• Proskiw Law

Step-Parents and Child Support in Alberta

When a step-parent and a biological parent separate, a common issue is whether the step-parent is required to pay child support.

In Chartier v. Chartier [1999], the Supreme Court of Canada held that, in situations of divorce, step-parents often do have an obligation to support step-children after a marriage ends. The Alberta Family Law Act indicates that this obligation is not limited to divorce, but instead extend to all relationships of interdependence.

Before a step-parent will be ordered to pay child support, a judge must determine whether the step-child is “a child of the marriage or a child of the relationship.” Such a child includes any child to whom a partner “stands in the place of a parent.”

Some factors considered to determine whether the step-parent stands in place of a parent:

  • whether the child participates in the extended family in the same way as a biological child would;

  • the opinion of the child

  • the representations of the step-parent as to the relationship;

  • whether the child participates in the extended family in the same way as a biological child would;

  • whether the step-parent provides financially for the child (depending on ability to pay);

  • whether the step-parent disciplines the child;

  • whether the step-parent represents to the child, the family, and the world, implicitly or explicitly, that he or she is responsible as a parent to the child; and

  • the nature or existence of the child’s relationship with the absent biological father/mother.

The Alberta Child Support Guidelines indicate, at section 5, that where the person against whom a child support order is sought stands in the place of a parent, the amount of the child support order in respect of that person is the amount that the court considers appropriate having regard to the factors set out in section 51(5) of the Alberta Family Law Act.

Section 51(5) of the Alberta Family Law Act notes that the obligation of a parent to provide child support outweighs the obligation of a person standing in the place of a parent to provide child support and in determining the amount and duration of child support a person standing in the place of a parent must pay, the court shall consider the following:

(a) the amount determined in accordance with the prescribed guidelines;

(b) the amount of child support that is being paid or should be paid by either or both parents of the child;

(c) the duration of the relationship between the person standing in the place of a parent and the child for whose benefit the order is sought;

(d) any other factor that the court considers relevant.

The Court has broad discretion in adjudicating on this issue and Canadian court judgments have varied in regards to the method used in apportioning child support.

However, a leading case in Alberta on the matter is Reis v. Thompson, 2009 ABQB 156 (CanLII). In Reis v Thompson, Read J. considered the impact of the Alberta Guidelines set out in the Family Law Act on s. 5 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. She concluded that the proper approach was to first determine the amount that the stepparent should pay according to the prescribed Guidelines. The next step is to determine the legal liability of any other parent including both custodial and non-custodial parents. If the total amount of the contribution by other parents is sufficient to provide a fair standard of support for the child, then the legal duty of the stepparent may not require him to pay any support, or perhaps only nominal support. However, if the financial contributions of the other parents are insufficient to provide a fair standard of support for the child, then the stepparent may be required to top up those funds to the amount that the stepparent would be required to pay in accordance with his or her obligation pursuant to the Guidelines.

Consider the following scenario: Jack and Mary had a child named Suzie. Jack and Mary eventually break up and Ricardo and Mary begin a relationship of interdependence. Ricardo and Mary are together for several years and Ricardo has stood in place of a parent. During the time Ricardo and Mary were together, Jack has been paying child support in the amount of $500 per month. Ricardo earns more per year than Jack and the amount of child support he would pay had he been Suzie's biological parent is $700. In order to keep the standard of living consistent for the child, Suzie, Ricardo ought to pay $200 per month in child support upon his and Mary’s separation.

Keep in mind that this is a generally unsettled area of law and the way this issue is treated across Canadian courts varies. Consult Proskiw Law at 780-665-4944 for advice regarding your personalized situation.


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