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Q - What is child support?
A – As well as a responsibility to take care of the physical and emotional needs of their child, parents have a financial responsibility for their child. When parents are not living together or have divorced usually the child will live with one parent most of the time with access visits with the other parent. Child support is an amount of money paid to the parent with whom the child lives by the other parent towards the care and maintenance of the child.
Q - Do parents have a responsibility to support their children?
A - Yes, any person who has a child has a responsibility to support him or her. Parents who are separating or divorcing and have children must ensure that arrangements have been made for their support. The parent without custody will generally pay child support to the parent with custody. In Nova Scotia, children are eligible for support until they reach the age of 19.
Support may continue past this age if the child is in an educational program such as university or community college, has a disability and is not able to support him or herself, or for some other reason is unable to become self-sufficient. There are federal and provincial Child Support Guidelines to help parents estimate the proper amount of child support. This promotes consistency and encourages out of court settlement by the parents.
Q - How do I get support?
A - Child support can be arranged by coming to an agreement with your spouse on who will pay support and on the amount to be paid. Such an agreement can be verbal or written. If you cannot agree, you can apply to the court for an order for child support under either the Federal Divorce Act or the Nova Scotia Maintenance and Custody Act.
Q - How much child support must be paid?
A - The federal and provincial governments have passed Child Support Guidelines to provide parents, lawyers and judges with a way to estimate a proper amount of child support. The federal Child Support Guidelines apply to divorcing and divorced couples. The provincial Child Maintenance Guidelines apply to married couples that are not seeking a divorce, to common-law couples and other parents seeking child support. Under the Federal Child Support Guidelines, the starting point is the "table amount" of support using the child support tables. To that amount is added any contribution to "special or extraordinary expenses" such as child care, some education and medical expenses, or certain extracurricular expenses.
Click here for Justice Canada's Child Support Online Lookup to determine how much child support should be paid. Please note that the Federal Child Support Tables change as of December 31 2011. Use the 2006 Federal Child Support Tables to figure out child support amounts before December 31, 2011. Use the updated Federal Child Support Tables, in force December 31 2011, to figure out child support amounts from December 31, 2011 onward.
Click here to see the Nova Scotia Child Maintenance Guidelines. Nova Scotia uses the federal child support tables to determine child support amounts.
Free paper copies of a a federal child support workbook (to help you calculate child support), and the child support tables, are available from:
- the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia's office at 902.454.2198
- Justice Canada's Family Law Information Line at 1.888.373.2222
- family courts in the province. Courts are listed under 'Courts' in the government section of the phone book, or go to courts.ns.ca for court contact information.
The workbook, which is called 'The Federal Child Support Guidelines: Step-by-Step', is also available on Justice Canada's website at justice.gc.ca, under 'child support'.
Q - How long does a child support order last?
A - The judge decides how long the order will last based on the circumstances of each case. Usually the judge will order periodic payments (such as monthly payments) but can order a lump-sum payment (one large payment). Under the Divorce Act, a federal act, an order for child support will usually continue until the child is 19. Under the Nova Scotia Family Maintenance and Custody Act, an order for child support can continue until the child is 19. In either case, a judge may order that child support continue for a longer period if necessary, for example, if the child is attending university or has a disability that prevents him or her from supporting him or herself.
Q - How do the Child Support Guidelines work?
A – The guidelines are based on the income of the paying spouse, the number of dependant children, and the provincial income tax rate.
Under the Guidelines, the amount of child support is based on the gross income, that is income before tax or deductions, of the paying parent. There are Guideline tables for each province that take into account differences in tax rates. The table to use is the one for the province where the paying parent lives. Once the tables have indicated the amount of support, relevant special expenses could be added and this may result in a higher amount of child support.
The Federal Child Support Guidelines are used if the parents are divorced or getting a divorce.
