Is it time to modify your child support agreements?

One certainty in life is that change is inevitable. We all have certain rights and obligations but they can be suddenly altered due to shifting circumstances.

In Canada, children have the legal right to be financially supported by both parents. Separation or divorce does not obviate that responsibility.

In British Columbia, parents must financially support their children even if the parents never lived together or were never married. This financial obligation generally continues until the child reaches the age of 19 unless the child is still dependent. For example, if they are still in school or have an illness or disability.

Child Support Responsibilities and Enforcement

If you are responsible for paying child support, you are expected to make those payments on a timely and consistent basis. However, situations can change. Your income may have been reduced or there can be a change in special expenses. You could have a legitimate reason why you can no longer pay child support. But that doesn’t mean you can simply ignore your responsibilities.

In this province, the BC Family Maintenance Agency (BCFMA) has the power to collect support payments from those in default. The agency can garnish wages and bank accounts, seize property, suspend driver’s licences and ask the federal government to suspend passports and other documents.

If you find yourself unable to meet your obligations you can apply to modify your child support agreement and we are here to help. Whether you need to make changes to your support order or you require help enforcing one, Mills Family Law can provide compassionate legal services to suit your unique circumstances.

What Constitutes Child Support?

Very simply, child support is the amount of money one parent pays to another parent to help support their children. 

Child support payments are made to one parent, but legally, they are the right of the child, not the receiving parent. That means a parent cannot negotiate away the child's right to receive support. Any agreement that aims to absolve a parent from their obligation to pay child support is not legally valid.

According to the Government of British Columbia, the parent who does not live with the children most of the time is typically required to pay child support. In cases where the children split their time almost equally between both parents, the parent with the higher income is responsible for paying child support, generally at a reduced rate.

Child support primarily helps cover essential expenses such as food, shelter, clothing, and other needs. Additionally, the parent who lives with the children most of the time also shares the financial responsibility for their upbringing. 

Calculating Child Support in British Columbia

The Federal Child Support Guidelines determine the amount one parent should pay to the other for child support. Despite being termed "guidelines," they are legally binding and apply to all separated parents, regardless of whether they were married, in a common-law relationship, or never lived together. 

The objectives of these guidelines are to:

  • establish a fair standard of support for children to ensure they continue benefiting from the financial means of both parents after separation;
  • reduce conflict and tension between spouses by making the calculation of child support orders more objective;
  • improve the efficiency of the legal process by providing courts and parents with clear guidance on setting child support levels and encouraging settlements.; and
  • ensure consistent treatment of spouses and children who are in similar circumstances.
 In nearly all cases, judges are required to follow these rules to determine the amount of child support.

Factors Influencing Child Support Amounts

The amount paid will depend on the income of the payor parent, how many children they are supporting and where they live.

Parents can use the BC Child Support Calculator, which is based on federal guidelines, to determine the basic support amount owed. It should be noted that the calculator is for informative purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for qualified legal advice.

Modifying Child Support Agreements

Child support agreements do not automatically adjust to changes in life circumstances. It is the parents' responsibility to seek modifications when needed.

Reasons to Modify Child Support

Changes in your situation can affect your child support obligations. For example, your child may develop a condition that requires ongoing medical treatment. You may be downsized at work, be out of a job and be forced to take a lower-paying position somewhere else. Similarly, if your salary increases significantly, your ex-partner might request additional support.

Families also change. If your former partner remarries and your children live with them most of the time, your child support obligations do not change. Similarly, if you remarry and have a new family you are still obligated to financially support your other children. However, you may be able to claim undue hardship and convince a judge your support payments should be lowered.

If you have a child support agreement that was either mutually negotiated with your former partner and registered with the court or one that was mandated by a judge, you generally need to apply to the same court to modify the agreement if you and your ex-partner cannot agree on changes.

Your agreement may also have provisions that specify what happens in the event of a life change. That agreement may also have built-in income reviews. Again, it may be in your best interest to consult with a family B.C. lawyer.

It should be noted that a judge will not change any order just because you ask. The court is bound by specific tests in British Columbia’s Family Law Act and the federal Divorce Act. You must be able to prove there has been a significant change in circumstances. Keep in mind that the court’s priority is ensuring what is in the best interest of the children. 

Process for Modifying Child Support

It is important to act promptly when considering modifications to a child support agreement. If you find yourself unable to fulfill payment obligations, it is crucial not to disregard these responsibilities, as the repercussions can be severe.

Should you have any inquiries regarding child support or the process for modifying your order, do not hesitate to reach out to the experienced professionals at Mills Family Law. As a firm focused on family law and divorce, we are equipped to guide you in navigating the emotional and legal challenges that arise at the end of a marriage or marriage-like relationship.

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