Child support is the child's right to financial support. Parents have a legal duty to support their children who are:
- under the age of majority, which is 19 years of age in Nova Scotia; or
- 19 or over, but still dependent on their parent(s) for a reason such as illness, disability, or school.
The Divorce Act (federal law) and the Nova Scotia Parenting and Support Act (provincial law) require parents to pay basic child support, called the 'table amount' of child support. The table amount of child support helps pay for basic expenses such as food, clothing, shelter and basic activities.
Some children may have additional expenses, such as increased costs for childcare, medical care, some post-secondary or education expenses, and qualifying extracurricular activities. These are called special or extraordinary expenses, or 'section 7' expenses. They are in addition to the basic table amount of child support. When appropriate, special or extraordinary expenses are shared by both parents, in proportion to their respective incomes (gross income—before taxes and deductions).
How much child support must be paid?
The federal and provincial governments have put in place Child Support Guidelines as a way to figure out a proper amount of child support.
The Federal Child Support Guidelines apply to divorcing and divorced couples. The provincial Child Support Guidelines apply to married couples who are not seeking a divorce, and to other parents or guardians seeking child support. Nova Scotia uses the Federal Child Support Tables to determine child support amounts.
Under the Federal Child Support Guidelines, the starting point is the "table amount" of support using the child support tables. Any contribution to special or extraordinary expenses, also called 'section 7 expenses', is added to the table amount of support.
There are several steps when determining child support. These include:
- determining income for child support purposes
- determining the appropriate table amount of child support
- determining if there are any special or extraordinary expenses to add to the table amount
What is each parent’s income?
If you are an employee use the income you report on Line 15000 (Line 150 for 2018 and prior years) of your income tax return and apply it to the child support tables, along with the number of children and the province where the parent paying child support ('payor') resides.
If you have other income sources such as income from self-employment, dividend income, and or expenses such as union dues you may need to look at other factors determine income. See the Federal Child Support Guidelines: Step-by-Step workbook for more information about calculating income for child support purposes.
What is the appropriate Table Amount of child support?
The parenting time a child spends with each parent affects the amount of child support paid.
|Parenting time arrangement
|Majority of parenting time: Child spends most of their time (more than 60%) with one parent over the course of a year
|Parent who does not have majority of parenting time pays support to other parent
|Shared parenting time: Child shares their time equally or nearly equally (at least 40% of the time) with both parents
|Consider the table amount for each parent, as well as the needs of the child and the financial circumstances of the parents. It is false to assume that no child support will be paid if there is a shared parenting time arrangement.
|Split parenting time: two or more children and each parent has majority of parenting time with at least one of the children
|Consider the table amount payable for each parent, and number of children. Parent who has the higher table amount pays the difference to the parent with the lower table amount.
In situations where there is a child 19 or over who is attending school but living away from each parent the child support tables may not be strictly applied. In this situation you may need to look at each parent's income, other child support obligations, and the child's financial resources.
You can use Justice Canada's Child Support Online Lookup to help determine how much child support should be paid.
Use the 2006 Federal Child Support Tables to figure out child support amounts before December 31, 2011.
Use the 2011 Federal Child Support Tables to figure out child support amounts from December 31, 2011 to November 21, 2017.
Use the 2017 Federal Child Support Tables to figure out child support amounts from November 22, 2017 onward.
Go to the Federal Child Support Guidelines: Step-by-Step workbook for more information about child support.
Are there any special or extraordinary expenses ('section 7' expenses) to add to the basic table amount?
What are special or 'section 7' expenses?
Special expenses are child-related expenses that are necessary because they are in the child's best interests, and reasonable given the parents' means and spending pattern before separation. These expenses are added to the table amount of child support. The expenses are set out in section 7 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines and may include:
- The net childcare costs for the care of the child while the parent with the majority of parenting time is at work, or is sick, disabled or training for employment. The net cost is determined by taking the actual amount paid and deducting any subsidies and tax credits.
