Extraordinary Expenses: Special Child Support Payments (Section 7)

childsupport, section 7, family law, extraordinary expense

How extraordinary expenses work

When people with a child or children separate or divorce, child support payments are often a part of two parents living separately. While there is a federal table that outlines child support guidelines, there are other expenses that fall outside of regular child support payments. These special child support payments for non-ordinary things are called “Section 7” (or s.7) or extraordinary expenses. Section 7 refers to the section in the Federal Child Support Guidelines (“Guidelines”) that deals with these expenses.

What are Section 7 Child Support Payments For?

The Guidelines were established it make child support fair for the separated and divorced parents, provide properly for the children, and to be easy to calculate. They were created to reduce conflict between parents and make the determination of child support payments straightforward. Section 7 of the Guidelines was created to deal with all of the expenses not included in the calculation of basic (or Section 3) child support. The Guidelines call these “Special or Extraordinary Expenses”.

How Does The Law Define Extraordinary Expenses?

Extraordinary expenses are defined in s.7 of the Guidelines as follows:

expenses that exceed those that the spouse requesting an amount for the extraordinary expenses can reasonably cover, taking into account that spouse’s income and the amount that the spouse would receive under the applicable table or, where the court has determined that the table amount is inappropriate, the amount that the court has otherwise determined is appropriate.

Section 7 also says that where the above definition is not applicable, it will include expenses that the court considers as “extraordinary”. Because of this, the courts may be called on to determine s.7 expenses, and there is no comprehensive list for every possible expense that is extraordinary. The factors that an Alberta court will look at primarily include:

  1. The amount of the expense in relation to the income of the parent requesting the amount, including the amount of other child support they already receive;
  2. The nature and number of educational programs and extracurricular activities;
  3. Any special needs and talents of the children;
  4. The overall cost of the programs and activities; and
  5. Any other similar factors that the court considers relevant.

Common Section 7 Expenses

Some common Section 7 expenses include:

  1. Childcare Costs. This includes expenses for daycare services, babysitters, or after-school care due to the parents’ work or study commitments.
  2. Medical and Dental Expenses. This includes covering medical and dental costs, including prescription medications and orthodontic treatments, that are not covered by insurance (or the portion that is not covered by insurance).
  3. Medical and Dental Insurance Payments. This includes only that portion of the insurance premiums that is attributable to the children.
  4. Extracurricular Activities. These are costs related to a child’s participation in sports, music lessons, or educational programs.
  5. Post-Secondary Education. These are expenses associated with a child’s pursuit of higher education, such as tuition, books, and living arrangements.

What Expenses Are Not Special or Extraordinary Expenses?

Extraordinary or special expenses are just as the name implies – special or extraordinary. These are non-regular expenses needed to help raise the child or children. Examples of expenses that would not constitute a section 7 expense include costs associated with regular meals, laundry, day to day clothing, normal school costs, babysitting (for purposes other than work or study), allowance, and others. These types of “regular” expenses associated with raising children are already accounted for in the basic child support under ss.3, 8, or 9 of the Guidelines.

Expenses Not Clearly Section 7 Or Regular Support?

Not all extra expenses for the child fall into the category of a Section 7 expense. Expenses which are often a point of contention include: school fees and supplies, bus passes, cell phones, major clothing items (winter boots / jackets), clothing items required for sports, and extra-curriculars which are not overly expensive.

In a primary parenting situation (where one parent has parenting time more than 60% of the time) some expenses are the responsibility of the parent receiving support. These expenses are already accounted for by the basic support.

In a shared parenting situation parents will often agree that additional expenses such as major clothing items, all extra-curricular, school supplies, school fees and cell phones are to be split either 50/50 or as a Section 7 expense. This is because both parents are bearing the costs of the children’s day-to-day life. It is important for the parents to agree on this before incurring the expense.

The law is not clear on what will be a Section 7 expense if the expense does not clearly fall under the Section 7 language. Judges have consistently varied on what they each think is an appropriate s.7 expense. For example, some judges will order that the cost of a cell phone is a s.7 expense, and others will not. Because of this it is always best to discuss these issues in advance and agree with your partner on what is a Section 7 expense prior to incurring it.

Enrolling a Child Without Informing the Other Parent: Legal Implications

Sometimes a parent will enroll a child in an extracurricular activity without letting the other parent know. This often leads to conflict, with the uninformed parent refusing to contribute to the expense. It is possible that a Court might agree with the uniformed parent’s position, and not make them contribute. It is very important for parents to agree on the extracurricular expense if both parents are going to contribute financially.

If the parents cannot agree on a s.7 expense, as with any dispute in a family law context, there are a number of options:

1. Do nothing.

The parent that has paid for the expense can just accept that expense on their own without contribution from the other parent. Sometimes this will be the most affordable option;

2. Alternative Dispute Resolution

There are a number of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes available in family law matters, such as:

    1. Parenting Coordination. This is a process where the parents meet with a counsellor who serves as a mediator (or in some cases an arbitrator) to help the parents come to an agreement on this and other issues related to parenting their children;
    2. Lower income families may be able to use the free mediation services provided by the courts in Alberta for low income families. A mediator helps the parents come to an agreement, but does not make any decisions for the parents;
    3. Child Support Resolution Program. This is a program offered by the court in some areas that helps parents resolve issues specifically about child support, including s.7 expenses; and
    4. Represented Negotiation. In this process each party hires a lawyer to negotiate on their behalf. Often this can be an effective and efficient way to resolve disputes. The lawyers should be objective, not emotionally involved in the matter, and knowledgeable about the law. This can help them get their clients to a resolution;
    5. Judicial Dispute Resolution (“JDR”). In the Alberta Court of Justice, this is often a viable option for resolving any dispute. This is like mediation, except the “mediator” is a Justice of the court, and they will give each parent a sense for what the result might be if they had to get a Judge to make a decision. This often encourages parties to come to an agreement on their own. If the parties to agree, the result will be a court order granted by the Justice at the JDR.

3. Third-Party Decision Maker

Where the parents cannot agree on their own or using any number of ADR processes, the final option is to have someone else make the decision for them. This would be either a Judge (using the regular court “litigation” system), or an arbitrator.

How are Extraordinary Expenses Split Between Parents

Parents can agree how to share the s.7 or extraordinary expenses. The default rule, however, is that parents share the expenses proportionately according to their income. For example, if both parents have an equal income, then the special child care expenses will be split equally. If one parent earns $25,000 and the other parent earns $75,000, then the extraordinary expenses will be split with the lower income earner paying 25% of the expenses, and the higher income earner paying 75%.

Need Help Negotiating, Determining or Securing Section 7 Expenses?

The family law lawyers at Kahane Law Office are very familiar with special / extraordinary child support expenses. Our Calgary and Edmonton family law lawyers help clients with all aspects of family law disputes. They can help you negotiate with the other parent, as well as navigate any of the other processes mentioned above – including go to court for you if necessary. They can help secure payment of outstanding child support payments as well. For more information or to set up an appointment to learn more about claiming or refuting these expenses, call today. We can be reached in Calgary, Alberta at 403-225-8810 and [email protected], or in Edmonton, Alberta at 780-571-8463 and [email protected].