Child Support as a Step-Parent, divorce, parent, step-parent, adopt, foster, separation

Child Support as a Step-Parent

Parents have an obligation to provide support for their children. This is a well known law or principle of parenting. However, the role of step-parents providing child support is far less understood or discussed.

Generally, the purpose of child support is to maintain a similar standard of living for children when parents separate.  In fact, there is an obligation on those who “stand in the place of a parent”, also known as in “loco parentis“, to children to provide support upon separation and/or divorce.

Keep in mind, the determination of appropriate support arrangements for children can be a complicated process. Especially there there is an expectation for the child to receive support from their biological and/or adoptive parent(s) as well as any person(s) found to be standing in the place of a parent, all at the same time.

What Does “Standing In The Place Of A Parent” Mean For The Purpose Of Child Support?

The terms “standing in the place of a parent” and “loco parentis” do not have a definition in the Divorce Act. However, case law decisions canvass the issue.

Section 48 of the Family Law Act in Alberta addresses the issue more directly.  A person is standing in the place of a parent to a child if the person:

  • is the spouse of a parent of the child or is or was in a relationship of interdependence of some permanence with a parent of the child, and
  • has demonstrated a settled intention to treat the child as the person’s own child.

What Is A “Relationship Of Interdependence”?

The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act (Alberta) defines a “relationship of interdependence” as a relationship outside of marriage in which any 2 persons

  • share one another’s lives,
  • are emotionally committed to one another, and
  • function as an economic and domestic unit.

A common-law relationship is an example of a relationship of interdependence.

What Is A “Settled Intention”?

The definition of a settled intention to treat the child as the person’s own has been interpreted widely in the case law.  Generally, we consider the perspective from the Child’s perspective. Some questions which are considered:

  • Did the step-parent play a significant role in the Child’s life?
  • Did the child call the step-parent them ‘mom’ or dad’?
  • Did the step-parent and / or child tell each other they loved them?
  • Did they assist with day-to-day activities
  • Did they discipline the child?
  • Did they provide financial support for the child throughout the relationship?
  • What is the presence of the biological parent? Do they pay support and see the child?
  • Is there any documents which name the step-parent as a guardian to the child?
  • Is the step-parent an emergency contact for the child?
  • Post-separation, has the step-parent continued to have parenting time with the child.
  • Are there any other new siblings from the new relationship?

An important factor is that the analysis takes place during the relationship, not after.  As such, a step-parent cannot avoid their financial obligations to support the Child, by attempting to terminate the relationship with the child after separation.

Who Is A Child?

The definition of a “child” under the Family Law Act is a person

  • under the age of 18 years, or
  • a person 18 years or older who is under his or her parents charge and is unable by reason of
    • illness,
    • disability,
    • being a full-time student as determined in accordance with the prescribed guidelines, or
    • other cause to withdraw from his or her parents’ charge to obtain the necessaries of life.

This is very similar to the definition of “child of the marriage” in the Divorce Act.

What Is The Child Support Obligation For A Person Standing In The Place Of A Parent?

Section 5 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines provides that 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 the Guidelines and any other parent’s legal duty to support the child.

A similar provision is found at Section 5 of the Alberta Child Support Guidelines.

In short, the court has discretion to order whatever amount of support they deem appropriate in the circumstances.

How Long Must The Step-Parent Pay Child Support?

When an Order for child support is made in these instances it will last the duration of the Child’s status as “child of the relationship.” Often, this will be until the child is 18 years of age, or untiil the end of the child’s first post-secondary degree or longer. The decision is made by the Courts.

In Practice, What Do Courts Do?

Courts are not bound to a settlement between two natural parents when determining the support obligation of a person standing in the place of a parent.

Courts may reduce the table amount of child support owed by a person standing in the place of a parent. They can reduce it by the amount the child’s natural parent is required to pay under an order, whether or not the person standing in the place of a parent seeks to have the natural parent designated a party to the application.

Courts may decline to add a child’s biological parent as a party based on evidence that this parent is on welfare. In these cases, the biological parent’s financial obligation would be nominal and the primary financial obligation to the child would be that of the person standing in the place of a parent.

Courts may decline to add a parent as a party but order the person standing in the place of a parent to pay time-limited support. This support would give the natural parents time to adjust to the child becoming the responsibility of his or her natural mother and father.

How Can Kahane Law Office Help?

The experienced family lawyers at Kahane Law Office can help! We understand this complex area of the law and how it may apply in your circumstances.  Schedule an appointment with one of our family law lawyers by contacting our office today at 403 225 8810.