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eligible expenses for child support
Section 7 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines

A Closer Look At Section 7- Expenses in Family Law

The concept of child support is relatively straightforward. It is the right of the child (not either parent) to receive financial support from their parents to cover their financial needs as they are growing up. Depending on which parent the child lives with primarily, that parent will naturally be required to cover more of the child’s living expenses such as housing, food, etc. 

Thus, the court can order the other parent who has less parenting time to pay an amount, based on their income, to contribute to supporting the child. Simple enough, no? Except there is so much more to childhood than simply a roof and groceries. Anyone with children can attest to how expensive it can be to raise a child, and that does not change because of a separation. 

Children often have other expenses above and beyond the “basics”, such as school expenses, field trips, textbooks, tutors, music lessons, sports, summer camps, cell phones, and so on.  These types of expenses are a routine part of most children’s lives, and those children should not be disadvantaged just because their parents have split. 

The Child Support Guidelines

Thankfully the courts recognize the additional costs often associated with raising a child. In a child support order under Section 7 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines, the Court has the power to include an additional amount for expenses that can include:

  • Childcare expenses if the parent with the majority of parenting time has to work or is ill;
  • The portion of the child’s medical and dental insurance premiums attributable to the child;
  • Health-related expenses that exceed insurance reimbursement by at least $100.00 annually, such as orthodontics, psychologists and social workers, occupational therapy, glasses, hearing aids, etc.;
  • Extraordinary expenses for primary or secondary school;
  • Expenses for post-secondary education in college or university; and
  • Extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities.

The guiding principle is that the spouses will share these expenses in proportion to their respective incomes (after deducting any amount received from the child themselves). Yet the last category noted above is still ambiguous. What qualifies as an “extraordinary expense” in the eyes of the law? The Guidelines further define extraordinary expenses as:

  1. “Expenses that exceed those that the spouse requesting an amount for the extraordinary expenses can reasonably cover, taking into account that spouse’s income and the amount that the spouse would receive under the applicable table or, where the court has determined that the table amount is inappropriate, the amount that the court has otherwise determined is appropriate; or
  2. Where (A) is not applicable, expenses that the court considers are extraordinary taking into account
    1. The amount of the expense in relation to the income of the spouse requesting the amount, including the amount that the spouse would receive under the applicable table or, where the court has determined that the table amount is inappropriate, the amount that the court has otherwise determined is appropriate,
    2. The nature and number of the education programs and extracurricular activities,
    3. Any special needs and talents of the child or children,
    4. The overall cost of the programs and activities, and
    5. Any other similar factor that the court considers relevant.”

The wording of the law acknowledges that children will have additional expenses beyond just medical devices and childcare, but the wording is still somewhat vague. How do the courts actually analyse these specific expenses in real-time, and determine what may be acceptable and what is ‘out of bounds’?

Section 7 Expenses – An Example

In the case of Ford v. Shuter, 2011 ONSC 4229, for example, the parents were going through a contentious divorce during which there was no collaborative communication between them. The children’s mother had made decisions about the children’s activities unilaterally and expected her former spouse to pay. Her list was long, and as the court noted her receipt keeping was poor at best. Her original list for her three children included:

  • Dental and eye care
  • English, French, and maths tutoring
  • Skiing club memberships along with racing, equipment, and training fees
  • Tennis and squash fees
  • Swimming lessons and accreditation
  • Sailing instructor accreditation
  • Music lessons on multiple instruments
  • University fees including books, travel, bus passes, moving expenses, food, and rental accommodations

The extent of these extraordinary expenses totalled nearly $40,000 in 2006 and was in the $20,000 – $25,000 range in most subsequent years, with the court noting that in some years these amounts were comparable to the mother’s entire income. The Court ruled that these expenses were excessive and that “a number of them, while perhaps desirable, are neither necessary nor reasonable in all of the circumstances of this case.”  

In this case, the mother’s poor record keeping actively worked against her claims. For example, her claim for eyewear involved mostly receipts for her own glasses, and little to do with the children. Ultimately, the Court reduced the expenses to between roughly $8,000 and $16,000 for each year in question, which was split between the parents according to their income. These allowable expenses included:

  • Dental expenses
  • Eye care expenses (as they related to the children)
  • Any tutoring which has been proven (by receipts)
  • Sailing camps “because they were a means of childcare during the summer months”
  • Music lessons, and 
  • University-related expenses for the oldest child, who was the only one in university, and for which expenses were not already covered.

Final Thoughts

While this case is only one of countless examples, it does offer some good lessons for parents in how these expenses are treated. The law does recognize that children will have extraordinary expenses, and these expenses should be covered in proportion to each parent’s income. However, not all expenses would be covered.

A parent who naively assumes that their child will suddenly get a ‘free ride’ to a lavish lifestyle that they never had before will be sorely mistaken. The law looks at what expenses are reasonable and will look closely at the evidence of the payments made and what services are provided, so record keeping is imperative. 

Lastly, even though these are extraordinary expenses, the parents will ultimately be left to ‘split the bill.’ Children may ask for a million things that their friends have or that they’ve seen on television, but some parents simply cannot afford those costs regardless of their marital status, and ultimately sometimes parents simply have to say ‘no.’

We regularly guide our family law clients through the separation and divorce process and have helped families throughout the Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo regions. We work with our clients to put their best foot forward in court, and to achieve outcomes that are just and fair for them and their children. Contact us today to set up a consultation.