Support Guidelines
  • both parents’ income threshold levels under the Federal Child Support Guidelines

Determining a parent’s income can be tricky, and the judge will require proof of income:

  • recent pay stubs
  • a letter that confirms your current income
  • copies of your income tax returns and notices of assessment for the past three years
  • copies of statements of other income sources (such as Employment Insurance, disability benefits or pension)

Retroactive child support

A judge may order a parent to pay child support now to make up not paying the proper amount in the past. This is known as retroactive child support. Even with a court order, the judge will not usually go back more than three years from the date the child support or financial information was requested—unless the payor was involved in blameworthy conduct.

Blameworthy conduct occurs when the parent supposed to pay child support put his or her own interests ahead of those of the child’s interest to receive appropriate child support. Such conduct may mean that the parent

  • hid or diverted money
  • lied about his or her financial situation
  • neglected or refused to provide updated income information

What if Child support is not being paid?

If child support is not being paid, you can register your order with the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP). MEP can enforce the order if

  • payments are not being made in full
  • the payor has not made payment arrangements with MEP

What about payments in arrears?

Judges are usually reluctant to cancel arrears, but they may change the amount of arrears, postpone child support payments or allow the payor to pay the amount owed over time. The payor must provide full financial disclosure and prove there has been a change of income.

Child support and family law can be complicated. Understanding the law, as well as your options, is an important first step. Consult with the Lift Legal team of family lawyers.



The information on this blog and website is provided by Lift Legal for educational purposes only. It is intended to give readers a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. Information contained in these pages should not be used in place of competent legal advice from a licensed, practising lawyer in Alberta. Furthermore, by using this blog and website, you understand that no lawyer-client relationship exists between you and Lift Legal.

Mel Garbe

Mel founded Lift Legal with the goal of delivering cost effective legal services without sacrificing capability by effectively using modern tools to access the types of resources that larger law firms have access to. The result being that Lift Legal provides high level professional services at a greater value.

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