- Medical and dental insurance premiums and health related expenses over $100 per illness or event, if the cost is not covered by insurance.
- Extraordinary expenses for education programs that meet the child's particular needs, extra-curricular activities, and;
- Expenses for post-secondary education. In this case the court will consider the money the child has available to help offset this expense.
As a general rule, the actual cost of these expenses will be shared by the parents in proportion to their incomes, unless a subsidy or a tax credit may be applied against the total expense. Parents may agree to share the expenses in a different way.
If you have a child who is over the age of majority and is eligible for support then the child’s line 15000 income reported on their tax return may be relevant when considering the table child support or contribution towards post-secondary section 7 expenses that should be paid by each parent.
Go to the Federal Child Support Guidelines: Step-by-Step workbook for more information about special and extraordinary expenses.
How can I make child support arrangements?
To make child support arrangements:
- you can work out an agreement with the child's other parent. It could just be a verbal agreement, but it is generally better to have a written agreement or consent court order (an order a judge makes if both parents agree), as having it in writing makes enforcement easier.
- if you cannot agree or if you want to have your agreement put into a court order, either or both of you can apply to go to court to get a child support order.
If the other parent is in another province or another country you will probably have to use what is called an 'ISO' process. It is called ISO because it comes from a law called the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act (ISO). The ISO process may also be used when the parent is in a country that has signed on to use the ISO process to determine child support.
How long does a child support order last?
A child support order stays in force until it is changed (varied) with a new court order or a written agreement. A court order does not end when a child turns 19.
In some cases, when a child no longer meets the definition of a dependent child under the law, parents may agree that child support may end. If your order is registered with the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) you may be asked to get a court order to confirm that support will no longer be paid. And, both the person paying child support (payor) and the person receiving the support (recipient) will need to sign a notice to end child support for the MEP. The MEP has a fact sheet on this topic, called 'Child Support Orders with No Terminating Events'.
If you are a person who is obligated to pay support it is best to get a written agreement or court order to confirm that child support will end on a particular day.
Remember, child support is the child's right. If a child is still dependent or becomes dependent while meeting the legal definition of a child, support may be requested for another period of time.
In rare cases, a judge will place a time limit or put an end date for the payment of child support. This generally happens when a child is a postsecondary student and it is predictable how long they will continue to be dependent.
What is undue hardship?
In some circumstances, a parent may claim the amount of child support determined under the Federal Child Support Guidelines creates an undue hardship for the parent or the child. Either parent may make an undue hardship claim, saying that a higher or lower amount of child support would be more appropriate in their situation.
Reasons for claiming undue hardship are very limited. They are:
- A high level of debt incurred before separation or incurred to earn a living, and the person who is obligated to pay child support is making regular payments on those debts
- Extraordinarily high costs related to spending parenting time with the child. For example, the child lives in Vancouver with one parent and the other parent lives in Nova Scotia
- A legal responsibility to support another person or child, confirmed in a written agreement or court order, or
- A legal responsibility to support a person who cannot meet their basic needs on their own.
To prove undue hardship you must show that your household’s standard of living is lower than the other parent’s household’s standard of living. The income of a new partner or other people living in either household will be looked at when an undue hardship claim is made. The income of these household members will not affect the amount of support. Their income information is only used by the court to apply the test to calculate the standard of living of each household and compare them. There is more information about how to compare household standards of living in the Federal Child Support Guidelines: Step-by-Step.
If the household of the parent claiming undue hardship has a higher standard of living than the other parent’s household, the undue hardship claim cannot be accepted and the child support amount should not be changed.
However, if the standard of living is lower in the household of the parent claiming undue hardship, then the undue hardship claim might be accepted and the child support amount could be changed.
Can parents claim or deduct child support payments for income tax purposes?
This depends on 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 have a new order or agreement or varied 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.
Can support be reviewed or changed if my income changes?
