One of the most surprising areas of the law for clients is child support for step-children. Clients are often very surprised that they may be obligated to pay child support for a child to whom they are not a biological parent. An obligation to pay support can even arise when their ex is already being paid child support by the other biological parent.
Under the Family Law Act, SBC 2011, c 25 the definition of a parent includes step-parents. The obligation to provide support for a step-child is created when the step-parent has contributed to the support of the child for at least one year and the application against the step-parent for support is made within one year of the date when the step-parent last contributed. So in a situation where you have moved into a home with a partner and contributed to the well-being of their child (this can be by way of helping pay rent, mortgage, school supplies, groceries etc.) you may been on the hook for child support after one year.
Paying support for a step-child doesn’t mean that both biological parents are “off the hook”. In situations of a step-child, the obligation to pay support can rest on both the biological parents and the step-parent. Thus different “parents” can be paying support.
A biological parent will almost always be paying Child Support as calculated under the Child Support Guidelines (there are only a very few exceptions to this). When the biological parent is paying “Guideline” support, the step-parent’s support obligation will depend on various factors including how much more (or less) they may be earning than the biological parent paying support. Step-parents are often relieved to know that they are not often obliged to pay “Guideline” support.
Figuring out step-parent support can be complex. There are various methods for calculation but one that is often used is the “set-off” approach. This approach is illustrated by the following scenario:
1. Biological father earns $40,000 per year. His Guideline support is $364 per month;
2. Step-father earns $75,000 per year. His Guideline support is $701 per month; and
3. There is one child.
The set-off approach would allow the step-father to deduct the biological father’s Guideline amount ($364) from his Guideline amount ($701) for a total amount payable by the step-father of $337.
This is obviously better than paying full Guideline support for a step-child, but for some step-parents the revelation that they must pay child support to an ex who is already receiving support from the other biological parent is a shock!
~ Mark Norton