April 6, 2002
Man cut off from son at birth must pay support
Full amount owed even though stepfather also pays, Ontario court ordersCristin Schmitz
OTTAWA - A Toronto man whose former lover excluded him from his 17-year-old son's life since birth must pay her the full amount owed under the child-support guidelines, even though the teenager's stepfather also pays the full amount of support, the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled.
In the latest "multiple parent" situation to confront Canadian family law courts, a three-judge appellate panel unanimously affirmed in late March that William Michael Zaver, a City of Toronto public health inspector, must pay Deborah Ann Wright $509 per month based on Mr. Zaver's $60,260 annual income.
In the lower court and on appeal Mr. Zaver, who had a net worth in 1998 of $428,248, unsuccessfully argued that his support obligation should be reduced to, in effect, share his liability with the boy's stepfather, who treated the child as his own during a nine-year marriage to Ms. Wright.
"While it is true that neither [the child] nor Mr. Zaver has had the opportunity of a personal relationship with the other, Mr. Zaver has had a holiday from support for many years. There is no indication that it will be an undue financial burden for him to pay support in accordance with the Ontario guidelines," the appeal court said in reasons for the judgment that are binding in Ontario, and persuasive on courts in other provinces.
The Court of Appeal ruled that under the guidelines, biological parents and adoptive parents are not permitted to have their child- support obligations reduced from the amounts stipulated in the guidelines to reflect the obligations of other "parents" such as step-parents, who may also be responsible for supporting a child. Conversely, the child-support guidelines do allow step-parents to ask a judge assessing child support against them to set the amount taking into account the legal duty of a biological or adoptive parent to support the same child.
Under an agreement with Douglas Wright, from whom she separated in 1999, Ms. Wright also receives monthly child support of $879 to pay for their daughter and for her son.
Her estranged husband agreed to pay Ms. Wright the full amount of child support specified for two children in the child-support guidelines in return for concessions related to the pair's matrimonial property.
Soon after the birth of their son in 1985, Mr. Zaver asked Ms. Wright to leave. She sued for custody and support. Mr. Zaver denied paternity, "an attitude which had earlier factored into the demise of their relationship," observed the trial judge.
Ms. Wright denied Mr. Zaver and his family all contact with the child. The pair signed a contract four months after the birth in which they agreed that Mr. Zaver would pay $4,000 in full settlement for child support, although he did not admit paternity. He agreed never to contact the child and she agreed not to make any further financial demands.
A year after his son was born, Mr. Zaver changed his mind, admitted paternity, sued for access, and offered to make monthly payments of $100.
Faced with Ms. Wright's vehement objections, he withdrew his access application, alleging he was "unable to handle what he thought would be a long and bitter battle," says the trial decision. He had no contact with his son.
Thirteen years later, Ms. Wright sued him for child support when her marriage broke down. She claimed a monthly shortfall of $120 in a budget for her household that the Court of Appeal described as "not only reasonable but bare bones."
The appeal court concluded it was not "inequitable" for Mr. Zaver to pay child support since "Ms. Wright is no longer able to meet all of [the child's] financial needs independently of Zaver, even with the benefit of the additional resources provided by Wright."
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