Introduction to What Does Child Support Cover?
Child support is often contemplated by both custodial and non-custodial parents of a child – specifically what is child support, what does child support cover and encompass, and when child support begins and ends. The particulars of child support pursuant to the base support amount mandated by the Federal Child Support Guidelines, and the particulars of child support pursuant to section 7 special and extraordinary expenses, can be very different. It is important that parents are aware of these differences. We have provided the ins and outs of child support in Ontario below, with answers to some of our firm’s most frequently asked child support questions.
What is child support in Ontario?
Child support is a court-ordered payment that is paid by a non-custodial parent to a custodial parent. Child support is used to help cover the costs of caring for a child. The custodial parent is the recipient of the child support, and typically primarily cares for the child, provides primary residence for the child, and may potentially spend the most amount of time with the child. The non-custodial parent that provides child support is called the “payor” parent.
Child support can be ongoing and/or retroactive. Retroactive child support entails support owed by a payor parent for a period during which they should have been paying support but were not, or were paying less support than what the recipient parent was entitled to.
Our Child Custody Lawyers in Toronto have helped hundreds of clients navigate and understand their child support and Custody obligations.
Is child support mandatory in Ontario?
Yes, child support is mandatory in Ontario. Being a parent to a child results in an obligation being formed in which that parent must support the child. This holds true for all parents, including married, common law, biological, adoptive and estranged, parents.
What are the typical expenses covered by child support?
When answering this question, the Federal Child Support Guidelines must be considered. Section 7(1) of the Federal Child Support Guidelines states the following:
“7 (1) In a child support order the court may, on either spouse’s request, provide for an amount to cover all or any portion of the following expenses, which expenses may be estimated, taking into account the necessity of the expense in relation to the child’s best interests and the reasonableness of the expense in relation to the means of the spouses and those of the child and to the family’s spending pattern prior to the separation:
(a) child care expenses incurred as a result of the employment, illness, disability or education or training for employment of the spouse who has the majority of parenting time;
(b) that portion of the medical and dental insurance premiums attributable to the child;
(c) health-related expenses that exceed insurance reimbursement by at least $100 annually, including orthodontic treatment, professional counseling provided by a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist or any other person, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and prescription drugs, hearing aids, glasses, and contact lenses;
(d) extraordinary expenses for a primary or secondary school education or for any other educational programs that meet the child’s particular needs;
(e) expenses for post-secondary education; and
(f) extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities.
(1.1) For the purposes of paragraphs (1)(d) and (f), the term extraordinary expenses means
(a) expenses that exceed those that the spouse requesting an amount for the extraordinary expenses can reasonably cover, taking into account that spouse’s income and the amount that the spouse would receive under the applicable table or, where the court has determined that the table amount is inappropriate, the amount that the court has otherwise determined is appropriate; or
(b) where paragraph (a) is not applicable, expenses that the court considers are extraordinary taking into account
(i) the amount of the expense in relation to the income of the spouse requesting the amount, including the amount that the spouse would receive under the applicable table or, where the court has determined that the table amount is inappropriate, the amount that the court has otherwise determined is appropriate,
(ii) the nature and number of the educational programs and extracurricular activities,
(iii) any special needs and talents of the child or children,
(iv) the overall cost of the programs and activities, and
(v) any other similar factor that the court considers relevant”
Child support payments in Ontario should be used to help cover the basic costs of raising a child and providing them with the necessities of life. This includes, but is not limited to, expenses related to:
- Regular school costs including supplies
- Extra costs associated with housing the child, such as
- Extra rent for a larger residence, and
- Higher utilities costs associated with housing
- Other basic necessities
The Federal Child Support Guidelines provides the basic monthly quantities of child support owed by a parent payor, given their gross annual income and the total number of children they have. This can be determined through the Federal Child Support Tables and is often referred to as the “table amount” of support owed by the payor parent.
