Parents have a natural and moral obligation to provide for their children. This goes without saying for most people. While living together, household expenses are often shared by both parents without any real established guidelines.

However, problems arise when parents separate. Sometimes, the parent who is asked to pay child support may feel that the amount is too high and that they are “supporting” their former life partner. Or the parent who is entitled to support may be uncomfortable asking for support or may be dissatisfied with the amount of support awarded. However, a well-informed person should see this as fair and reasonable.

Determining the amount of child support

In Quebec, child support is a matter of public order, meaning that it is mandatory and cannot be waived. Thus, in a legal context, any agreement between the parents or any renunciation by one of the parents has no legal effect and is not binding in court. However, in a context that is completely removed from the jurisdiction of the court, separated parents can do whatever they want and can deviate from the law as they see fit, as long as no one complains.

If the court is presented with an application for support, it has little discretion in determining the amount to be paid. The Child Support Determination Form determines the amount of child support to be paid, based on the following factors :

  • the respective income of the parties (from all sources, with certain exceptions);
  • the number of children;
  • custody arrangements;
  • childcare and other specific expenses;
  • in some cases, the assets and liabilities of the parties.

As a rule, in determining the amount of child support to be paid, the parents’ expenses and debts are not taken into account, with rare exceptions. It is therefore up to the parents to budget their expenses accordingly. 

It is important to note that even if parents share custody of their children equally, one parent may still have to pay child support. The goal is to ensure that the children maintain the same standard of living regardless of which parent they are with.

The purpose of child support is to cover a child’s 9 basic needs:

  1. housing;
  2. household maintenance;
  3. furnishings;
  4. clothing;
  5. food;
  6. personal care;
  7. recreation (basic);
  8. transportation (basic);
  9. Communications.

It is also considered that it covers the cost for public schooling, from primary to secondary, and basic school supplies.

Government collection and distribution

In order to facilitate the collection and distribution of support and to avoid any conflict between the parents in this matter, like many other jurisdictions, the Government of Québec assumes responsibility for the collection and distribution of support. Thus, the support-paying parent pays the support (through a payroll deduction, if they are employed) to Revenu Québec, which then distributes the support to the custodial parent. This ensures that accurate accounting records are kept. A parent who does not receive support, for whatever reason, does not have to do anything to receive payment (e.g. seizures), since Revenu Québec will do what is necessary.

Changes to the amount

Over time, the circumstances of families change. Sooner or later, the child support established at the time of separation may become inadequate, for example, because of a change in one parent’s income or a change in custody arrangements. Parents who have negotiated an amicable agreement without a court order can easily adjust the amount of child support. If a judgment has been rendered, it must be modified by going back to court; otherwise Revenu Québec is still required to apply it strictly, even if the parents agree to modify it. Family mediation is an excellent opportunity to review support payments inexpensively, since parents receive two and a half hours of mediation time, paid for by the government.

How long is it in effect?

Parents have an obligation to provide for their children until they can provide for themselves or they become financially independent. Contrary to popular belief, child support does not automatically end on the day the child turns 18. Thus, an adult child who is attending school full time should normally be entitled to support from their parents.

A child is considered to be financially independent when they receive schooling that enables them to obtain gainful employment, or when they are employed in an occupation that enables them to provide for their own costs of living.

The establishment of support for an adult child differs slightly from that for a minor child. The Child Support Determination Form becomes optional, while remaining a useful benchmark tool. In particular, the following elements will have to be taken into account when determining the amount of support payments:

  • The age of the child;
  • The child’s state of health;
  • Level or nature of education;
  • Marital status;
  • Place of residence;
  • Income;
  • Level of self-sufficiency;
  • If applicable, the time required to allow the child to acquire sufficient autonomy.

If the child no longer lives with either parent, they should receive financial support from both parents. Otherwise, the financial support should continue to be paid to the parent with whom the child resides.

On the other hand, from the age of 18, a child who has reached the age of majority has a certain obligation to contribute to some of their expenses. Understandably, young adults make their own choices and assume the costs (e.g. clothing, transportation, recreation, outings, etc.). Parents have the right to expect their adult child to hold a part-time job during their studies. Thus, a portion of the child’s income could be taken into consideration in determining the amount.

It should be noted that if the parents refuse or neglect to provide financial assistance to their adult child who is eligible, the child may seek legal recourse against both parents. Since the purpose of child support is to enable an adult child to complete their studies, become independent and meet their basic needs, an adult child must not claim financial assistance to satisfy their whims, must not have behaved reprehensibly towards their parents and must have taken the necessary steps to meet their needs.

There is also the case of an adult child who, because of an illness or disability, will never be able to achieve financial independence and will remain dependent on their parents.

Lastly, if a ruling is issued, in order for the collection and distribution of child support to cease, the government authorities will request a new ruling from a Superior Court judge. Thus, the parties will, once again, have to submit a new petition to the court, either by themselves or through a lawyer.

Child support: for the well-being of the child

In conclusion, child support is a fair measure to ensure the well-being of the child, regardless of custody arrangements. If you have any questions about child support, please do not hesitate to contact us for advice and assistance.