You should review child support and any special or extraordinary expenses at least once a year. Parents are required to keep their financial information up to date. It is a good plan to exchange income tax returns every June 1st and determine the amount of child support using the tables and, if applicable, any formula that may be agreed to based on your parenting circumstances. The new amount could begin, based on agreement, July 1st.
If you have a court order that is registered with the Maintenance Enforcement Program you will need a new court order to change the amount the Maintenance Enforcement Program will collect.
You may get a new court order by agreement with the other parent and then register it with the court for approval by a judge. If there is a registered agreement or a court order for child support and you and the other parent cannot agree to change it based on a change in income, the person paying or receiving support can apply to the court to ask for a change.
If your registered agreement or a court order specifically allows for it, you may be able to use Nova Scotia's Administrative Recalculation of Child Support Program without having to make a court application, pay a court filing fee, or negotiate with each other.
What is the Maintenance (Support) Enforcement Program?
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, and MEP Online services. To get information about MEP and more information go to mep.novascotia.ca/
After you log into the website you may be able to confirm:
- enrollment status
- amount of last payment
- present account balance
- last six enforcement actions.
The MEP has general information fact sheets on various topics, including Payor Responsibilities, Recipient Responsibilities, Special Expenses, Child Support Orders with No Terminating Events.
What can I do if support payments are not paid, or are late?
If you have a child support order, and you are having trouble getting your money, you should contact the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP).
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 (payor) makes payments through the program. The MEP then sends the payment to the parent receiving payments (recipient). If the payor fails to make payments, MEP may take action. Enforcement officers may garnish (deduct money from) wages or other payments due to the payor such as income tax refunds, Workers' Compensation Benefits, Canada Pension Plan benefits and employment insurance benefits. They may also seize bank accounts, revoke passports, and can require the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to suspend the payor's driving privileges.
All support 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 the payor and recipient must agree to opt out and must submit an opt out form 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 submit a Request for Withdrawal form asking to withdraw from the program. This request may or may not be approved, and you will be notified of the decision.
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 court order made. If you have an order for support 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 support is in arrears. You can also apply to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court for a contempt order. It is best to speak with a lawyer first.
Can court orders be enforced outside Nova Scotia?
Yes. Court orders can 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 support 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 try to find the payor. Changes are coming to that law that will allow for the release of information from the federal government to disclose where a payor is.
Updating your child support amount—recalculation
The Administrative Recalculation of Child Support program makes it easier for parents to update child support amounts in a court order or registered agreement.
The Administrative Recalculation of Child Support Program recalculates the table amount of child support where a court order or registered agreement allows for this to happen. The recalculation happens once a year at the time of the anniversary of the court order. The Program recalculates certain child support orders based on updated income information provided by the parent paying support. The person paying support is called the ‘payor.’
Only orders that have a section in them saying that they are a part of this Program can be considered for recalculation. There are other requirements for using this Program as well, like what the payor’s income source is. The Program allows parents to update the table amount of child support without having to file a court application, pay a filing fee or negotiate with each other to make the child support update.
What if I have not updated child support in several years and the payor's income has changed a lot?
If you do not update the child support agreement or order regularly you may find that when you do the payor's income has changed significantly, or that there are section 7 expenses that are not included in the original order.
There is no automatic retroactive (back-dated) adjustment to a child support order. This can be complicated and there are a number of legal factors that must be looked at. It best to get legal advice and apply to court right away if you cannot reach an agreement with the payor.
For more information
- For more information on the Federal Child Support Guidelines, you can contact the Department of Justice Canada toll-free at 1-888-373-2222, or visit their website at justice.gc.ca.
- For information on the tax treatment of child support, contact the Canada Revenue Agency at 1-800-959-8281.
- Go to nsfamilylaw.ca for further child support information, including about the Administrative Recalculation of Child Support Program.
Last reviewed: January 2023
Reviewed for legal accuracy by: Lawyer Shelley Hounsell-Gray, KC
Thank you to Justice Canada for funding to help update our legal information on divorce.