The Federal Child Support Guidelines: Step-by-Step


This glossary defines some terms as they are used in this publication for child support purposes. Some terms may have different meanings for other purposes. These are not legal definitions. You may wish to consult a lawyer about legal definitions of the terms.

Age of majority
means the age when a child legally becomes an adult in the province or territory where the child lives. If the child lives outside Canada, the age of majority is presumed to be 18.
Annual income
means the income used to calculate child support under the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
Child of the marriage
means a child that spouses had together during their marriage, including an adopted child, who:
-is under the age of majority and still in the parents’ charge; or
-has reached the age of majority but cannot become independent because of an illness, disability or other cause.
It may also include a child of only one spouse if the other spouse acted in the place of a parent to the child during the marriage. In law, the Latin expression in loco parentis” is often used to describe this concept.
Child support
means money that one parent pays to the other parent to help support their children financially after a separation or divorce. It is also sometimes called “maintenance.”
Child support guidelines
are laws with rules and tables used to determine how much child support should be paid when parents separate or divorce. The Federal Child Support Guidelines  are regulations under the Divorce Act and apply when parents divorce. Provincial or territorial guidelines apply when there is no divorce.
Child support tables
are tables included in federal, provincial or territorial child support guidelines. The tables set out basic child support amounts based on income. Under the Federal Guidelines, there is a separate table for each province and territory to reflect different tax rates between provinces and territories.
Collaborative lawyers
are lawyers who work cooperatively with both parents, and with other professionals, where necessary, to help parents come to an agreement. During the collaborative process, both parents agree not to bring any court applications. There can be an incentive to come to an agreement since, if the collaborative process does not result in an agreement, the parents' lawyers cannot represent them in court and both parents would have to hire new lawyers.
Comparison of household standards of living test
means a test that courts use when there is a claim for undue hardship in child support cases.
means both the parenting schedule for a child and how decisions about the child will be made after separation or divorce. But for child support purposes, it means the amount of time the children spend with each parent. See also “sole custody,” “shared custody,” “split custody” and “parenting arrangements.”
Designated provinces
are provinces that have made arrangements with the federal government to use their own child support guidelines instead of the Federal Guidelines to determine the amount of child support when parents divorce if both parents live in that province. This means that the provinces’ guidelines apply whether parents separate or divorce. Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick are designated provinces.
Dispute resolution
means various ways of resolving disputes between individuals. In the family law context, there are many types of dispute resolution: negotiation, mediation, collaborative law, arbitration, going to court.
The Divorce Act
is the federal law that sets out the rules for legally ending a marriage.
Family justice services
are services intended to help couples deal with separation and divorce. Some examples are mediation, parent information programs, and maintenance enforcement programs.
Imputing income
means attributing an income to a parent when, for example, the judge does not think that the amount of income a parent claims is a fair reflection of the actual income and capacity to pay child support, or when the parent refuses to show income information when required by law to do so.
Maintenance enforcement
means legal actions taken to compel a person to comply with support requirements set out in a court order or written agreement.
Maintenance Enforcement Programs
are provincial and territorial programs that enforce child support obligations set out in a court order or written agreement.
means a process in which a neutral third party helps parents agree on issues related to separation and divorce, such as child support. Mediators are not marriage counsellors.
Parenting arrangements
are the arrangements parents make for the care of their children after separation or divorce. These include arrangements about where the children will live and who will be responsible for making major decisions about them. Parenting arrangements are referred to as “custody” and “access” in the Divorce Act.
Paying parent
means a parent, or a spouse who has acted in the place of a parent, who has a legal duty to pay child support.
Receiving parent
means a parent, or a spouse who acts in the place of a parent, who is legally entitled to receive child support.
Recalculation services
are provincial services that update child support amounts set out in a support order to reflect changes in income without the need to go to court to “vary” the order. Some recalculation services also update child support amounts in written agreements that have been registered with them.
Shared custody
for child support purposes, means that the child spends at least 40 percent of the time with each parent over the course of a year.
Sole custody
for child support purposes, means that the child spends more than 60 percent of the time with one parent over the course of a year.
Special circumstances
are provisions in a court order or written agreement that benefit a child and that need to be considered when determining child support. An example would be if the paying parent transfers part of his or her share of the family home to the other parent without compensation so the children won’t have to move. In this case, parents may agree, or a court may decide, that the amount of child support should be lower than the amount determined by using the Federal Guidelines.
Split custody
for child support purposes, means that each parent has sole custody of at least one of the children when there is more than one child. In other words:
  • one or more children spend more than 60 percent of the time in a year with one parent; and
  • one or more children spend more than 60 percent of the time in a year with the other parent.
Variation order
means a court order that changes some or all of the terms in an existing support order.
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