The Federal Child Support Guidelines: Step-by-Step

Before you start

Going through a separation or divorce can be very difficult, both emotionally and financially. You may feel overwhelmed about some of the decisions that you may need to make, like how you will divide your house and shared possessions, whether spousal support is needed, where your children will live, or how much financial support is needed for your children.

You may also be feeling anxious or frustrated about your financial situation. Money you once shared as a couple must now be used to cover the expenses of two households. Instead of sharing household expenses, you may each have to pay for your own housing, utilities (like telephone and electricity), groceries, transportation and other necessities of life. This may increase concerns about how you will take care of your children financially.

You may feel angry or sad about the breakup of your relationship. Working together to make practical arrangements that are in the best interests of your children may seem difficult at this point.

Knowing about your rights and responsibilities can help you make good decisions about your family. It can also help you work together to make those decisions. Your family’s situation may have changed, but you are still parents and your children still need your love and support.

Your children have a legal right to financial support from both parents and you both have a legal responsibility to provide this support. Those rights and responsibilities do not end with divorce or separation. The goal of this guide is to help you make child support decisions that will help ensure that your children continue to benefit from financial support from both of you after your separation or divorce.

When you are making decisions about how to take care of your children after your separation or divorce, it is important to keep their best interests in mind. The changes taking place in your family are confusing and stressful for them too. It is important that your children not get caught in the middle. You need to protect them as best you can from any financial hardship that may result from a separation or divorce.

About this guide

This guide has general information, instructions and worksheets, as well as other tools to help you make decisions about child support when you separate or divorce.

In this guide:

“you”
generally means both you and the other parent,
“child support”
means money that one of you may have to pay to the other to continue supporting your children financially following your separation or divorce,
“paying parent”
means the parent who pays support,
“receiving parent”
means the one who receives support.

The guide is based on the Divorce Act. More specifically, it is based on the Federal Child Support Guidelines (Federal Guidelines), which are regulations under the Divorce Act.

It is important to know that there are also provincial and territorial child support guidelines. The guidelines that apply to you depend on your situation. This guide will help you figure out which guidelines apply to you. The child support laws in most provinces and territories are much like the Federal Guidelines or they may only have minor differences (except in Quebec, which has its own child support model). So, even if provincial or territorial guidelines apply in your situation, you may still find this guide helpful.

About the Federal Guidelines

The Federal Guidelines are a set of rules and tables used to determine child support when parents divorce. They are the law. Their main goals are:

  • to establish a fair standard of support for children so that they continue to benefit from both parents’ incomes after the separation or divorce;
  • to reduce conflict and tension between parents by making the calculation of child support more objective;
  • to ensure that parents and children in similar situations are treated the same; and
  • to make the legal process more efficient and encourage settlements by giving courts and parents guidance about child support.

Child support agreements and orders

When relationships end, many parents agree on how they will deal with child support without going to court. It is generally best for everyone, especially children, when parents can agree. Asking a judge to make the decisions can be costly, time-consuming and stressful for families.

It is a good idea to put your child support agreement in writing so that you can remember what you agreed to.

You are encouraged to work out a child support agreement together. This guide can help you to figure out a child support agreement that will work best in your situation. It can also give you an idea of how much support a judge would likely order under the Federal Guidelines.

If you cannot agree or if you want to have your agreement put into a court order, either or both of you can apply to go to court to get a child support order.

Special circumstances

An order or written agreement could include special provisions that benefit your children directly or indirectly. For example, one of you might give your share of the family home to the other without compensation so the children won’t have to move. You or a court would need to consider special circumstances like this to make sure the amount of child support is fair and reasonable. If applying the Federal Guidelines would result in a child support amount that is not fair in your circumstances, you or the court may decide on a different child support amount.

Who can help?

There are many people who can help you reach an agreement on child support issues. For example, mediators, lawyers and accountants often work with parents. Also, every province and territory offers services for separating or divorcing parents. Some of these provincial and territorial family justice services are listed on the federal Department of Justice website. You may find others on the website of your provincial or territorial Department of Justice or Attorney General.

