If you are a stepparent going through a separation or divorce you may think that because you are not the child’s biological parent you are not responsible for paying child support. However, this may not be the case.
Child support are payments made from one parent to another to contribute to the costs of raising children following the end of a relationship. The BC Family Law Act’s definition of parent includes a stepparent if certain conditions are met.
The Family Law Act defines a stepparent as a person who is a spouse of the child’s parent and who lived with the child’s parent and the child during the child’s life.
Section 147(4) of the Family Law Act states that stepparents have a duty to support their stepchildren if:
(a) the stepparent contributed to the child’s support for at least one year, and
(b) the application for child support is made within one year of the stepparent’s last contribution to the child’s support.
Section 149(3)(b) of the Family Law Act includes an additional requirement that the stepparent and the child’s parent are separated.
This means that if you are a stepparent who has previously contributed towards the child’s care, your ex may bring an action in court requiring you to pay child support. Unlike biological parents, the amount of child support will not necessarily be the table amount under the Federal Child Support Guidelines. Section 5 of the Guidelines states that a stepparent’s obligation to pay can be calculated by taking into account any other parent’s legal duty to support the child. Section 147(5)(a) of the Family Law Act states that a stepparent’s duty to provide child support is secondary to that of the child’s parents. In H.(U.V.) v. H.(M.W.) (2008 BCCA 177) the BC Court of Appeal held that a parent can’t skip pursuing child support from the biological parent in favoring of seeking payments from the stepparent.
There have been various approaches adopted by the BC courts to determine what the appropriate amount of child support from a stepparent is. In H.(U.V.) v. H.(M.W.) the BC Court of Appeal stated that the focus should be on what the child’s standard of living was during the stepparent’s relationship with their ex. If a stepparent provided a standard of living that was significantly higher than what the biological parent could provide, it is likely that the stepparent will have to top up the child support paid by the biological parent.
If you are a stepparent currently going through a separation or divorce, it is strongly recommended that you speak to a lawyer in order to determine what your child support responsibilities might be and to check that you are not paying too much child support.