If the parents were not married, for example they were in a common-law relationship, or where they are married but not seeking a divorce, the provincial child maintenance guidelines are used. The provincial guidelines are modeled on the federal guidelines, and Nova Scotia has adopted the federal child support tables to determine child support amounts.
For example, in Nova Scotia, if the paying spouse has a gross income of $20,000 and there are two children the suggested monthly payment is $286 (December 31, 2011 onward).
Click here for Justice Canada's Child Support Online Lookup to determine how much child support should be paid.
Please note that the Federal Child Support Tables change as of December 31 2011. Use the 2006 Federal Child Support Tables to figure out child support amounts before December 31, 2011. Use the new, updated Federal Child Support Tables, in force December 31 2011, to figure out child support amounts from December 31, 2011 onward.
If you are negotiating child support with your spouse or partner, the guidelines will give you the base amount of child support you would expect a court to order. A judge may order more or less than the base amount for special expenses or in cases of undue hardship.
Q - What are special expenses?
A - Special expenses may include:
- Childcare costs for the care of the child while the parent with custody is at work, or is sick, disabled or training for employment.
- Medical and dental insurance premiums and health related expenses over $100 per illness or event.
- Extraordinary expenses for education programs that meet the child's particular needs, extra-curricular activities, and expenses for post-secondary education.
As a general rule, the actual cost of these expenses will be shared by the parents in proportion to their incomes.
Q – What is undue hardship?
A - In some circumstances, a parent may claim undue hardship. Either parent may make a claim. Reasons for claiming undue hardship include:
- A high level of debt incurred prior to separation or incurred to earn a living
- Extraordinarily high costs related to access visits with the child, for example, the child lives in Vancouver with the mother and the father lives in Nova Scotia.
- A legal responsibility to support another person or child, or
- A responsibility to support a person who cannot obtain the necessities of life themselves.
In order for the court to consider a claim of undue hardship, the household standard of living of the parent making the claim must be lower than that of the other household. In these circumstances, the income of a new partner or other people living in either household will be considered. The income of these household members will not affect the amount of support. It is only used by the court to apply the test to calculate the standard of living of each household. The test is laid out in the Guidelines.
Q - Can parents claim or deduct child support payments for income tax purposes?
A – This depends when the child support order was made.
The Income Tax Act was amended in 1997. Before the amendments the rules were that the paying parent could claim child support payments as a tax deduction, and the receiving parent had to claim the support as income. If your child support order or agreement was made before May 1, 1997, the old tax rules continue to apply, unless you obtain a new order or agreement or vary the order after May 1,1997.
Child support orders made or varied since May 1, 1997, cannot be claimed as a deduction by the paying parent and the receiving parent does not have to claim the support as income.
Q – Can support payments be reviewed or changed if my income changes?
A - Yes. If the agreement is unregistered the parents can agree to change it.
If there is a registered agreement or a court order for child support, the person paying or receiving support can apply to the court to change the order if circumstances change. In the case of child support, judges do consider a change in income as a change of circumstance and will revise a child support amount so that it is consistent with the child support guidelines.
Otherwise, if there has been no change since the original amount of maintenance was ordered or agreed to, a judge will not generally make a change.
Q – What is the Maintenance Enforcement Program?
A – The Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) is a service provided by the provincial government to help parents collect child support. MEP has a 24-hour automated voice system called the Infoline. If you are enrolled in MEP and have received a personal ID number, you can call the line at 424.0050 (Halifax area) or 1.800.357.9248 (outside Metro) to get information on:
- enrollment status
- amount of last payment
- present account balance
- last six enforcement actions
- general information on MEP
You can also leave a message requesting a staff person to call you back.
Q - What can I do if support payments are not paid, or are late?
A - If you have a child support order, and you are having trouble getting your money, you should contact the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) at 424.0050 in the Halifax area, or toll-free at 1.800.357.9248 from anywhere else in Nova Scotia. The Maintenance Enforcement Program came into effect in January 1996 and child support orders made after that date by a court are automatically sent to the Program.
