Guide to Child Support for Divorcing Step-parents

Parents expect to pay or receive child support when they separate or divorce. Imagine being a step-parent with two families to support. Family breakdown can get expensive.

Standing in Place of a Parent in Ontario

Elated as a couple may be to blend their families, it comes at a cost. The Brady Bunch lived happily after ever. Let’s hope you do, because under the federal Divorce Act and Ontario Family Law Act, a step-parent stands in the place of a parent. They have the same parental obligations to show a duty of care to all their children — natural, adopted or blended. That can include paying child support.

How Parental Obligations in Ontario Affect Marriage

Settling down to step-parent a child shows “intention”. In the court’s eyes, the happy couple usually intends to treat all their children as part of their new family. Separation or divorce may disrupt that, but step-parenting obligations go on and on. Even when a child isn’t biologically related.

Step-parent Support Obligations and Canadian Law

Standing in the place of a parent is a serious responsibility. The Supreme Court of Canada considers a step-parent to be liable for child support based on:

  • their intent to treat a child as a member of their own family
  • the extent of the child’s participation in the newly formed family
  • the nature and extent of any discipline the step-parent provides
  • and whether the step-parent tells the child, family and others they have a responsibility to the child.  

What a Close Relationship with Step-children Means

Calling a step-parent mom or dad suggests a step-child relies on their new parent for love and guidance. A biological or natural parent’s personal and financial relationship to their children is also counted. But essentially, everyone with a close relationship to the child may be financially responsible.

Step-parent is the Only Contributor

Occasionally, a step-parent is the only person named in a child support application. With no natural or biological parent present in court, the blindsided step-parent can feel like they are bearing all of the financial weight of future child support. A competent family lawyer can add the biological parent to the application to balance the scales of justice.

A Basic Child Support Formula

Child support tables used to determine how much parents must pay are based on:

  1. The number of children.
  2. The province or territory where the paying parents live.
  3. The paying parents’ annual income.

Axess Law’s Ontario family lawyers can estimate the amount.

Figuring Out Special or Extraordinary Expenses 

Besides basic child support, step-parents may also be responsible for special or extraordinary expenses. They include child care, medical and dental insurance, health care needs over $100 a year not covered by insurance (such as orthodontics or eye care) and post-secondary education. Other reasonable and necessary educational or extracurricular activities can be  added costs. 

Calculate a Child Support Order in Ontario

With numbers like that, it’s easy to see how emotions are running high by the time the now not-so-happy couple arrives in Ontario family court. Fortunately, despite any “settled intention to treat a child as part of their family”, step-parents are in line behind natural parents. The child support calculation typically looks like this:

  1. All parents (natural and step-parents) who can afford to pay contribute.
  2. Their percentage of all parents’ total combined income is calculated.
  3. Federal Child Support Guidelines are consulted to get a child support amount. 
  4. Natural or biological parents are expected to provide for their children’s support, maintenance and education. Provided they pay the full amount the guidelines require, a step-parent may not have to contribute anything.
  5. Step-parents may be added when natural parents can’t pay the full child support order.

No Easy Way Out of Child Support

For step-parents surprised to hear they could owe step-children financial support after separation or divorce, there is no guaranteed way out. When parents can’t step up, courts have ruled that leaving home is not sufficient to eliminate a step-parent’s ongoing responsibilities. 

Avoid Third Party Liability for Step-children

Being sued can be frustrating. One good reason to stay in your step-children’s lives after divorce or separation is Ontario’s Parental Responsibility Act. Step-children who cause property damage can make you legally liable for an intentional tort. That’s worth a fine of up to $25,000 in Ontario Small Claims Court. It’s up to you to prove you provided reasonable supervision, tried to discourage them or the damage was accidental. Even if all you have is access or visitation rights, you’re still their step-parent.

Flat Fee Ontario Lawyers for Child Support Questions

Axess Law flat fee family  lawyers can answer your questions about child support. Make an appointment by calling toll free to 1-877-552-9377 or 647-479-0118 in Toronto or use our online booking form. In person appointments are available in Toronto, Scarborough, Mississauga, North York, Vaughan, Etobicoke or Ottawa. Video call 7 days a week, day or evening, at a time convenient for you from any location in Ontario. 
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s family law services.