Can you reduce or cancel child support arrears?

Provincial Court
Supreme Court

If you have an order or agreement about child support and the income of the paying parent (the parent who pays support) has gone down, they might have built up arrears if:

  • they didn't apply to court to change the child support amount when their income went down, and
  • they didn't keep up with their payments.

Arrears are past payments of support that haven't been paid.

Child support is worked out using the Federal Child Support Guidelines and is based on how much the paying parent earns. Parents are responsible for giving up-to-date financial information (called financial disclosure), such as their income tax returns, to each other every year. Then they see if the amount of child support needs to be changed.

See What is financial disclosure? to find out more about financial disclosure.

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.

You might be able to get free help with filing your taxes. See Get your taxes done at a free tax clinic to find out more.

How do you reduce or cancel child support arrears?

If you and the other parent can work together, you can decide how to deal with arrears without going to court. For example, you might agree that the paying parent can pay a reduced amount of arrears in a lump sum. If you need help with trying to work something out, get legal help or speak to a dispute resolution professional, such as a mediator.

If your child support order or agreement is registered with BCFMA, you can agree to reduce your arrears, but you shouldn't sort out a repayment plan yourself. Speak to your BCFMA case manager to find out more about this.

If you don't think you can work together or you can't agree about reducing or cancelling arrears, you'll have to go to court.

See Change an order or set aside an agreement made in BC to find out how to change an order or agreement.

A judge can decide to reduce or cancel arrears, but if you're the paying parent, you need to show that:

  • you had a long-lasting, material change (a major change) in your ability to work and earn the income that was used to work out your original child support payments,
  • you weren't responsible for the drop in income, and
  • you can't pay the arrears now or in the future without suffering severe financial hardship, even with a flexible payment plan (a plan that lets you pay the arrears in instalments).

A judge won't reduce or cancel arrears if:

  • your drop in income was temporary (short-term) because you were laid off but you're likely to go back soon,
  • you chose to quit your job to go back to school, or
  • you chose to quit your job and didn't have another one to go to.
  • you didn't show up for court when the original child support order was made, or
  • you didn't give proper financial disclosure, AND
  • the court imputed your income (decided that you have a certain income),

you can't give the court information showing your income was lower than the imputed income.

If any of these situations apply to you, get legal help to find out what your options are.

How does the court decide if the arrears can be reduced or cancelled?

If you're the paying parent, you’ll need to fill out a financial statement that shows all your income, assets, and debts, including pensions. The court might also be interested in any inheritances, income, or gifts you might get in the future. This will help it decide if it would be grossly unfair not to reduce or cancel the arrears. It will also look at:

  • what efforts you've made to pay the child support in the past,
  • why you can't pay your arrears, and
  • any other circumstances (such as losing your job or getting sick) that might have affected or are now affecting your ability to pay.

In general, courts aren't keen to reduce or cancel arrears. It's often difficult to get support arrears changed or cancelled.

To find out how to fill out a financial statement for Provincial Court, see Complete a Provincial Court Financial Statement (Form 4).

To find out how to fill out a financial statement for Supreme Court, see Complete a Supreme Court Financial Statement (Form F8).

If you're going to court to ask for your arrears to be reduced or cancelled, think about applying for a retroactive decrease in child support at the same time. See Can you retroactively reduce child support payments? to find out more about this.

What if you don't agree that the arrears should be reduced or cancelled?

If you're the receiving parent (the parent who gets the support payments), you might not agree that the arrears should be reduced or cancelled. Think about why the paying parent wants to reduce the arrears.

For example, did the child stop living with you and move in with someone else? Or maybe the child is over 19 and has been working full-time and isn't in school? In these situations, arrears might be cancelled.

But arrears might not be cancelled if, for example, the paying parent says they can't pay support right now because they have new family commitments.

The parent who wants to reduce or cancel the arrears has to show the court that it would be grossly unfair not to cancel them.

The parent who disagrees about cancelling them must gather financial documents and evidence to show that the arrears shouldn't be cancelled.

Whether you're the paying parent or the receiving parent, dealing with child support arrears can be complicated. It's a good idea to get legal help.

Filing your taxes helps you manage your finances — and you might get a refund. If you pay child support, you need your filed tax returns to make sure you're paying the right amount of support.

Updated on 14 May 2024