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Government Child Support Guidelines

by H. Christina MacNaughton for Parent Quarterly Magazine

This article was written by H. Christina MacNaughton as one of her regular contributions to Parent Quarterly magazine (Update of Spring 96 Issue article).

How much support is enough support? That’s the tough question parents and courts face day in and day out. Paying and recipient parents alike need to be able to budget for the real costs of raising children. Children of separated households need a standard of living as close as possible to that enjoyed by children from intact households. All parties need enough predictability of support amounts to be able to negotiate settlements rather than having to ask the court to decide the issue.

Many American states have introduced child support guidelines and formulas based on the incomes of the parents, and Canada has begun considering guidelines as well. In January 1995 the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Committee issued its report, and recommendations on Child Support Guidelines.

The report draws on Statistics Canada information from the last census on the cost of raising children in Canada that a second person in a household adds 40% to the income needs of the household, and every additional person adds another 30%.

In other words, a couple living together, or a single parent with one child, needs 40% more income than that of the single person, to have the same standard of living. For example, to have the same standard of living as one adult living alone with an income of $40,000.00 per year, two adults or one adult and one child living together require $56,000.00.

A couple with one child, or a single parent with two children will need yet another 30% income to maintain the same standard. $68,000.00 would be needed for the three person household to have the same standard of living as a single person earning $40,000.00. The more children, the greater the cost.

These statistics are close to the guideline stated in this past summer’s Alberta Court of Appeal decision in the Levesque v. Levesque case in which the court used the rule of thumb that on average a family in Canada with one child spends 21%, and a family with two children 32%, of its total income on raising the children. The report sets out tables based on the income of the non-custodial parent for one, two and three children. For example, a support-payer who earns $50,000 will pay a total of $8,457.50 per year if there is one child; $13,937.50 for two children, or $18,317.50 for three children.

There are a number of problems in taking an across the board approach. While the support grid is useful to get parents and courts looking in the right ball park for the costs of raising children, it should not be applied blindly.

The guideline grid does not take into account the actual child care costs of various regions and environments of Canada. It does not allow for consideration of the income level of the custodial parent. It would have a non-custodial parent paying the same amount to a custodial parent employed full time as to a custodial parent on welfare. Sometimes that might not be appropriate.

This report has been used to influence the Judge’s thinking or to negotiate settlement in many child support cases since it was issued a year ago. It will certainly influence provincial legislatures if they pass legislation to set support guidelines. But the facts and circumstances of each individual family’s situation remains relevant, and should be taken into account by the parties and court in examining the actual cost of raising the children of each individual family.

When the new support guidelines legislation is in place, a new article will be appearing in Parent Quarterly, and this page will be updated.

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