April 15, 2002

Four ways to even the scales

By Rick Fowler, Director, (Equitable Child Maintenance And Access Society, Edmonton)
The Report Newsmagazine

1. Problem: There is currently no system to rectify a decrease in income other than to take it back to court. When the payment is causing a serious financial burden on the debtor, it is unrealistic to then ask him or her to pay a lawyer to return to court and apply for a variance on the support order to reflect current income.

Solution: The "automatic recalculation process" now used in Newfoundland and Labrador is a new type of support order, which must be con-sensual to both parties. The debtor must submit yearly tax returns to a recalculation officer. If the income varies more than $5 up or down, the amount of support is automatically calculated and adjusted without anyone having to go to court.

2. Problem: "Global [ambiguous] court orders." In a file involving two or more children in which the support amount in the court order is not specific as to how much exactly per child should be paid (e.g.: =B0$200 for John, $200 for Mary," as opposed to the ambiguous "$400 for the children, John and Mary"), the program considers these to be "global." The full amount for all children will then be enforced until the youngest child finally becomes ineligible. Under the current system, theoretically, with two children 18 years apart, you could actually be paying child support to an exspouse for a 40yearold who may not have even seen her mother for 20 years.

Solution: MEP is building a Web site, "MEP Guide for Lawyers," providing samples of orders that work well.

3. Problem: "Adult child of the marriage." If you have separated from a common-law spouse, the terms of your support order will fall under provincial legislation; the end of child support is taken to be on the birth date of the age of majority. If, however, you were married, the terms of your support order fall under the Canada Divorce Act which, in effect, means support must be paid until the adult child has quit school or attained a post secondary degree, unless otherwise stated. This has proven to be a huge calamity for establishing eligibility when the adult child is jumping around, moving in and out, quitting school and going back.

Solution: This policy smacks of discrimination. Divorced, non-custodial parents are the only group of people in Canada forced by law to pay for the education of a person who is old enough to run for political office. Everyone wants their children to go to university, but not everyone can afford it. No one should be forced to pay child support for an adult unless that adult child is truly disabled.

4. Problem: "Federal child support guidelines" were brought in to establish a standard across the country. Studies examined the costs of raising children, and then these figures were inexplicably inflated. Furthermore, while the guidelines are already high, many judges use them as merely a starting point; extra expenses for children can go through the roof. And when an unfair court order is handed down, other judges are then reluctant to change it unless a serious change in circumstances has occurred.

Solution: Child support should be based on the actual cost of raising children. The state of Georgia, for example, has recently instituted a formula for calculating actual costs and taking into consideration the income and ability to pay of both parents, to be shared by both parents in a fair and equitable arrangement.

Copyright, 2002 The Report,