Child support agreements
You and the other parent may set up your own child support agreement. It is a good idea to put your agreement in writing and sign it. If you do this, there is less risk of a misunderstanding. It is also easier to enforce a written and signed agreement.
If you and the other parent set up your own agreement, you may have some flexibility about the child support amount as long as it is fair. When deciding on a child support amount, you may find it helpful to know how much support a judge would likely order to be paid in your situation.
Judges must base decisions about child support on child support guidelines. These are sets of rules and tables. The Federal Child Support Guidelines (Federal Guidelines) are regulations under the Divorce Act. There are also child support guidelines in provincial and territorial laws. The ones that apply to you depend on your situation. The Step-by-Step Guide will help you figure out which guidelines apply in your case.
This Guide also has other information to help you make decisions about child support. For example, it has information on how to calculate income to determine a child support amount. It also has information on some things you should consider to ensure that the child support amount is fair.
Most provincial and territorial child support guidelines are a lot like the Federal Guidelines. However, there may be some differences. To get information on provincial or territorial guidelines, contact the Ministry of Justice or Attorney General of that province or territory or check their website.
Where to get help
You are strongly encouraged to seek advice from a professional, such as a family law lawyer, even if you can only afford one or two consultations.
For example, a lawyer can help you:
- understand which guidelines apply to you
- use those guidelines to calculate a child support amount
- understand your legal rights and obligations
- understand your child's rights and best interests
- provide the right documents if you go to court.
Most provincial bar associations have a lawyer referral service. This service might be able to connect you with a lawyer who will offer the first consultation for free or at a reduced price.
Your province or territory may also have family justice services such as mediation that can help you and the other parent reach an out-of-court agreement.
You may also find it helpful to get financial advice from a professional such as an accountant.
When can child support end?
If you have a support order or a written support agreement, check it to see if it says when child support will end. For example, your support order or agreement might say that support will stop only when a child reaches a certain age or obtains a certain level of education.
Many support orders and agreement do not say when support will end. In this case, support must generally continue until you and the other parent agree that it will end. If you cannot agree, you can ask a court to decide.
If you divorce, keep in mind that children are entitled to support for as long as they meet the definition of a "child of the marriage."
If you are not sure whether your child meets the definition of a child of the marriage, a lawyer can advise you. If the other parent disagrees with you, a family justice service such as mediation may help you reach an agreement.
Updating income information
If your income was used to calculate a child support amount, you may need to provide updated income information from time to time. This helps to ensure that the child support amount remains fair.
The rules may depend on which child support guidelines apply in your situation. The Federal Guidelines say that the other parent, an "order assignee" or a provincial agency can ask you for updated income information once a year. Their request must be in writing.
In addition, your support order or agreement may require you to provide updated information at certain times or in certain situations.
If you pay support, it is a good idea to provide updated income information even if you are not asked or ordered to do so. If you do not keep the other parent informed of changes in your income, a court could order you to make retroactive child support payments.
Changing a support order or agreement
People's lives change. When that happens, sometimes support orders and agreements need to be changed too. This helps to ensure that support orders and agreements remain fair. You can find information on how to change a support order or agreement in the Step-by-Step Guide.
You must pay support - even if you are not seeing your children
Going through a divorce or separation is usually difficult. You may experience financial and emotional stress, making it difficult for you to get along with the other parent. Levels of conflict can rise to the point where you and the other parent are not making good decisions for your children.
When parents are mad at each other, their children often get caught in the middle. This is not fair to the children. Remember:
- You cannot stop the other parent from seeing the children just because he or she is not paying you support.
- You cannot stop paying support just because the other parent will not let you see the child.
Provinces and territories can enforce a support order or a written agreement to pay support if the support is not paid.
Learn more in the support enforcement section of our website.
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