Separated and divorced parents’ experiences with child support and related issues


This project involved a brief survey to assess eligibility to participate in a qualitative interview. Separated and divorced parents who have gone through a parenting education or mediation between 2018 and 2021 and who provided their consent to be contacted by Justice Canada were the focus of data collection for this project.


An email was sent to 2,006 people who had attended a Parent Education or Mediation program between 2018 and March 2022 and who had provided their consent to be contacted regarding future research with the Department of Justice (or its representatives) in family justice related areas. There were a limited number of jurisdictions and locations where the consent forms were distributed as they were attached to an exit survey that is not used across Canada. Consent forms came from: Alberta (N=1949); Saskatchewan (N=42); Atlantic Region (N=15). This email invited the recipient to complete a short survey if they were interested in participating in the current research.

There were 224 respondents who completed the survey in English (none in French). All 224 agreed to participate in the study. Of the 224, 216 provided contact information (telephone number/email address). Most of the respondents (220/224; 98%) had at least one child with the other parent with whom they separated and/or divorced. Of the 224, 219 (98%) identified as a parent, two (1%) identified as grandparents and three (1%) identified as other (step-mother and step-father).

Emails were sent to participants in small batches in order to seek a sample of 30 interviews for the project. Of the 216 respondents with contact information provided, contact was made with 147 in order to get a sample of 34 parents were eventually interviewed. The majority of the participants contacted (n= 108) did not respond to the email invitation; 34 parents agree to participate in the interviews and another 5 respondents indicated that they no longer wanted to participate in the study.

Data collection

In order to explore parents’ experiences of child support after separation, this study conducted qualitative interviews using a grounded theory approach.Footnote22 Grounded theory allowed for interpretations of parenting experiences within the context of separation.Footnote23

Interview questions included questions related to their experiences with child support, including on issues such as parenting time arrangements, income disclosure, income determination, and special or extraordinary expenses. Participants were asked about their level of knowledge of and experience with child support obligations, including income disclosure and determination, spending on children (special or extraordinary expenses, day-to-day expenses) as well as experiences with child support in their case. In addition, participants were asked about solutions that worked best for their situation and the services that were considered helpful in resolving disputes related to their child support issues.

Data analysis

Using a list of questions, the interviews were recorded, transcribed and then imported into a qualitative software for qualitative analysis. Consistent with grounded theory methods, initial coding categories of information were completed by reading all transcripts line-by-line. The data were then reduced to themes characterizing the information from all data gathered. By employing a constant comparative approach, the data were continually examined using open, axial and selective coding until no new data provided insight.