Furthermore, pursuant to section 7, special or extraordinary expenses may have to be paid in addition to the amount determined by the Federal Child Support Tables. Special or Extraordinary Expenses include
- Expenses necessary because they are deemed to be in the child’s best interest;
- Expenses are seen as reasonable in relation to the means of the parents; and
- Expenses that are consistent with financial patterns prior to separation.
As stated in the Federal Child Support Guidelines, there are six types of expenses that are contemplated by section 7. These expenses may lead to increased child support payments, and consist of the following:
- Child care expenses incurred by the custodial parent;
- Medical and dental insurance premiums for the child;
- Health care needs that exceed $100 per year where they are not covered by insurance (orthodontics, eye care, etc);
- Post-secondary tuition and other education expenses;
- Expenses for specific educational programs that meet the child’s needs; and
- Expenses for extracurricular activities
When does child support begin in Ontario?
Child support obligations for a parent payor begin on the child’s date of birth. Alternatively, for stepparents, child support begins during the point at which the stepparent has “demonstrated a settled intention” to treat the child as a member of their family, pursuant to section 1 of the Family Law Act.
When does child support end in Ontario?
It is often presumed that child support ends when a child is no longer a minor and reaches the age of 18 years old. However, this is not always the case. Two pieces of legislation are relevant when answering this question – the Family Law Act, and the Divorce Act.
Section 31(1) of the Family Law Act states that every parent has an obligation to provide support, to the extent that the parent is capable of doing so, for his or her unmarried child who
- Is a minor;
- Is enrolled in a full-time program of education; or
- Is unable by reason of illness, disability or other cause to withdraw from the charge of his or her parents.
Section 15.1(1) of the Divorce Act states that a court of competent jurisdiction may, on application by either or both spouses, make an order requiring a spouse to pay for the support of any or all children of the marriage.
The Divorce Act defines “child of the marriage” as a child of two spouses or former spouses, who, at the material time,
- Is under the age of majority and who has not withdrawn from their charge, or
- Is the age of majority or over and under their charge but unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause, to withdraw from their charge or to obtain the necessaries of life
Moreover, the courts have interpreted the use of the words “other cause” in section 15.1(1) of the Divorce Act to include enrollment in a full-time educational program. Thus, the legislation does not indicate that child support necessarily ends when a child is no longer a minor and becomes 18 years old. There is no definitive cutoff date for when a child is no longer entitled to support, and the date at which child support ends generally is dependent on the circumstances of each unique family dynamic.
A child is no longer dependent, and thus not entitled to child support if the child is:
1) married, or
2) at least 16 years old, voluntarily leaves the family home, and withdraws from parental control.
However, if neither of these two circumstances applies, the Family Law Act and the Divorce Act indicate that an adult child may still be entitled to child support for reasons such as being enrolled in a full-time education program, or because of an illness or disability.
For more information about how long a parent is required to pay child support for a child that is no longer a minor, please see our blog, How Long Do You Have to Pay Child Support?.
What is included in child maintenance?
Child maintenance is often referred to as child support that a child 18 years or older is entitled to. Child maintenance is still meant to ensure that an adult child is provided with the necessities of life. However, in some cases, if a parent is required to pay child support for a child 18 years or older, the amount of child support owed may not be the entire amount pursuant to the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
Section 3(2) of the Federal Child Support Guidelines state that
“3 (2) Unless otherwise provided under these guidelines, where a child to whom an order for the support of a child relates is the age of majority or over, the amount of an order for the support of a child is,
(a) the amount determined by applying these guidelines as if the child were under the age of majority; or
(b) if the court considers that approach to be inappropriate, the amount that it considers appropriate, having regard to the condition, means, needs, and other circumstances of the child and the financial ability of each parent or spouse to contribute to the support of the child”.
