What Does Child Support Look Like in The Post Covid-19 Era?

child support

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy saw a hit, and Canada is no exception. Numerous businesses closed down, employees were laid off in record numbers, and the stock market plummeted. The economy is bleak in Canada, making it difficult for many Canadians to fulfill their support obligations and, in many cases, even their basic living expenses and debt obligations.

Canadian families have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the rest of the world. To support parents through this crisis, the Government of Canada has implemented the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) to make life more affordable for all families. As a result of the CCB, roughly nine of ten Canadian families have received more money, the middle class has grown, and nearly 435,000 children have been lifted out of poverty.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on May 28 that families eligible for the Canada Child Benefit would receive additional support of up to $1,200 per child under age six. Putting money directly into Canadian families’ pockets will help them better cope with the pressure of the pandemic.

The Canadian government will make up to four tax-free payments of $300 to families who earn less than $120,000. Up to four $150 tax-free payments can be received for families with earnings over $120,000, up to a maximum benefit of $6,000. The government will not provide additional payments to families with net incomes too high to be eligible for the CCB to ensure that more money goes to those who need it most.

Two payments will be on May 28, followed by two more on July 30 and October 29, 2021. Approximately 1.6 million Canadian families and 2.1 million children under six will benefit from this measure.

Due to the pandemic, many families with young children have struggled with a broad range of expenses. Through these payments, they will afford healthy food, short-term child care, and at-home learning activities. Despite finishing the fight against COVID-19 and building back better for all Canadians, the Canadian government will continue making life more affordable for Canadian families and growing the middle class.

Increasingly, support payors are asking whether they can reduce support payments since their income has dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here, the answer depends on the document (or lack thereof) describing the support obligations of the payor. These obligations can be described as follows:

  • A separation agreement or court order;
  • A separation agreement that has not been filed; or
  • In the absence of a separation agreement or court order, it is a statutory obligation under the Divorce Act or Family Law Act.

A further complicating factor is that the courts have temporarily suspended their regular operations and only hear urgent family matters, which do not include child and spousal support cases. You can get your family lawyer to help you assist in these matters. The BC Supreme Court has published a list of urgent and essential family matters they can hear. The provincial courts have also published notices. As soon as the courts return to normal operations, parties may file court applications addressing child and spousal support obligations retroactively to the pandemic’s beginning. 

Several questions have been raised regarding child and family support in these challenging times, resulting from the current COVID-19 epidemic and its impact on families and individuals. These FAQs address these concerns.

Child Support Obligation in Covid19

Child support or spousal arrears are occasionally accumulated because the payor failed to pay or paid less than the court order or separation agreement required. When the courts resume regular operations, the payor may wish to file a request to reduce or cancel arrears, in addition to an application to reduce support retroactively. Payors need to understand that applications to reduce or cancel arrears are subject to a high standard of “grossly unfair”. The payor is essentially coming to court with “unclean hands” since they have already violated the court order or separation agreement by not paying the required support payments. Judges typically do not look favourably upon parties who breach court orders or separation agreements.

A reduction or cancellation of arrears as provided for in Section 174 of the Family Law Act.

Reducing or cancelling arrears

When a court finds it would be grossly unfair not to reduce or cancel the arrears associated with child support or spousal support agreement, it may reduce or cancel them. The court may consider a person’s efforts to comply with the agreement or order concerning support, the reasons as to why the person cannot pay the arrears owed, and any other circumstances that the court considers relevant. In the case of arrears reduced under this section, a court may order that interest is not accrued on the reduced arrears if satisfied that doing otherwise would be grossly unfair. If arrears are cancelled under this section, a court may cancel interest that has accrued on the cancelled arrears under section 11.1 if it is satisfied that it would be grossly unfair not to cancel the interest.

Final Words

One cannot summarize the types of circumstances that satisfy the test of gross unfairness. Assessments must be made on a case-by-case basis. Arrears will only be cancelled or reduced in rare cases as the bar has been set very high. It is more difficult to establish gross unfairness than simplistic unfairness. Before cancelling arrears, the court must conclude that maintaining them would result in an injustice to the payor that the court cannot accept. 

If you want to learn more about topics like this, we can help you. All you have to do is contact us, and we would be happy to assist you. 

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Written by: the Divorce Fast Team

Our team of Ontario lawyers has over 15 years of experience handling divorce and other family law matters.

All of our lawyers are in good standing with the Law Society of Ontario, and have the knowledge and experience to help and guide you through your family law issues. Whether your matter pertains to divorce, separation, custody/access, or support claims, we are the firm for you.

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