May 30, 2019

How is Child Support Calculated in Alberta?

Nancy Lentz

When it comes to determining child support payments, judges frequently turn to set provincial and federal guidelines. But individual circumstance, such as undue financial hardship facing one or both parents, offers the courts leeway in calculating how much a parent will be required to pay in child support to provide a fair standard of care for their children. We know, divorcing parents spend a lot of time worrying — How much child support will I have to pay?

The federal government updated its child support payment guidelines set out under the Divorce Act in late 2017, in part because the previous guidelines established in 2010 did not reflect more recent changes to federal income tax rules. The tables list a base monthly child support based on guideline incomes and the number of children needing support.

For example, if children live an equal amount of time with each parent, child support might be calculated by offsetting the support payment. If there are special expenses, such as a child with disabilities, then that is factored in as well.

The rules around child support become more complicated if one or both parents reside outside Alberta, and even more so if one parent (or both) does not live in Canada. There are variations depending on if parenting is done on a shared or split custody basis.

Justice Canada recommends that parents consult with a family law specialist for advice on how the highly complex Federal Child Support Guidelines apply to their circumstances. Advice from a skilled Alberta family lawyer can ensure custody arrangements and child support are distributed fairly and in the best interests of the children. When you hire a family lawyer they will also explain legal rights and obligations and can assist in drafting the right documents should a court visit be required to resolve any disputes.

Many parents find that hiring a family lawyer has helped to define and enforce when child support will begin and end, such as when a child reaches a certain age or obtains a pre-determined level of education. If the two spouses cannot agree, a family lawyer or mediator may be required, and court involvement may be necessary.

As separation, divorce and custody arrangements usually involve life-altering decisions and high emotions, a family lawyer can help parents navigate the many regulations, requirements, and options available to ensure the best interests of their children.

Child support orders often require parents to regularly provide updated information on their income; failure to keep the other parent informed of changes may lead to court-ordered retroactive payments or other penalties. Alberta’s Maintenance Enforcement Program is in place to enforce a support order or other form of binding agreement, as well as to collect the court-ordered child, partner or spousal support. The program also has a section on its website asking for public assistance in locating parents who have defaulted on court-ordered payments.

What if Child Support Payments are Not Being Made?

Some divorcing or separating parents do not realize that child support is mandatory, even if one parent chooses to have no contact with their children. However, a parent is not allowed by law to refuse the other parent from contacting a child because they are not paying child support. Nor can a parent stop paying support because the other parent is refusing them access to their child.

Are Child Support Payments Ever Recalculated?

Provincially, Alberta Justice has established the Alberta Child Support Recalculation Program  (also known as RP), which recalculates court-ordered child support annually based on current income tax information. The program, which gives registered parents online access to review their files and seek changes, aims to help parents alter support orders without the time and expense of going to court every time a change is needed.

The RP program is not automatic; eligible parents must already have a valid court order or some form of binding agreement in place, usually drawn up with the help of a lawyer. RP will only recalculate orders if the tables were used by the courts to establish support; the federal government posts the Child Support Online Lookup, broken down by province and number of children, to give parents access to the set amount of child support required for specific guideline incomes.

To calculate the specific child support required for your particular situation, or to seek legal advice for your custody or child support arrangements, contact us.

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