What Happens if You Don’t Pay Child Support in Canada?

Child support is every child’s right under Canadian law. Once your divorce decree is official your child support will be backed by court order.

Believe it or not, failing to pay support is a crime here in Canada. While this is rarely the first enforcement step, it is one you could be facing. Bottom line: no matter what financial issues you may be facing, failing to pay child support is a bad option. You have to at least turn around, face what’s going on, and put in a Motion for a Modification of Support.


Penalties for Failing to Pay Child Support

One of the first penalties you’ll suffer is wage garnishment. The Family Responsibility Office is empowered to take the money right out of your paycheck. The FRO is also empowered to charge additional fines and fees for failing to pay support. Your spouse’s lawyer will almost certainly have your agreement registered with the FRO.

In some families, the money will be taken out automatically from day one of the divorce, simply because the judge has so ordered it. This could be based on a judge’s fear that enforcement will be a problem with you, or it can be done as a matter of routine. In some cases you will have to make payments directly to the FRO until the automated deductions begin.

If you’re self-employed, of course, the FRO might not be able to do this. In this case, your bank accounts may be levied or your tax refunds may be seized. One way or another, the province will look for ways to get your support paid.

In most provinces, your driver’s license can be suspended for a failure to pay support. Your passport can also be revoked or denied.

Going to jail is a last-ditch step for going too far into arrears. Usually a judge will call a “show-cause” hearing first, which exists to get you to come in and explain why you aren’t meeting your obligations. Usually it’s far better to ask for a modification before it comes to that.


Your Options if You Can’t Pay Child Support

You have few options if you can’t pay child support. Seeking a modification is one of the only ways that you can handle the situation without facing penalties. Modifications are available when you’ve experienced a true change in circumstances that keeps you from meeting your support obligations.

If your partner agrees, the modification can be made without going to court. You simply file an agreement to change the child support on consent. The change must still be in line with Canada’s child support guidelines. If your income has changed, for example, your spouse can agree to take child support for your new income under that entry on the child support guideline table.

Oce you file the request to change child support on consent the court will generally approve it and make a new consent order.

If you can’t get your partner’s consent, then you may have to get a motion to change filed, citing your new circumstances as the reason.


Applying to Stop Child Support

For most parents, child support will continue until the child is 19, and the end date for support will be right in the court order. Yet there are some circumstances that allow the child support to terminate sooner.

If your child is 18 and is no longer a dependent then you may be able to get your partner to agree to end child support early. If your adult child is still a dependent but is now living with you because they have the ability to make that decision as an adult, and you are caring for them, then you may be able to end support.

A 16-year old who willfully moves out to live with a friend or who runs away is said to have voluntarily left parental control. You may be able to apply to stop child support in this instance to, as the child’s other parent is no longer in a position to meet the child’s needs.

In all instances you should speak with a family law attorney. Changing child support is complex and if you don’t make your case effectively you might still be required to pay more than you can afford. This is especially true for business owners, commission workers, and self-employed individual who may keep the same profession from year to year but see wild fluctuations in income that will need to be communicated to the court.

Unfortunately imported income in these cases may far exceed what you actually take home, unless you work closely with an attorney who has an excellent understanding of all of the ways that variable income can impact child support.


Get Help Today

Child support is calculated by a formula that is relatively straightforward if one or both parents ear a regular paycheck that never varies. If you work on commission, are self-employed, earn bonuses, or earn royalties it gets quite a bit more complicated. In addition, special expenses and special circumstances can make the process more complex still, as can having an income above a certain cut-off, at which point the formulas no longer apply. Courts do take a close look at the life the child would have led had the marriage not come to an end, and is going to want more from a high-earning parent than they’d ask from a middle-class parent.

It is vital to be absolutely sure that the child support arrangement you end up with is one that you can live with and pay with ease. That’s where we come in. Our experienced team of child support lawyers can help you get terms that make sense. We’re known as savvy negotiators and tough litigators, and that means you’re likely to get a better deal with our help.

We help clients in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Contact Merchant Law to get started today.

About Donald I.M. Outerbridge

Donald became the Executive Director of Merchant Law Group LLP starting in 1993, nearly 30 years ago. His experience managing law firms at various levels and in multiple provinces across Canada goes back even further to 1981.