When someone has an obligation to pay child support following a separation or divorce, it is not uncommon for their financial status to change at one point or another. In some situations, a change may be considered a “material change in circumstance” in which someone’s financial status has changed enough to warrant an adjustment in support. A material change can result in a lower or higher amount in child support payments. But as we see in a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, not every reduction in income can lead to a smaller child support payment, particularly when someone leaves a job voluntarily.
Mother moves to Ontario with new partner and leaves job
The parties separated in New Brunswick where they were subject to an order in 2018 that required the mother to pay child support to the father. At that time the mother was working at a call center and drawing an annual salary of $41,580, which led to child support payments of $611 per month for their two children.
The mother moved to Ontario in 2018 and for a while maintained a job with the same employer. However, after some time it became apparent that she could no longer keep that job. The location of the job required a long commute, and she was required to work shifts from 4 pm to midnight, meaning she had to take public transit home very late at night.
The mother said she became anxious in this work environment. When the employer’s human resources department was unable to accommodate her concerns, she was given a short-term leave to address her health. During that time she sought medical advice from a doctor at a walk-in clinic. She obtained a medical note, but was told by her employer that it was not detailed enough to make her eligible for any disability benefits under their health care plan. As a result of this, the mother resigned from the job in April 2018 and obtained a full-time job at a coffee shop closer to her home and with daytime shifts.
Another move leads to another job
In 2019 the mother and her new partner moved again within Ontario. She left her job with the coffee shop and obtained a one-year position with a lawyer in their new city. She made $18 per hour for this job. This was a decrease in her former salary, and she attempted to negotiate a decrease in child support with her partner, but negotiations fell through leading to the motion before the court.
The mother left her new job after about eight months, alleging she was being emotionally bullied by a colleague. She was unable to find new work by the time the COVID-19 pandemic struck, leaving her to collect CERB payments and unemployment.
The mother currently resides in Saskatchewan where she works on a casual basis without guaranteed hours.
During her time of unemployment, the mother fell behind in child support payments and was in arrears to the amount of $10,197.
The mother asked that the arrears be adjusted to reflect her income and employment status over the course of the last few years.
Not every change in job can lead to a change in support payments
The court stated that while it was obvious there had been changes to the mother’s income since her move to Ontario, they were not all necessary. The court found that her decision to leave her initial job at a call centre was warranted due to health concerns. Her decision to leave the coffee shop when moving cities was also reasonable. However, the court found that her decision to leave her job at the lawyer’s office without another job in place was not a responsible decision and was not supported by medical requirements. As a result, there was no change to the amount of child support she should have been paying between her decision to leave that job and her move to Saskatchewan where she found a new one.
The court ordered that her arrears would be adjusted according to her income changes over the years, but that she would receive no reduction in arrears for the time after she left the job at the lawyer’s office.
For questions that only a family law lawyer can answer, contact our family law team at 519.973.1500 or contact us online. Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors has been a fixture of the family law community of Windsor and Essex County for over 25 years, and so understandably, many prospective clients come to the firm through referrals from current or past clients, and also through referrals from lawyers, accountants, medical professionals and marriage counsellors.