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Does A Stepparent Pay BC Child Support?

Does A Stepparent Pay BC Child Support? Do stepparents have stepparent child support obligations in British Columbia? If so, how much child support and for how long? What about the biological parent’s duty to pay child support?  In today’s blog by Manbeen Saini, we answer the burning question concerning Does A Stepparent Pay BC Child Support?

Does A Stepparent Pay BC Child Support?

Although parents have the primary obligation to pay child support, stepparents, under certain circumstances, may also be responsible for paying child support in British Columbia. Our top-rated step parent-child support obligation lawyers are ready to help across BC and in Calgary Alberta.

Lorne MacLean, QC won for a stepparent by adding a biological father so support obligations could be fairly allocated between the two biological parents and our successful client.

This article explains circumstances under which a step-parent may owe a duty to pay child support and where does a step parent’s duty to pay child support fit in relation to that of a natural parent? Let’s find out the answer to the question: Does A Stepparent Pay BC Child Support?

Family Law Act Rules On Support

Part 7 of the Family Law Act of British Columbia (the “FLA”) governs the law relating to child support. Section 146 of the FLA defines the terms child, parent and step-parent as they relate to child support obligations: 

“child” includes a person who is 19 years of age or older and unable, because of illness, disability or another reason, to obtain the necessaries of life or withdraw from the charge of his or her parents or guardians;

“parent” includes a stepparent, if the stepparent has a duty to provide for the child under section 147 (4) [duty to provide support for child]; and

“stepparent” means a person who is a spouse of the child’s parent and lived with the child’s parent and the child during the child’s life.

Note: for the purposes of the FLA, a spouse includes both legally married spouses and those who have lived in a marriage-like relationship for a continuous period of at least two (2) years or more.  

Section 147 of the FLA outlines the general duty to provide support for a child. It reads:

147 (1) Each parent and guardian of a child has a duty to provide support for the child, unless the child

  1. is a spouse, or
  1. is under 19 years of age and has voluntarily withdrawn from his or her parents’ or guardians’ charge, except if the child withdrew because of family violence or because the child’s circumstances were, considered objectively, intolerable.
  1. If a child referred to in subsection (1) (b) returns to his or her parents’ or guardians’ charge, their duty to provide support for the child resumes.

(3) If a guardian who is not the child’s parent has a duty to provide support for that child, the guardian’s duty is secondary to that of the child’s parents.

Section 147 (4) and (5) of the FLA provides for the circumstances under which a step-parent may have a duty to pay child support and states:

(4) A child’s stepparent does not have a duty to provide support for the child unless

  1. the stepparent contributed to the support of the child for at least one year, and

(b) a proceeding for an order under this Part, against the stepparent, is started within one year after the date the stepparent last contributed to the support of the child.

(5) If a stepparent has a duty to provide support for a child under subsection (4), the stepparent’s duty

  1. is secondary to that of the child’s parents and guardians, and
  1. extends only as appropriate on consideration of

(i) the standard of living experienced by the child during the relationship between the stepparent and his or her spouse, and

(ii) the length of time during which the child lived with the stepparent.

Therefore, a step-parent’s duty to pay child support only arises if the stepparent has contributed to the support of the child for at least one year and the claim for child support is made within one year after the date on which the stepparent last contributed towards the support of the child. 

Stepparent Child Support Obligations

If it is determined that a stepparent indeed owes a duty to pay child support, the step-parent’s responsibility comes after that of the child’s natural parent/guardian. Additionally, the duty is limited by the consideration of how long the step-parent lived with the child and the standard of living the child had during the relationship between the step-parent and parent. 

The recent decision of Sullivan v. Struck, 2018 BCCA 256 (“Sullivan”) outlines the proper approach to determine the nature of a step-parent’s duty and where it sits concerning the duty of the child’s parent/guardian. 

In Sullivan, the British Columbia Court of Appeal held that in cases involving stepparents and their child support obligations, the proper approach is to first determine the natural parent’s obligation and then determine the stepparent’s obligation, bearing in mind the objectives of the Federal Child Support Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) and the child’s standard of living. 

Section 5 of the Guidelines give courts a discretionary power to depart from the child support table amounts for stepparents; it reads:

5. Where the spouse against whom a child support order is sought stands in the place of a parent for a child, the amount of a child support order is, in respect of that spouse, such amount as the court considers appropriate, having regard to these Guidelines and any other parent’s legal duty to support the child. 

In confirming Justice Newbury’s findings in H.(U.V.) v. H. (M.W.), 2008 BCCA 177, the Honourable Judge in Sullivan stated:

[30] Of importance to the facts of this case are the following points made by Newbury J.A.: 

Both the stepparent and natural parents, or, at the least, evidence relating to their circumstances, should be before the court. 

When determining the quantum of a stepparent’s child support obligations under s. 5 of the Guidelines, the first step in the analysis is to determine the child support obligation of the “other” (i.e. natural) parent. The quantum of the biological parent’s obligation will be the table amount, as per the inflexible rule in s. 3 of the Guidelines (unless one of the discretionary provisions in the Guidelines applies, such as s. 3(2)(b) for children over the age of majority). 

Does A Stepparent Pay BC Child Support?

The natural parent’s obligations are not determined by balancing or apportioning obligations between the natural parent and the stepparent. In other words, a natural parent cannot seek to reduce his or her child support obligation by asking the court to order a stepparent to contribute to that obligation. Any support payable by the stepparent goes toward increasing the total amount accruing to the child, not to helping the biological parent meet the expense of his or her support obligation. 

Once the court has determined the duty of the biological parent under the Guidelines, the court may determine the stepparent’s obligation concerning the objectives in s. 1 of the Guidelines and the child’s standard of living. Section 1 of the Guidelines includes the objective of establishing “a fair standard of support for children that ensures that they continue to benefit from the financial means of both spouses after separation”. If the biological parents are unable to provide a fair standard of support, the court may order the stepparent to pay child support “on top of” the support provided by the biological parents. 

While s. 3 of the Guidelines imposes an inflexible obligation on a biological parent, s. 5 gives the court the flexibility to depart from rigid adherence to the table amounts concerning stepparents. 

Contact Our Top-Rated Family Lawyers Early To Know Your Rights

Therefore, in determining how much support a step-parent should pay, the first step is to determine the biological parent’s obligations under s. 3 of the Guidelines. In this part of the analysis, the courts do not have the discretion to depart from the table amounts. Once the biological parent’s Guideline amount is determined, the analysis then moves to determining the step-parent’s obligations in light of the objectives outlined in s. 1 of the Guidelines. Here, the courts have the discretion to depart from the table amounts and may order the stepparent to pay child support on top of the support provided by the biological parents (if the biological parent is unable to provide a fair standard of support to the child) or reduce the step parent’s obligation to zero, if appropriate in the given circumstances. 

We hope this blog on Does A Stepparent Pay BC Child Support? helped you understand the laws and factors the Courts apply in child support cases involving stepparent child support obligations. To get specific legal advice concerning stepparent child support obligations, meet with us today.

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