Stepping In: How Care Provided By A Former Step-Parent Can Affect Child SupportRansom v Coulter, 2014 NWTSC 55, a recent decision of the Northwest Territories Supreme Court, deals with the issue of shared parenting and the impact on child support when a former stepparent contributes to the care of a child.

In that case, Ms. R and Mr. D were married, and had two children together. During their marriage, a third child (“T”) was born, however Mr. C was the biological father of the child. Mr. D always treated T as his own and raised him during his early years when Mr. C was not involved in his care. After Ms. R and Mr. D separated, the three parents entered into an agreement to deal with the parenting of the three children. The agreement recognized that Mr. D had provided care and acted in a father-like role for T. The agreement set out that he was to have access to T as granted to him by Ms. R and Mr. C, who each shared parenting of T on a week-on, week-off basis.

The main issue in this case dealt with child support. Section 9 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines sets out that:

Where a spouse exercises a right of access to, or has physical custody of, a child for not less than 40 per cent of the time over the course of a year, the amount of child support order must be determined by taking into account:
  1. the amounts set out in the applicable tables for each of the spouses;
  2. the increased costs of shared custody arrangements; and
  3. the conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each spouse and of any child for whom support is sought.

When a parent exercises a right of access to or has physical custody of a child for a minimum of 40% of the time, that is taken into consideration and child support is determined by calculating the difference that each parent would pay in base child support. The difference in the two table amounts is paid to the parent with the lessor income.

In this case, each week that Ms. R had T in her care, Mr. D had two days of access. As a result of this arrangement, Mr. C brought an application to increase child support claiming that Ms. R did not have T in her care for 40% of the time.

Although Justice Vertes recognized that Ms. R was making an effort to maximize T’s contact with someone who had acted as a father to him, the access that she provided to Mr. D meant that T was not in her care for at least 40% of the year and consequently she was not meeting the “strict requirements of the legislation”. Therefore, Justice Vertes ordered that Ms. R pay Mr. C monthly child support in the full table amount.