If you have a written agreement with your spouse but not a court order you must register it with the court first before the MEP will accept it.
Once your order is registered with MEP, the person paying child support makes payments through the program. The MEP then sends the payment to the parent receiving payments. If the payer fails to make payments, MEP may take action. Enforcement officers may garnishee wages or other payments due to the payer such as income tax refunds, Canada Pension Plan benefits and employment insurance benefits. They may also seize bank accounts and can require the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to suspend the payer's driving privileges, although this is rarely done.
All maintenance orders made by either the Supreme Court including the Supreme Court (Family Division) or Family Court since January 1, 1996 are automatically registered with MEP. Once your order is registered or enrolled with MEP, only MEP can enforce the order. If you do not wish to be enrolled in MEP, you may request to "opt out." Both parties should send a letter requesting to opt out to MEP within 10 days of receiving a notice of enrollment. This applies to new orders only.
If you have been in MEP for a while and no longer wish to be, you may send a letter asking to withdraw from the program. This request may or may not be approved, and you will be notified of the decision.
For more information, you can contact one of MEP's regional offices:
Amherst - 667.6260
New Glasgow - 755.7224
Antigonish - 863.5473
Truro - 893.5899
Halifax - 424.8032
Sydney - 563.2218
Kentville - 679.6728
Yarmouth - 742.0604
If you are unsure if you are registered, you should call the MEP office nearest you.
If your order or agreement is not registered with the MEP, you can apply to the courts for enforcement of your order under the Maintenance Enforcement Act, but you will be responsible for taking any action required to enforce the order made by the court. If you have an order for maintenance from the Supreme Court, you can file an application in court for an execution order. You will also need to file a sworn statement saying that the maintenance is in arrears. You can also apply to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court for a contempt order. Before you do this you should speak with a lawyer.
Q – Can court orders be enforced outside Nova Scotia?
A - Yes. Court orders to be enforced in all the provinces, the United States and also in several other countries. Orders made in these places can be enforced in Nova Scotia. Sometimes people ordered to pay maintenance will disappear and you may not know where to find them. The provincial and federal governments have sources that may help to locate persons who are not paying court-ordered support. If you are registered with MEP, they will use these sources to attempt to locate the payer.
Q – What about back-dated (retroactive) child support?
A - See the page on 'Retroactive child support' for information on this topic.
Q - Do I need a lawyer?
A - You are not required to have a lawyer to take your case to court. However, it is a good idea to get some legal advice about your situation. The Family Court has intake workers. In Halifax and Sydney there are Family Law Information Centres at the Supreme Court (Family Division) and duty counsel who can explain the process to you and help you fill out forms, but they cannot represent you in court.
You should talk with a lawyer before you sign any agreement. If you sign an agreement, it may not be possible to change it at a later date. Lawyers are listed in the yellow pages of the phone book. You can also contact the LISNS Lawyer Referral Service at 1.800.665.9779 (toll free in Nova Scotia) or 455.3135 in HRM.
If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may qualify for legal aid. Legal Aid offices are listed in the white pages of the phone book under Nova Scotia Legal Aid, in the blue pages under Legal Aid, or visit nslegalaid.ca. In Halifax there is also Dalhousie Legal Aid Service at 423.8105.
Click here for a list of family law resources in Nova Scotia.
Q - Where can I get more information?
A - For more information on the Federal Child Support Guidelines you can call the federal Department of Justice toll-free at 1.888.373.2222, or visit their website at www.canada.justice.gc.ca.
- Click here to see Nova Scotia's Child Maintenance Guidelines
- For further information on the tax treatment of child support, call the Canada Revenue Agency at 426.2210 within the Halifax area, or toll-free at 1.800.959.8281.
- Click here for a list of other family law resources in Nova Scotia.
- See the page on 'Retroactive child support' for information about back-dated child support.