Federal Child Support Guidelines: What Ontario Families Need to Know

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The following questions and answers provide some basic information for Ontario families about the federal Child Support Guidelines which affect the calculation of child support.

Child support is the financial contribution paid by a parent to help provide for his or her children, who are not in that person's custody.

On May 1, 1997, the federal government passed changes to the federal Divorce Act for families whose child support orders are made in divorce cases.

On December 1, 1997, the Ontario government changed its Family Law Act so that all Ontario children would be treated in the same way, regardless of whether their child support orders or agreements are made under the Divorce Act or under the Family Law Act.

In addition, the federal government made income tax changes that affect child support payments, effective May 1, 1997. They apply to all court orders and agreements made on or after May 1, 1997

Q1 - What are the Changes?

A - The federal Guidelines apply to new or revised child support orders made under federal law on or after May 1, 1997. This covers parents who receive an order as a result of a divorce.

Since Ontario changed its Family Law Act, the federal method of calculating child support also applies to child support cases that fall under provincial law. This means that as of December 1, 1997, all new or revised child support orders issued to parents who are separated or who were never married are now covered by the Guidelines.

The Family Law Act also covers all child support agreements that were never part of a court order. The Guidelines apply to parents with these out-of-court agreements if either parent decides to bring the matter of child support before the courts.

The federal government also changed the income tax law as it applies to child support payments effective May 1, 1997. This income tax change applies to all new or revised court orders or agreements made on or after May 1, 1997. It does not matter whether the orders or agreements were made under federal or provincial law.

Q2 - How do the Child Support Guidelines work?

A - The federal government has developed a table that parents and judges now use to calculate child support payments. This child support table is based on the income of the parent who pays support and the number of children entitled to support. The same table applies under both the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act.

There is some flexibility allowed in the Child Support Guidelines for the amount of support to be more or less than the amount set out in the table in certain circumstances.

The federal government has a number of publications explaining in more detail how the Guidelines work. These documents are included in this information kit. The federal government's toll-free number is 1-888-373-2222 and (613) 946-2222 for Ottawa-area callers.

How Do the Guidelines Apply to Me?

Q3 - If I have a child support order or agreement that was made before the Guidelines came into effect, do I have to do anything?

A - If your court order or agreement was made before the federal law changed on May 1, 1997, or before the provincial law changed on December 1, 1997, you don't have to do anything if you are satisfied with your current arrangement. These changes do not affect your child support arrangements unless one or both parents ask the court for a new child support order.

Q4 - What if both parents want to change their child support order to reflect the Guidelines?

A - The Guidelines apply to new or revised court orders under the Divorce Act made on or after May 1, 1997 and to Family Law Act orders made on or after December 1, 1997. If you and the other parent want to change your child support order and if you agree on an amount that is consistent with the Guidelines, you still must ask the court to change your order to have the Guidelines apply. Cases will move through the courts faster if both parents agree on the amount of support.

Q5 - What if one parent wants to change an existing child support order or agreement to reflect the Guidelines and the other parent does not?

A - If a child support order already exists, either parent can ask the court to change it. Similarly, if there is an agreement and both parents cannot agree on changing it to reflect the Guidelines, either parent can ask the court for a court order and the Guidelines will apply.

Q6 - What if both parents want to make a change to an existing court order for an amount that is different from the Guidelines?

A - If you have an existing court order for child support you may go back to court to change the order. If both parents agree on what the amount of support should be, and it differs from the amount in the Guidelines, the judge may award the amount that is proposed by the parents if the judge is satisfied that this amount is reasonable for the support of the child. Generally, cases move faster through the courts if both parties agree on the amount of support.

Q7 - What if I had already started proceedings to obtain an order under the Family Law Act prior to December 1, 1997?

A - If you have already started proceedings to obtain or change your support order, but the court has not begun to consider the facts of your case, except to give you a temporary order, the court will use the Guidelines when it makes the final order.

Q8 - What if I negotiate a child support agreement out-of-court?

A - If you negotiate a child support agreement out-of-court, you are not bound by the Guidelines. However, you may wish to use them as a guide to help you determine the amount of child support.

If you decide to have your agreement changed into a court order, or decide to seek a divorce, the court must consider the Guidelines when determining the amount of support or when determining whether to grant the divorce.

In all of these cases, if the amount of support is agreed to after May 1, 1997, the new tax rules apply. For information about tax changes, please call the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency toll-free at 1-800-959-8281 for service in English and 1-800-959-7383 for service in French.

