Child support is the right of the child. Parents have a legal obligation to support their children – even if they do not live with, take care of, or see the children
Once a court order or written agreement to pay child support is in place, it must be complied with. If the parent who is supposed to pay child support (known as the “payor” parent) does not do so, the money owed is called “arrears” and there are steps that can be taken to collect the arrears. In this post, our BC family lawyer will answer some top FAQs with respect to unpaid child support and how to collect arrears of child support.
FAQ #1 – Can a parent still see the children if child support is not paid?
Yes. This is because child support and parenting time are separate issues. Paying or failing to pay child support does not affect a parent’s right to parenting time. Two things flow from this:
• For the recipient parent (in other words, the parent to whom child support is paid): If the payor parent is not paying child support or is late to pay child support, you are not entitled to stop the payor parent from seeing the children for that reason.
• For the payor parent (the parent paying child support): You are not entitled to withhold child support payments or to pay less than the set amount if the other parent refuses to let you see your children.
FAQ #2 – Does it matter if child support is paid under an agreement instead of a court order?
No. An order of the court for the payment of child support is a mandatory direction and the parent who is owed child support can take steps to enforce the court order right away. However, many parents come to an agreement about child support without going to court. Such an agreement is a contract, and like any other contract, it can be enforced by the courts. The simplest way is to file the agreement in court. Once the agreement is filed with the court, it can be enforced as if it were a court order.
FAQ #3 – How are child support obligations enforced in BC?
In BC, child support obligations can be enforced in two ways:
1. A parent who is entitled to receive child support can enforce the child support order or agreement on their own through the courts (for example, by applying to the court for an order that property be sold to pay arrears or to garnish the payor parent’s wages). The process of applying to court to enforce an order or agreement for child support on your own is complicated, so you should consult with a BC family lawyer if you are considering this route.
2. The recipient parent can enrol with a free service provided by the provincial government, called the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (“FMEP”), which enforces support orders and agreements on behalf of the parent who is owed child support and/or section 7 expenses (also known as special and extraordinary expenses). For more information about the FMEP, have a look at their website fmep.gov.bc.ca or contact a BC family lawyer for help.
FAQ #4 – Can a parent pay less child support than required under the order or agreement?
No. The amount of child support set out in the court order or agreement is the amount that must be paid, unless the parties to the agreement make a new agreement or an application is made to court to vary the child support order or agreement. BC courts can change an order or agreement for child support if there has been a change in the circumstances of the parents or the children for whom support is paid. For example, a payor parent could apply to reduce the amount of child support if their income has decreased. The same is true for child support arrears. A payor parent cannot simply avoid paying arrears; he or she must apply to the court under Canada’s Divorce Act or the BC Family Law Act (depending on which law governs the original support order) for an order cancelling or reducing arrears that have accumulated. It is not easy to convince a court to cancel arrears of child support.
Need legal advice on BC child support from an experienced divorce lawyer?
If you need advice from a BC family lawyer with respect to child support rights and obligations given your specific circumstances, contact Valerie M. Little Family Law Corporation. Ms. Little's practice is exclusively devoted to issues of family law in Burnaby, Coquitlam, and New Westminster. No matter what family law questions or issues you might be facing, you will receive attentive care and understanding at the office of Valerie M. Little. For more information about our family law office or to schedule a consultation with our divorce lawyer, please call us today.