Selected Statistics on Canadian Families and Family Law:
Second Edition


Information on child and spousal support payments is available from a variety of sources. Six sources are considered here. Revenue Canada publishes yearly tax statistics which provide the number of persons paying and receiving alimony, [2] the amounts paid, the amounts claimed as income, and the sources of income of payers and recipients. Statistics Canada's Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics is a longitudinal survey of households in which respondents provide details on their sources of income, and support payments appears as a separate data element here. There were also several questions on child support in the NLSCY. Finally, the Department of Justice's survey of child support awards collects data on child support orders in 11 courts across the country to monitor the implementation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines.

Number of People Paying and Receiving Support between 1986 and 1996

Revenue Canada data indicate that since 1986, the number of people paying and receiving support has been increasing steadily. Figure 15 shows that the number of people receiving support has increased 55.6 percent between 1986 and 1996. The number of people paying support has increased 47.6 percent in the same period. A slight decline (less than 2 percent) in the number of people who reported paying support was observed between taxation years 1995 and 1996 (403,160 and 396,100 respectively).

Figure 16: Number of People Who Reported Paying or Receiving Support, 1986-1996

Figure 17 provides the distribution of the amount of alimony declared on income tax forms by payers and recipients in 1995. Payers reported paying an average amount of $5,274 in alimony/child support while recipients reported receiving an average of $5,378 for that year. Fifty-six percent of payers and fifty-five percent of recipients declare either paying or receiving less than $4,000 per year in alimony/child support. Two-thirds of payers and recipients declare paying or receiving less than $5,000 per year. The most commonly reported amounts are between $2,000 and $2,499 per year, and between $4,000 and $4,999 per year, which is about $200 and $400 per month, respectively. These amounts presumably correspond to what payers and recipients reported for one child and for two children. The distribution is virtually identical for payers and recipients.

Figure 17: Total Amount of Alimony by Number of Payers and Recipients, Canada 1995

Income Levels of Payers and Recipients of Child Support [3]

Figure 18 shows the difference in the income ranges of payers and recipients, according to Revenue Canada data for taxation year 1995. Almost two-thirds of recipients reported a total income of less than $20,000 per year, compared to 26 percent of payers. In contrast, close to one-half (46 percent) of payers reported an income over $30,000 per year, compared to 15 percent of recipients.

Figure 18: Income Ranges of Payers and Recipients, 1995

Sources of Income

There are significant differences in the sources of income for both payers and recipients for 1995. The majority of recipients reported wages and salaries (72 percent) as a source of income, followed by government transfers (for example, social assistance, employment, insurance and old age security) at 55 percent. In contrast, payers reported wages and salaries (96 percent) in a much higher proportion of their income while 37 percent reported government transfers as one other source of income.

Figure 19: Sources of Income, 19951

Where payers and recipients claimed government transfers as a source of income, figure 20 shows the type of government program that provided the income. More than one-quarter (28 percent) of recipients reported social assistance as a source of income, compared to only 4 percent of payers. There were no significant differences in the proportion of payers and recipients claiming employment insurance as a source of income, nor were there significant differences reported for the other types of government transfers.

Figure 20: Government Transfers as a Source of Income, for Payers and Recipients, Canada, 1995

Statistics Canada's Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID) is another source of information on family income and sources of income.[4] Among other things, it provides national data on single mother families receiving social assistance and support payments as a source of income. According to this survey, 20 percent of social assistance recipients were single parents (male and female) in 1994. Single mothers accounted for over 90 percent of custodial parents receiving social assistance and almost one-half (48 percent) of female single parents received social assistance. Nationally, 72 percent of single mothers with a child under five years old received social assistance and two-thirds of single mothers receiving social assistance had at least one child under ten.

The SLID also provides data on alimony as a source of income. In 1994, female single parents (with all children under the age of 25) accounted for about one-half of all alimony recipients. Another 28 percent of alimony recipients (almost all women) were married or in a common-law relationship and had children under the age of 25. Approximately one-third of alimony recipients also received social assistance. Of these, at least 75 percent were single mothers.