Q9 - What if I already have a child support agreement that was negotiated out-of-court and want to change it?

A - If you have already made an agreement before the changes came into effect, it is a good idea to review your agreement.

If you and the other parent have an existing agreement that was made out-of-court, and you both agree to change the amount, you do not have to go to court to do so. You can make the change yourselves.

If the new amount is agreed to after May 1, 1997, the new tax rules apply.

If one or both parents want to vary the amount of support after the laws changed, but cannot agree on the new amount, then either parent may ask the court for a child support order and the Guidelines will be used to determine the amount of support.

Q10 - What if there is shared or split custody of the children?

A - If there is shared or split custody of the children, the Guidelines contain special provisions for calculating the amount of support. These provisions are discussed in a publication called "The Federal Child Support Guidelines: A guide to the new approach." You may also want to discuss shared or split custody issues with a lawyer.

Q11 - Do these Guidelines and tax rules apply to spousal support orders?

A - No. Neither of these rules apply to spousal support orders.

However, where a parent applies for both child support and spousal support, child support takes priority.

Q12 - What is the difference between the Child Support Guidelines and the enforcement of child support orders through the Family Responsibility Office (formerly the Family Support Plan)?

A - The Guidelines deal only with how to calculate the amount of child support to be paid. They do not deal with the enforcement of child support orders or agreements, which is done by the Family Responsibility Office.

Do the Tax Changes Affect Me?

Q13 - How do the tax changes for child support work?

A - The federal government changed the income tax rules which apply to child support orders or agreements made on or after May 1, 1997. As a result of these changes, the parent who receives child support will not pay income tax on the child support payments. The parent who pays child support will not be able to deduct those payments for income tax purposes.

If your child support arrangements were made prior to May 1, the income tax changes do not automatically apply to you. You will have to ask for the changes to apply. For information, contact the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency at 1-800-959-8281 for service in English, and 1-800-959-7383 for service in French.

Q14 - I am satisfied with the amount of child support I am receiving under an order made before May 1, 1997, but would like to have the new tax rules apply. Can I do this?

A - If you want information on how the new tax rules can be applied to existing child support orders, call the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency at 1-800-959-8281 for service in English or 1-800-959-7383 for service in French.

Q15 - Do the federal income tax changes affect child support orders or agreements under the provincial Family Law Act?

A - Yes, if those orders or agreements are made after May 1, 1997, the income tax changes apply.

How Do I Assess the Impact of these Changes on My Situation?

Q16 - How do I know if I will be better off under the Guidelines?

A - Parents who have an existing order and are thinking about asking for a change to that order will have to consider the impact of the federal income tax changes as well as the amount calculated under the Guidelines.

Because of the tax changes, you may not be able to determine this information just by comparing your current support to the table.

If you need more information, please consult the sources listed on the last page. They will give you information, but cannot provide legal advice. If you need legal advice, you may wish to talk to a lawyer. Please be advised that staff at Ontario government court offices cannot advise you about the impact of the Guidelines on your particular financial situation.

Q17 - Do I need a lawyer to use the Guidelines?

A - No, you are not required to use a lawyer but it is often a good idea to do so. The Law Society Referral Service may be able to assist you in obtaining a lawyer in your area. That lawyer will provide a half-hour free consultation. Should you wish to have a lawyer review your specific case, the telephone number for the service is 1-800-268-8326.

Q18 - Can Legal Aid help me with the Guidelines?

A - If you want a lawyer and think you may be entitled to Legal Aid, you should contact your local Legal Aid office to determine if you are eligible. Your local office is listed in the white pages of your telephone directory under Legal Aid Ontario.

Q19 - Is there a deadline by which I must ask that the Guidelines apply to an existing order or agreement?

A - No. There is no deadline. You should consider your situation, take a look at the information that is available, and get some expert advice if you feel you need it. New support amounts will apply only after a new support order is made, unless otherwise specified by the court.

What Information Must I Provide to the Court to Change My Child Support Order or Agreement?

Q20 - Will the court need to see my existing court order or agreement in order to change it?

A - Yes.

Q21 - How will I obtain a copy of my existing child support order if I can't find the original?

A - To obtain a copy of your support order, contact the lawyer who handled your case, or if possible, the other parent. You can also fill out a form at the court that issued your child support order to request a copy. This form is also included in this information kit. If you cannot send the completed form to the court that issued your order, send or take it to your local family court. You can find the number and location of your local court office in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory under Ontario Government - Ministry of the Attorney General under Courts.

