The law says that parents have to look after their children financially, even if one parent doesn't see or take care of the children.
When parents separate (or have a child together outside of a relationship), this usually means that one person has to give the other person money to help support the children. This money is called child support.
Every child in BC has a right to child support. Parents receive child support on behalf of the child. A parent can't refuse to pay child support simply because they don't like the other parent or don't approve of how the other parent will use the money. The law says the parent the children live with most of the time is entitled to get child support from the other parent. If the children spend equal (or almost equal) time with both parents, the person with the higher income usually has to pay child support.
Paying (or not paying) child support doesn't affect a person's parenting time or contact with their children. If the parent falls behind or stops paying support, the other parent can't stop them from seeing the children because of that.
How much child support will I receive or have to pay?
The amount is based on the Federal Child Support Guidelines. The federal government has already set the amount of child support to be paid, and it can't be negotiated.
The amount is based on:
- how much the person paying support earns,
- how many children they have to support, and
- where they live.
If you don't know how much the person paying support earns, make a best guess to use as a starting point.
Each province and territory has its own table, so make sure you put in the province where the person paying lives.
If you share parenting — that is, the children live with each parent at least 40% of the time — the child support tables don't apply in the same way. The parent with the higher support amount will pay some support to the parent with the lower support amount. Go to MySupportCalculator to find out how much this would be, or ask duty counsel to help you.
The BC Child Support Recalculation Service (CSRS) is a free program that reviews child support orders and written agreements. It recalculates (works out again) the amount of child support a paying parent must pay every year based on updated income information from them. You might be able to use the CSRS if:
- you have a child support order or a child support agreement filed in Provincial court,
- you and the other parent both live in BC, and
- the child support amount was worked out using the Child Support Guidelines tables
See What is the Child Support Recalculation Service? to find out more.
Can the amount of child support be different from what the table says?
Judges might make orders for less support than the amount in the tables only in exceptional situations. For example:
- The court agrees with the claim of the person paying support that the amount of support would cause them undue hardship. Note: The undue hardship must be exceptional. Mere hardship will not get you out of paying support. You'll have to share a lot of information like bank and credit card statements to prove your claim.
- The child is 19 or over and not in school full-time.
- The person paying support is a step-parent.
- The income of the person paying support is over $150,000.
How long must a parent pay child support?
Each act talks about this slightly differently, but basically, children are entitled to be supported by both parents if:
- they're under 19, or
- they're 19 or over, but can't take care of themselves because of illness, disability, or another reason, like they're going to school
Do you have to go to court?
Many people come to an agreement about child support without going to court. They can then file their agreement with the court.
If the agreement is filed with the court, it can be enforced. That means it's treated in the same way as a court order. The agreement can be changed if the situation changes for either person.
Making an agreement after you separate and Who can help you reach an agreement? both have lots of useful information about making agreements without going to court. And Write your own separation agreement can help you write a legally binding separation agreement, which includes a child support section.
If you and the other person can't come to an agreement, one of you can apply to the court for an order for child support. See Final and interim court orders. (That page has links to our guides on court orders in Provincial Court and Supreme Court.)
What's "undue hardship"?
"Undue hardship" means that the amount of support is excessive, exceptional, or disproportionate and would cause problems for the person paying child support. It can be hard to prove.
The person paying or receiving support can ask for a different amount of child support than what's listed in the guidelines tables if that amount would cause them undue hardship. For example:
- The person paying might suffer undue hardship because the amount of child support is too high.
- The person receiving support might suffer undue hardship because the amount of child support isn't enough to pay for everything the children need.
Here are some examples of situations that can cause undue hardship:
- having an unusual or excessive amount of debt
- having to make support payments for children from another family (for example, from a previous marriage)
- having to support a disabled or ill person
- having to spend a lot of money to visit the children (for example, airfare to another city)
The person making the claim has to report all the income coming into their household. They also have to report:
- any money a new spouse or partner pays to help them with household expenses, and
- any money they and their new spouse or partner gets from:
- rental income,
- dividend income,
- investment income, or
- business income
If the person paying support makes this type of claim, the one who receives support has to give information about their income as well.
In any claim for hardship, the court also compares the standards of living of the two households. The court will refuse a claim of undue hardship if it would mean the household of the person paying had a higher standard of living than the one receiving support.
What are special or extraordinary expenses?
Special or extraordinary expenses are costs paid on top of basic child support. (See Section 7 of the Child Support Guidelines.)
Special expenses include costs like:
- childcare expenses while one parent works or goes to school
- the portion of medical and dental insurance premiums that provides coverage for the child
- expenses for post-secondary education
- private school
- most children's sporting, art, music, and such lessons
Special expenses are usually shared no matter who's paying for them. For example, the other parent would still help pay for the school fees if you're paying child support.
Here's a list of things that usually don't count as special expenses:
- children's share of rent, food, or laundry costs
- children's ordinary recreation costs
- children's clothes (with the possible exception of uniforms for private school)
- children's ordinary schooling costs (including field trips and lunches), unless for post-secondary education
- children's allowance or pocket money
When do you need to give financial information to each other and to the court?
Sometimes people make informal agreements about child support. For example, one person might just show their latest income tax return to prove how much they earn.
But to reach a fair outcome, you'll have to share more of your financial information with each other.
If you go to court, both the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court have rules about disclosing financial information. Everyone who pays child support (and sometimes people receiving support) must give proof of their income by filing a financial statement at the court registry.
The rules about sharing financial information are there so that the court can make decisions about child support based on the facts about each person's income and not on what one person says.
If the other person doesn't share the information they're supposed to, you can ask the court to order them to share it. If they still don't share the information, the court can impute income to that person. This means the court will consider any credible evidence about their income, such as what salary information websites say about their job, or evidence you have of them saying how much they make.
What are the income tax rules about child support payments?
You don't pay income taxes on the child support you get. If you're the one paying, you don't deduct your payments.
For more information about income tax rules, see the Tax Matters Toolkit, an online resource from the Canadian Bar Association that explains the rules that apply when you separate or divorce, including child support rules.
Cancelling or reducing arrears
Arrears are past support payments that haven't been paid. A judge can reduce or cancel arrears, but there has to be a very good reason for changing them.
If you have to go to court because you're behind on support payments, go to our step-by-step guide Attend a committal hearing (for payors) (FMEP).
A mother learns her son is entitled to child support from his father in our short illustrated story A child's right to support.
Years later, Marie's friend explains the importance of getting child support owed from previous years, in the story Retroactive child support.