Almost half (47 percent) of single mothers who received alimony also received social assistance for at least part of the year. Only one-quarter of all single mothers received alimony and this proportion does not appear to be much different for single mothers who received social assistance. The proportion of single mothers who received alimony increases to about 31 percent if only "separated and divorced" single mothers are considered (that is, excluding the "single never-married" and "widowed" mothers).

Interestingly, single mothers with two or more children are somewhat more likely to receive alimony and in larger amounts than mothers with only one child. The likelihood of single mothers receiving alimony does not appear to vary significantly by the mothers' levels of education, except that mothers with a post-secondary degree or certificate receive higher amounts.

Child Support Arrangements

The NLSCY provides information on the child support arrangements parents made when they separated.

Table 8 shows the distribution of Canadian children from broken homes by type of support agreement, according to the type of separation.

Table 8: Type of Support Agreement According to Type
of Broken Union-NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995

Type of Broken Union (%)
Type of Support Agreement Marriage
All Unions
Court order 48.7 15.6 20.3 27.8
Court order in progress 8.3 8.3 8.2 8.3
Private agreement 25.9 39.4 29.2 31.5
No agreement 17.2 36.7 42.2 32.5
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
1 1047 1077 1184 3308

1 N = Weighted data brought back to the original sample size.
Source: Marcil-Gratton, N. & C. Le Bourdais (1999). Custody, Access and Child Support:
Findings from The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth

The most significant finding is that for almost one-third of Canadian children whose parents have separated, the parents said there was no agreement regarding child support payments.

Children whose parents had divorced at the time of the survey were more likely to be covered by some type of child support agreement than children whose parents had not divorced. When the parents were divorced, parents said there was a court order in place, or in progress, in 57 percent of cases and there was no agreement in only 17 percent of cases.

Forty-two percent of children from broken common-law unions were not covered by any form of child support agreement. They were followed closely by children whose parents had not yet divorced at the time of the survey (thirty-seven percent).

Regularity of Payments

Table 9 shows that, in general, more children who are covered by what their parents describe as a private agreement receive regular support payments than children whose parents say they have a court-ordered agreement.Two-thirds of children under private agreements benefited from regular support payments, compared to 43 percent of children whose parents stated they had a court-ordered agreement.= Moreover, cases where there have been no payments in the last six months are much more common where the parents said there was a court order than where support payments are dealt with through a private agreement (30 percent vs. 14 percent).

Table 9: Type of Support Agreement and Regularity of Payments, According to Type of Broken Union-NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995

This trend holds true regardless of the type of broken union. For children whose parents were married and made a private agreement regarding child support, the data show a high proportion (73 percent) of regular payers and only 8 percent of cases where payments had not been made for the last six months. In the case of broken common-law unions, the proportion of cases in which there had not been a payment in the last six months is much higher, regardless of whether there was a private agreement between the spouses (24 percent), or whether a court order was in place (45 percent). But the most significant result is that agreements that parents described as private resulted in more regular payments than cases where a court order was in place or was in progress.

Visiting Patterns and Payment of Child Support

Figure 21 reveals the close association between regularity of payments and frequency of visits. Among children living with their mother, and for whom child support payments were regular and on time, close to one-half (48 percent) visited their father on a weekly basis, while only 7 percent never saw him. In comparison, fathers who did not provide financially for their children on a regular basis had fewer contacts with them. Only 15 percent of children whose fathers had not provided child support payments in the last six months saw their fathers weekly and 28 percent never saw him. The regularity of payments appears strongly related to the likelihood of fathers maintaining frequent contact with their children, and the impact of this variable remains important even after controlling for the type of custody and child support arrangements, the type of union, the level of tension between parents, and the time elapsed since separation.

Figure 21: Visiting Patterns with Father, for Children Living with Mother at Time of Separation, According to Regularity of Child Support Payments-NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995