Understanding Stepchildren and Child Support
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Blended families have become quite common in Canada in recent years. In fact, stepparent families now represent 12.6 percent of all Canadian families comprised of two partners over the age of 25.
When it comes to stepchildren and child support, many Canadians wonder, does a step-parent need to pay child support? This begs a greater question. Does a stepparent's responsibility to a stepchild extend beyond marriage?
It has been said, you divorce spouses, not children. But this is not always the case, nor the mindset of every stepparent. However, laws around paying for child support in Canada can help to address this question.
Consulting a child support lawyer is your best resource for answering questions about paying for child support. For more information, read our introduction to stepchildren and child support in Canada.
How Does Canada Law Define Step-Parenting?
According to Canadian law, a stepparent can be responsible for paying child support in some situations. The way Canada defines a stepparent for these purposes is two-fold.
First, the child must be a child of the marriage. However, the parents of the child may be married or in a common-law relationship. Second, the stepparent must treat the child as a member of their own family.
To assess the nature of a stepparent's relationship to a stepchild, the court may take into consideration the following things:
Does the stepparent provide financial support for the stepchild?
Is the stepchild included in the family in the same way as a biological child, if any exist?
How does the stepchild view their relationship with their stepparent?
Does the stepparent view themselves as being responsible for the child?
Does the stepparent take an active role in parenting the stepchild?
Does the stepparent play a role in helping the stepchild develop discipline?
How does the stepchild interact with extended family members?
What is the nature of the stepchild’s relationship to their biological parent?
Does the stepchild have a relationship with their absent biological parent?
The answers to these questions help the court to determine what kind of relationship the stepchild has with other family members. It also allows the court to compare the relationship between the stepparent and stepchild.
This way, the court will get an in-depth view of the role of the stepparent in the relationship within the family. They will also get a perspective on the unique relationship between the stepparent and stepchild.
Stepchildren and Child Support in Canada
The Canadian Supreme Court has recently taken a more protective stance in enforcing support of stepchildren. The court says it is not in the best interest of stepchildren when parental figures leave a marriage to avoid child support.
Most of Canada's provinces and territories have followed suit. Most courts define a child as "a child in relation to whom a person has demonstrated a settled intention to treat as a child of his or her family."
The Federal Divorce Act similarly defines a child who is eligible to receive child support as "any child of whom one is the parent and for whom the other stands in the place of a parent."
Once a stepparent creates a relationship with a stepchild, they have obligations like a biological parent, however, the amount of support a stepparent should pay is not clearly defined.
According to Federal Child Support Guidelines, judges have the burden of setting the amount of child support. A judge then must decide the appropriate amount of child support in each specific case.
To figure out the amount of support for stepchildren, judges consult the federal child support tables. They also consider the legal duties of natural parents in addition to the duties of the stepparent.
Stepparent vs. Biological Parent Child Support Obligations
According to Canada's child support guidelines, the legal obligation to pay child support for one child can apply to more than one parent. A stepparent can pay child support in circumstances where a biological parent is already doing so.
In some provinces, the stepparent's child support obligations come second to the child support obligations of the biological parent. In certain cases, stepparents are not required to pay support unless the biological parent fails to.
The goal is always that the child support is an amount that is reasonable for the child's support, maintenance, and education.
In most cases, the amount of child support the court requires of the stepparent may be different from what the biological parent pays. It may also be different from the amount set out by the federal child support tables.
This is because the law does not say how much a stepparent should pay when the child's absent biological parent is not paying the full amount.
Some judges will use the child support tables and recommend the stepparent pays the difference. They subtract what the absent biological parent is paying from the required amount.
Another judge may require the stepparent to pay the full amount. How the judge rules is dependent on the unique details of the family's situation. Here are some of the approaches a judge might take in calculating child support:
Split the Total
In some cases, the judge may split the total amount of child support expenses among all of the paying parents. This is usually done in accordance with the ability of each parent to pay.
A judge may choose to add together the income amounts of all paying parents to calculate the total income available to support the child. The judge then compares the total income to the requirements of the child support table.
Finally, the judge splits the required child support amount between the paying parents.
Judges can decide to determine how much a parent should pay based on the role they play in the life of the child. This is a way of quantifying the percent of the parenting responsibilities each parent has taken in the relationship.
Essentially, each parent pays a percentage of the table amount for their income level.
Payment Based on Income Level
Judges can also require that each parent pays the child support table amount required of their income level. This can result in the parents collectively paying a larger amount of child support than they would otherwise.
Ontario Child Support Lawyer
The laws surrounding stepchildren and child support in Canada are in favor of stepparents paying child support, however, the guidelines around how much stepparents pay are unclear.
Canada's stance on the rights and responsibilities of stepparents is changing. Canadian child support laws now emphasize the importance of the role of stepparents.
When you commit to parenting a child, you should prepare to continue supporting them even when the marriage does not last.
To best understand your legal responsibilities to a stepchild in Ontario, consult a child support lawyer in Ontario. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.