If the court considers the section 3(2)(a) approach to be inappropriate, the court will consider numerous factors in its decision of the quantity of support payable for child maintenance. Factors such as whether the child has applied for, or is eligible for, student loans, grants, bursaries, or scholarships are often analyzed by the court in circumstances where a dependent child 18 years or older is pursuing a full-time educational program. Section 3(2)(b) requires that the court consider the means of the child along with the means of the parents in determining an appropriate amount of child maintenance payable. Ultimately, the court has the discretion to decide the amounts that both the child and the parent should be expected to contribute towards the child’s maintenance.
Are extracurricular activities included in child support?
Pursuant to section 7(1)(f) of the Federal Child Support Guidelines, extracurricular activities are included in child support. However, the cost of such extracurricular activities will be considered alongside the necessity of the expense in relation to the child’s best interests, the reasonableness of the expense in relation to the means of the spouses and those of the child, and the family’s spending pattern prior to the separation.
In Forrester v Forrester,  OJ No 3437, the court determined that “the Guidelines do not grant a license to a custodial parent to inject a child into lavish additional activities and demand automatic payment”. Justice Vogelsang found that extracurricular expenses must meet a threshold test of “necessity” and “reasonableness”. The extracurricular activity expenses must also represent unusual costs that are not otherwise covered in the ordinary payments for child support, as those ordinary payments are already included in the table amount to be paid by the payor parent.
Are private school fees included in child support?
Pursuant to sections 7(1)(d) and (e) of the Federal Child Support Guidelines, private school fees may be included in child support. However, when determining if private school fees are included and whether they are a reasonable expense, the financial circumstances of the spouses must be considered pursuant to section 7 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. The cost of such private school fees will be considered alongside the necessity of the expense in relation to the child’s best interests, the reasonableness of the expense in relation to the means of the spouses and those of the child, and the family’s spending pattern prior to the separation.
The court in O(EM) v O(WR), 2003 BCCA 191 found that private school expenses for the son were considered special and extraordinary expenses, pursuant to section 7 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. The son was previously bullied in public school and, in turn, benefitted from the private school environment. The daughter was sent to the same private school as her brother, despite her doing well in the public school system prior. The court determined that, alternatively, the daughter’s tuition expenses at the private school were not considered special and extraordinary expenses because she could garner sufficient educational benefits at a public school.
In Abelson v Mitra, 2008 BCSC 1197, the children had a history of having previously attending private school. The cost for private school tuition increased substantially when the children moved to West Vancouver, British Columbia. The court determined that, while private schools offered certain benefits to the children, they could meet their educational needs sufficiently within the public school system. However, due to the children’s history of having attended private school in the past, the court determined that it was appropriate that their private school tuition be deemed a special and extraordinary expense pursuant to section 7 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
Are private health insurance fees included in child support?
Generally, private health insurance fees are contemplated by section 7(1)(b) and (c) of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. The portion of medical and dental insurance premiums attributable to the child or children may be deemed a special expense pursuant to section 7. Additionally, if health-related expenses for the child or children surpass insurance reimbursement by at least $100.00 annually, they may be deemed special expenses pursuant to section 7. Health-related expenses include orthodontic treatment, professional counseling, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, prescription drugs, hearing aids, glasses, and contact lenses
How does child support cover “special needs” costs?
Many children have special needs, such as a disability, a mental illness, or a developmental delay or disorder. The costs associated with supporting a child with special needs can often exceed what is covered by the table amount of support. The base table amount provided by the Federal Child Support Guidelines may not be sufficient to support a child’s special needs. In this situation, such expenses may be deemed special and extraordinary expenses pursuant to section 7 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines, for which the child’s special needs and talents are taken into consideration.
Understanding basic information associated with child support is extremely important in any family law matter where children are involved. However, child support is frequently a complex matter that requires guidance from experts. At Nussbaum Law, we understand the intricacies of child support and specialize in all family law matters. Our firm can assist you with any concerns you have regarding child support. We provide high-quality advice to our clients while keeping in mind the needs and best interests of the child or children involved. If you have questions pertaining to child support, please contact one of the experienced lawyers at Nussbaum Law for assistance.