Blended families are growing increasingly common. With our country’s high rate of divorce and relationship breakdown, the number of blended families is on the rise. Individuals are often shocked to learn that they may have to pay child support to their non-biological, or “step-children”, when a marriage or cohabitation ends. In certain situations, upon a subsequent separation, adults in such families who have acted in the role of a parent to their partner’s child(ren) may have a legal obligation to contribute toward the financial support of their non-biological children of such relationships.
Ontario’s Family Law Act defines the word “parent” very broadly to include “a person who has demonstrated a settled intention to treat a child as a child of his or her family.” Whether a person has stood in loco parentis, or in the place of a parent, is a factual question determined by the courts based on the individual circumstances of such families.
In Chartier v. Chartier, the Supreme Court of Canada stated that “the nature of the relationship” between step-child and step-parent must be determined in light of the particular familial circumstances, to assess whether the step-parent meets the threshold of in loco parentis.
Some of the factors the court may examine in determining whether the step-parent meets the threshold of in loco parentis include:
- the duration and nature of the step-parenting relationship;
- step-parent’s involvement in the child’s day-to-day life, discipline, extra-curricular activities, and schooling;
- the step- parent’s financial contribution to the child;
- the child’s participation in the step-parents extended family’s activities;
- the relationship between the step-child and step-parent after separation;
- how the child referred to the step-parent;
- another biological parent’s involvement in the step-child’s life;
- any discussion relating to the possible adoption of the child.
Where a non-biological parent is found to have an obligation to pay child support, the amount payable is determined according to the Child Support Guidelines. Children may be entitled to full Guideline support from more than one parent.
Where there are multiple support payors; however, special and/or extraordinary expense claims under section 7 of the Guidelines are proportionately shared between the support recipient and all other payors. It is critical that a client understand that they need to consider the serious implications if they are not adequately knowledgeable in establishing or defending against claims of in loco parentis. If you find yourself in a similar situation, the lawyers at Hart Legal, will examine the specific facts of your situation and determine whether you may be found to be standing in loco parentis to your non-biological children and what obligations may arise as a result thereof.