Q22 - What other information will I have to provide to the court to get my child support order or agreement changed?

A - The courts will continue to require various documents, including, but not limited to an application form, financial statement and support deduction order information form. If you are uncertain about the information that is needed, contact your local court office, since requirements differ depending on the type of court.

In addition to these documents, the new law requires the filing of other information on the income of the parent who pays child support. For the Guidelines to work properly, it is necessary to have all the information about the payor's income. If you are receiving support payments, in some cases, you also may have to provide information about your income. This applies, for example, if a request is made for an amount of support which differs from the amount in the table.

This information kit includes a checklist of the new income information you will be required to provide.

Q23 - What if the other parent of my children will not give me the information I require?

A - If the other parent will not cooperate, you may need to apply to the court to obtain a new order or to change your existing support order. Applying to the court will oblige the other parent to provide the information to you.

Should the other parent still refuse to provide the information, the court may impose serious penalties on that parent.

Q24 - What is the fastest way to get a new support order?

A - The fastest way to obtain a new support order is for both parents to reach an agreement on the amount of child support before asking the court to make the order.

Q25 - Where can I obtain the forms to change my child support order?

A - Contact your local family court office for information. Many courts that deal with family law issues provide these forms on site. If not, court staff will advise you where to obtain these court forms locally. You can find the number and location of your local court office in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory under Ontario Government - Ministry of the Attorney General under Courts.

Q26 - Where do I file the request to change my child support order?

A - If you are asking the court to change the amount of child support, you can go back to the same court that made your order.

If you are uncertain about which court to go to, you may want to ask your lawyer or your local family court office staff. You can find the number and location of your local court office in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory under Ontario Government - Ministry of the Attorney General under Courts.

If you don't have your original child support order, which you need when you apply to change it, please see the answer to question 21.

Q27 - What is the cost of filing my request to change my child support order?

A - You should ask staff in the court office where you are filing your request for their list of court fees, which will include the cost of changing your order.

Q28 - How long will it take to get a new child support order?

A - How quickly cases flow through the courts depends on both the complexity of the case and whether the parents agree. Cases will proceed faster if both parents agree or consent prior to appearing in court. More complex cases will require more time.

Social Assistance Recipients and the Child Support Guidelines.

Q29 - What do these changes mean for social assistance recipients?

A - The law requires social assistance clients to seek out all available sources of income, including child support. The Guidelines do not change this obligation.

For support orders or agreements made after December 1, 1997, under the Family Law Act, social assistance recipients cannot agree to an amount of child support which is lower than the amount calculated by the Child Support Guidelines.

If you are being paid child support and you are receiving or have received social assistance, you should contact your case worker if you or the other parent wants to apply for a change in the amount of child support.

If you are paying child support to someone who is receiving social assistance and your order is, or ever has been assigned to the Ministry of Community, Family and Children's Services or a municipal Social Services department, you must inform them when you apply to change your order. To find out if your order is, or has been assigned, contact the Ministry of Community, Family and Children's Services' Confirmation of Assignment Unit. Please see the "Confirmation of Assignment Form" in this package for more information.

If you are receiving social assistance and you want to apply for a child support order, you should contact your case worker for assistance. There are social assistance workers who help clients in obtaining child support.

Where Can I Get More Help?

You can call a toll-free long-distance number and talk to someone and you can ask for more information to be sent to you. You can also go to your local court office for more information. Be sure to also ask about public information sessions which may be held in your community.

Information Sources at a Glance

Federal Government

Call 1-888-373-2222
Ottawa area: (613) 946-2222
Internet: http://canada.justice.gc.ca

  • Answers to questions about the Guidelines and how they work.
  • Publications (including tables).

Canada Customs and Revenue Agency

Call 1-800-959-8281 (English)
Call 1-800-959-7383 (French)

  • Answers to income tax questions.

Ontario Government

Internet: Ontario.ca/attorneygeneral

  • General information about the court process and the Guidelines.
  • Publications (including tables).

Court Staff

Check the Blue Pages of your telephone directory under Ontario Government - Ministry of the Attorney General - look under Courts.

  • Information about the court process and local services.
  • Publications.

Please note that these information services cannot give you advice on your personal situation. If you require such advice, you may wish to consult a lawyer.

The Law Society Referral Service may be able to assist you in obtaining legal counsel in your area.