Contino v. Leonelli-Contino: It’s Impact on Child Support Guidelines in Alberta

Contino v. Leonelli-Contino: It’s Impact on Child Support Guidelines in Alberta

On November 10, 2005 – the Supreme Court of Canada reviewed and advised on the Child Support Guidelines with respect to the calculation of child support in shared parenting situations. This precedent setting case is now relied upon by lawyers when disputes in shared custody cases and child support matters arise. In this decision, the Supreme Court of Canada attempts to lay the framework for Guidelines in calculating child support under section 9.

Contino v. Leonell-Contino Case Facts

In 1992, a couple separated and maintained joint custody of their son who primarily lived with his mother full-time. The father made an annual income of $87,000/year while the mother made an annual income of $68,000/year. Approximately 9 years after the date of separation – the father applied for an application to reduce his monthly child support payments pursuant to s. 9 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. He did so on the basis that he and the mother were now sharing custody of the child and he now had more access to the child. While initially the judges agreed to reduce his monthly child support payments to $100/month – the divisional court set aside that decision and ordered the father to continue paying the full table amount of $688/month. The Court of Appeal then reduced that amount to $399/month after consideration of s. 9 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. The mother then appealed this decision and took this matter to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Contino Decision

The judges reviewed each part of s. 9 including the amounts set out in the child support tables for each of the spouses, the increased costs of shared custody arrangements as well as the conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each spouse in this matter. They also reviewed the initial court orders and variations. The judges advised that there was no presumption in favour of the full table amount nor was there a presumption in favour of a reduction. The judge also advised against the “chill-effect” which refers to a situation where a slight increase in access can result in a massive reduction in child support. Essentially, the courts ruled that s. 9 needs to be interpreted in a way to avoid chill-effects. The judge also warned that we need to exercise caution when interpreting this section as it may encourage parents to prevent access beyond a certain threshold.

Edmonton Child Support Lawyers Serving all of Alberta

At Verhaeghe Law – our Edmonton child support lawyers have been helping clients across Alberta since the firm was founded. Our child support lawyers take an educational approach with our clients where we aim to educate our clients on the Child Support Guidelines and provide legal guidance on what’s best for the family unit. Contact our law firm today to speak directly with an Edmonton child support lawyer. If you book a consultation with us – a member of our legal team will be in touch with you within 24 hours to review your child support issue with you. Don’t delay and book a consultation with us today.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended to act as a general overview on a legal topic and does not constitute legal advice. If you require specific legal advice regarding child support legal issues in Alberta – then please consult with a child support lawyer or family lawyer for specific advice as it pertains to your specific situation.

What are the Alberta Child Support Guidelines?

What are the Alberta Child Support Guidelines?

Children have a legal right to financial support from both parents and a separation or divorce doesn’t change the ongoing legal obligation for either parent to support them. In a divorce or separation in Alberta, both parents are expected to share the cost of raising their child(ren). If parents can’t agree to the amount of child support, a judge will decide in accordance with the established Guidelines.

In Alberta, there are two relevant Guidelines and your situation will dictate which one to use:

  1. Federal Child Support Guidelines (under Canada’s Divorce Act) apply in all divorce cases in Alberta since Alberta is not a “designated province” (i.e. it has not made arrangements with the Government of Canada to use their own guidelines in lieu of federal guidelines if both parents live there).
  2. Alberta Child Support Guidelines (under Alberta’s Family Law Act) are highly aligned with the Federal Child Support Guidelines and apply when the parents were never married to each other or when married parents have separated but neither has applied for a divorce

Both are binding laws that Courts follow to help ensure all of Alberta’s children are treated equally and fairly across the province, regardless of the legal standing of their parents’ relationship. The Guidelines help reduce conflict and tension between parents by making the calculation of child support orders more objective by establishing a base or “table” child support amount for a child under the age of majority (i.e. 18 years in Alberta) via a set of tables.

Alberta’s Child Support Guidelines refer to the federal tables which set out basic child support amounts that depend on the payor’s guideline income, the number of children the payor’s obligated to support in the recipient’s custody and the province the payor resides in.

A key principle of the Alberta Guidelines is that child support be based on a parent’s ability to pay a determined amount based primarily by the most recent income as shown on line 150 of their personal tax return. In certain situations, a different amount may be used such as when the payor’s annual income varies greatly on a yearly basis, if they’re self-employed, or are intentionally unemployed or under-employed, etc. The basic child support amount generally depends on the following parenting arrangements:

  1. Sole custody
    In cases where a child spends more than 60% of the time with one parent over the year, the federal table for the province where the paying parent lives is used to identify the amount of support matching the paying parent’s income and number of children being supported.
  2. Shared or split custody
    In cases where a child spends at least 40% of the time with each parent in a year (shared) or in cases where each parent has sole custody of at least one child (split) – the guidelines confirm payments which account for the income of both parents and the anticipated expenses of the child.

The guidelines do allow for Court discretion when the payor earns more than $150,000 annually and when one parent is suffering undue hardship. To claim undue hardship, the recipient or the payor must first prove to the Judge that they or their children are suffering an undue hardship such as:

  • Parent has children in multiple households owed support;
  • One parent took on responsibility of high debts incurred while together; or
  • One parent lives far away and cannot afford the resulting higher access costs

Secondly, the person requesting undue hardship has to demonstrate to the Court they have a lower standard of living than the other parent.

There is also the possibility for the Court to make an order for the payment of special expenses, also known as section 7 expenses such as:

  • Child care expenses;
  • Medical and dental insurance and expenses not covered by insurance;
  • Extraordinary school and extracurricular expenses; and
  • Post-secondary education expenses

In December 2018, Alberta’s Family Law Act was amended to ensure children 18 years or older are eligible for child support if they’re still under their parents’ charge and unable to withdraw from their parents’ charge or obtain the necessaries of life (e.g. due to illness, disability, full-time student status, etc.)

If you wish to change an existing child support order granted under Alberta’s current or former provincial legislation you must do so under the Family Law Act. The court may consider changing a court order if the personal circumstances of each parent have changed significantly since the time the previous order was made such as:

  • Number of dependent children
  • Long-term change in income due to employment
  • Special or extraordinary section 7 expenses incurred for children
  • Travel/access costs for visits between parties and their children

Speak with an Edmonton family lawyer today regarding your child support needs.

At Verhaeghe Law Office – our Alberta family lawyers have helped numerous clients address their child support needs. We can help you prepare and work towards an expeditious and reasonable payment arrangement. Contact us for a consultation today or by calling 587-410-2500 and speak directly with a member of our legal team today.

Note: This blog offers general information for your convenience and does not constitute legal advice. Family law can be complex and you’re encouraged to seek legal advice to better understand your rights and responsibilities as well as the rights of your children.