OBLIGATION OF A STEP PARENT TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT
By the time people enter their second major relationship of their lives, there is often children from another relationship. Whether the relationship is marriage or marriage-like, step-children are a fact of life. Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, second marriages can end and with the dissolution of the relationship comes the question: Is there a legal obligation owed to step-children? The answer is yes there are legal obligations to those children, but with some exceptions. The law regarding the child support obligations of a step-parent is set out in sections 147 – 149 of the Family Law Act.
WHEN A STEP PARENT DOES NOT HAVE TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT
A step-parent has no child support obligation if the natural parent is unable to provide child support, either in part or in full. A step-parent’s duty to provide child support is secondary to that of guardians and natural parents of the child.
A step-parent has no child support obligations if an application is not made within one year of the last time the step-parent contributed to the child’s support.
A step-parent has no child support obligations if support of the child was for less than one year in duration.
A step-parent has no child support obligations if the step-parent is still in a relationship with the step-child’s parent. Or in other words, a claim for support cannot be made against the spouse of a person who is to pay child support.
WHEN CHILD SUPPORT IS TO BE PAID BY A STEP PARENT
Child support is to be paid to an ex-spouse for a step-child where the step-parent paid towards the support of the child for more than a year, it has been less than one year since the step-parent paid towards the step-child’s support, that the natural parent of the child (from whom the parent seeking support was originally in a relationship with) cannot be found or cannot meet their support obligation, and the step-parent is separated from the step-child’s parent. There will be an obligation to pay child support where a separation agreement or order of the court recognizes the step-child as a child of the marriage.
Child support may be set at the Federal Child Support Guidelines amount or it may be pro-rated if some portion of support can be ordered against the natural parent. Support may be ordered at $0 where the court finds the step-parent has met their obligation to support the child given the circumstance of the relationship (i.e. consideration of the standard of living during the time the child lived with the step-parent as well as the length of time the child resided with the step-parent)
OBLIGATIONS TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT DURING UNIVERSITY YEARS
The obligation to pay child support and post-secondary educational expenses will continue after a child’s 19th birthday under either the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act if the child is attending university or similar, subject to certain requirements. The obligation to pay a part of post-secondary educational expenses applies to step children. In the recent Court of Appeal decision of Shaw v. Arndt, 2016 BCCA 78, the court held that being a stepparent does not relieve oneself of a child support obligation and that a lack of a relationship between the child and a step-parent, as the sole ground for ending support obligations, would not end support except in truly egregious cases of misconduct by a child against a parent. Simply put, child support must be paid by a stepparent where a child’s natural parent cannot meet their child support obligations, the adult child is attending university and any breakdown in the relationship between the child and the stepparent is merely unsatisfactory as opposed to egregious behaviour on behalf of the child.
For more information about either claiming child support or responding to a claim for child support as a step-parent, please contact the John Nelson Law Corporation for a private consult.