Making Plans: A guide to parenting arrangements after separation or divorce has more information on different ways to resolve issues without going to court.

Family law issues can be complex. A family law lawyer can give you legal advice about all the different factors that are important in your situation. The decisions you make and how your order or agreement is written can also have an impact on your taxes and what benefits you can claim. When you are trying to agree on child support or want to go to court to deal with certain issues, it is important to speak with a family law lawyer to make sure you understand:

  • your legal rights and responsibilities, and the rights of your children;
  • the options for resolving differences between you and the other parent; and
  • how the court system works.

Some provinces and territories have lawyer referral services that offer a consultation for free or at a reduced price. You may also wish to contact your local legal aid office to see if you qualify for legal aid. You can search the Internet for legal aid in your city or area—for example, search “legal aid” and “Calgary.” You can also look under “legal aid” in the yellow pages of your phone book.

Finally, you may want to talk to a family member or a friend you trust about how you feel. Someone who has gone through similar situations may have suggestions to help you cope with your divorce or separation.

Related issues

As parents, child support is just one issue you need to think about when you separate or divorce. You also need to consider issues like parenting arrangements (custody and access), spousal support and how you will divide property. The decisions you make about these issues could affect how you calculate child support.

The Family Law pages of the Department of Justice website have some general information that may help you. For example, there are three online tools to help you make decisions about parenting and set up a parenting plan that will work for your family. These are:

A parenting plan is a written document that outlines how parents will take care of their children after separation or divorce.

If you are creating a parenting plan or have already created one, you may want to keep it with your child support agreement. It is a good idea to keep all documents relating to your children together.

There are also some tools that may help your children understand and cope with your separation or divorce, including:

Other Government of Canada websites offer information on issues that you may have to deal with when you separate or divorce. For example, separation or divorce could have an impact on your taxes. You may want to visit the Canada Revenue Agency website or call their information line at 1-800-959-8281 for more information about the tax consequences of separation and divorce.

How to use this guide

Steps

The Federal Guidelines include various rules to help you calculate child support. In this guide, these rules have been divided into eight steps to make it easier for you to apply them. The eight steps are:

  • Step 1: Determine which guidelines apply
  • Step 2: Determine the number of children requiring support
  • Step 3: Determine the parenting arrangement
  • Step 4: Find the right table
  • Step 5: Calculate annual income
  • Step 6: Find the table amount
  • Step 7: Determine if there are special or extraordinary expenses
  • Step 8: Determine if there is undue hardship

It is possible that not all steps will apply to your situation. For example, Step 7 may not apply if there are no special or extraordinary expenses. Step 8 may not apply if there is no undue hardship. But you may still find it useful to read these sections.

Each step will help you understand how to apply the Federal Guidelines to your specific situation. When going through the steps, you will need to ask yourselves some questions to determine how you prefer to deal with certain issues. You will also need to make decisions based on choices explained in the various steps. In Steps 5, 7 and 8, you may also have to do calculations.

There are examples showing how each step could apply.

Worksheets

The guide includes worksheets to help you with the calculations in Steps 5, 7 and 8:

  • Worksheet 1 to calculate income in Step 5;
  • Worksheet 2 to work out the amounts for special and extraordinary expenses in Step 7;
  • Worksheet 3 to help compare standards of living described in Step 8.

Line-by-line help for each worksheet is also provided.

You may want to print the worksheets that you need and fill out the parts that apply to your situation.

Child Support Tool

The guide also includes a Child Support Tool to help you compile the information as you go through each step, including the results of any calculations you make.

This tool also provides information and tips that you may find useful in setting up your child support agreement.

The Child Support Tool is meant to be used while you go through the different steps. You may want to print the tool and insert your information directly in it. At the end of each step, there is a recap that will remind you to include your information in the tool.

If you fill out the worksheets and the Child Support Tool, it is a good idea to keep them with all your other documents relating to arrangements you made for your children.

Other tools to help

You can find other tools to help you calculate child support on the Department of Justice website, including:

Other tools may become available. When they do, you will find them in the child support pages of the Department of Justice website.

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