Supreme Court Issues Ruling on Reducing Child Support Arrears

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When parents get divorced or separated and one of them is ordered to pay child support, the obligation to follow through on that order is a serious one. For those who don’t pay, what was owed will continue to add up with the addition of interest. In some cases, the courts may order measures to collect this money, though this can be easier said than done. However, even if a parent is able to avoid paying child support for years and years, the consequences of having done so can come back to haunt them. This is highlighted in a recent decision from the Supreme Court of Canada where a father asked the court to relieve him of his debt from accumulated child support.

Father accumulates child support arrears of $170,000

The parties were married in 1983 and divorced in 1996. As an outcome of the divorce, the mother was granted sole custody of the two daughters the parties had together. The father was required to pay child support in the amount of $115 per week.

Two years after the divorce, the father asked the court to reduce his child support obligations, but when making the request he failed to provide any financial disclosure and as a result, the matter was set aside. By the time the father’s child support obligations ended in 2012, he had not been involved in the children’s lives and had not made any voluntary payments, and only a limited amount was collected through enforcement measures.

Father asks to have arrears reduced

In 2016 the father applied to the court and asked to retroactively reduce his child support obligations and rescind the arrears which had accumulated, amounting to $170,000. Like the last time he made such an application, the father did not provide any financial documentation to back up his request. Despite this, the motion judge allowed his request and retroactively decreased his support owing to $41,642. This was overturned on appeal, and the matter later made its way to the country’s highest court.

The importance of financial disclosure between parents

The court began its analysis by highlighting the importance for parents to share financial information in situations where child support is a factor. The court said, “Disclosure is the linchpin on which fair support depends and the relevant legal tests must encourage the timely provision of necessary information. In a system that ties support to payor income, it is the payor who knows and controls the information needed to calculate the appropriate amount of support.”

The court said that even if the father should have qualified for a reduction in support. His deficient communication, inadequate evidence, and insufficient disclosure were fatal to his case.

The court ruled that since the father gave no effective notice before he failed to pay child support as well as throughout the time he should have been paying child support, he was no longer entitled to ask for a reduction. The court highlighted that the father’s actions caused hardship for his children and noted his bad faith actions in evading enforcement of child support.

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