How are Child & Spousal Support Payments Determined in Nova Scotia?
The best way to explain how child and spousal support payments are determined is by using examples. While it may not accurately reflect everyone’s financial and family situation, it is useful to illustrate the process of determining support costs based on the financial circumstances of both spouses.
There are some online calculators that can be used to provide a rough estimation of spousal support and child support payments, and while these are useful, they may not take into account the full-picture of your situation.
Child support is dependent upon the custody arrangement of the child/children and how much each spouse makes. Let’s say you work and your spouse is a stay-at-home parent. You earn $100,000 a year and your spouse has no income, but has custody or primary care of the children. In this case, you would have to pay your spouse child support. You can use the Department of Justice child support calculator to determine the amount. Just fill in the field for the payor’s income, where you live (i.e. Nova Scotia) and how many children you have. This will provide an accurate estimate of monthly child support. The calculation becomes more complicated if there is shared parenting:
- Let’s take an example where your spouse has custody of your child and no income and child support is calculated to be $853.00 a month. Now, what if there is, instead, a shared-parenting agreement in place, and you have your child for 50% of the time. You may still be required to pay $853.00 per month because a parent with no income is not required to pay child support.
- In our second example let’s say you have custody and your spouse has no income. Your spouse would not be required to pay child support because they fall below the income threshold for paying child support, (i.e.) they do not have the income to generate a payment. The same is true for childcare expenses, which is a shared expense based on both parents’ incomes. If one spouse has no income, that spouse would not be obligated to contribute toward child care, while you would be required to.
- In our third example let’s say both parties live relatively close to one another and have shared parenting of the child. Your former spouse is earning $50,000 a year and you are earning $100,000 a year. This may translate to a child support payment of $853.00 a month from you, and $425.00 a month from your former spouse for a net payment of $428.00 ($853.00-425.00) from you to your former spouse every month.
Other examples where child support can differ is if the parents live a long distance from one another and there are travel expenses associated with parenting, if you or your spouse have variable incomes, or if your spouse has unreported income:
- Child support can be calculated differently based on a pattern of income. According to the Federal Child Support Guidelines, tax returns from the last 3 years can be used to assess child support payments. That’s because it’s possible for annual incomes to fluctuate. While your income could have been $100,000 last year, it’s possible that was unusually high and this year your income is only $70,000. Child support payments may not reflect your most recent annual income if there is a good reason why it fluctuated. Perhaps your average income for the last 3 years is a fairer representation of your income. If it is, child support payments may be based on that average income.
- Another example could involve your spouse having no income reported on his/her tax returns, but having an income nonetheless. For example, perhaps they make $40,000 in unreported income, while you make $100,000 of reported income. Your spouse isn’t paying tax on that money, while you are, so your incomes are not really $100,000 and $40,000. The spouse with $40,000 in undeclared income may have a higher income imputed due to the fact he/she is not paying income tax. Again, this is an area where an online child or spousal support calculator wouldn’t take this into account. When you enter $40,000 in a child support calculator, the calculator assumes this is reported income which automatically takes into account the deductions and tax consequences. A lawyer can help with this by grossing up your spouse’s income so that when put into the calculator, it’s treated the same as your income – as if it was a reported amount.
- When making calculations for both child and spousal support it’s important to gain a longitudinal perspective of your financial situation as well as that of your spouse.
Spousal support is money paid by one spouse to another so as to support the other spouse whose income is significantly lower or non-existent. There are legal criteria to determine if a spouse is eligible to be paid spousal support, and if eligible – how much spousal support should be paid and for how long. The amount of support depends on the relative income of each spouse, the length of the marriage, and the role of each spouse during the marriage (e.g. stay at home parent, income earner).
In some cases, spouses can come to an agreement that spousal support is paid in a lump sum, however, it is more often the case that payments are made on a monthly basis.
According to the Divorce Act spouses may be required to pay spousal support compensation if one or more of the following criteria are met:
- A spouse sacrificed his or her ability to earn income during the marriage
- A spouse requires financial help arising from the end of the marriage
- A spouse staying home to care primarily for the children.
- If you and your spouse have children and you are paying child support, child support is calculated first. The amount that is to be paid by you to your spouse for child support is considered before calculating spousal support.
The duration of spousal support payments vary based on the circumstances of the divorce. In particular, the length of the marriage or co-habitation, and the ages of the spouses at separation are some of the factors to be considered in assessing how long spousal support should be paid. Spousal support payments stop if:
- You and your spouse change the terms of the agreement;
- The conditions for stopping payment have been met as stated in the order or agreement; or
- The order is changed by the court.
For example, the court may change the terms of the order if the payor loses their job and can no longer make spousal support payments.
Note: The above examples are oversimplifications.
Support is an area where there is no one-size-fits-all answer because cases are not exactly alike. This is often a point of contention between spouses. Online calculators are not designed to take into account the intricacies involved in every situation and it often requires having a lawyer help you through the different payment scenarios.