Photograph of John Ewen

Guest post by our lawyer John Ewen

People will often say to me when I first meet them for a consultation “My ex and I are trying to figure out a fair amount of child support, but we’re stuck. Do we just use the Table?”

As with many questions about the law, the answer is: “It depends”.

The ‘Table’ refers to the table of Federal Child Support Guidelines. This is essentially a big chart that shows what payments parents make based on their income level and the number of children they are paying support for.

When Child Support is Paid

But when do you use it? The answer is, when children are considered to be residing ‘primarily’ with one parent (60% of the time or more), the law assumes that parent is bearing most of the costs of raising the children.

The idea behind the Table is to determine an amount the other parent (who has the children less than 40% of the time) should pay to make their ‘fair contribution’ to those costs of raising the kids.

But what happens if the children reside more than 40% of the time with both parents? How is child support determined then? Do we still use the Table?

Well, the answer is yes, but often times the Table amount is modified (reduced). This reflects the fact that when children live with both parents more than 40% of the time, they really have two homes, often with similar expenses (both homes need groceries for the kids, beds, furniture, toys and so forth).

Both of those households will have expenses in raising the children. That’s why having one parent pay the full Table amount in this situation isn’t always fair. To find out how child support is calculated in this situation, go to this article

How Do We Count 40% ?

Okay, so we know there is a threshold of 40%, and if your children live with you more than that, it’s ‘Shared Custody’ – child support is dealt with differently than the Table.

But who determines what 40% really means? How do we count it?

A lot of people ask me this. I get questions like:

“My children spend 3 days a week with me – 3 days out of 7 days in the week is 43% – isn’t this Shared Custody?”

“My kids spend more waking hours with me than with their other parent. That meets the test, right?”

“Whose custody are they in when they are at school or activities? If at the end of the day they are sleeping over at my house, isn’t all of that day considered time with me?”

The answer is, there is no clear answer! Different lawyers and Judges determine Shared Custody in different ways. Some Judges count only where the child puts their head down to sleep at night, some count the hours spent with each parent, some include school time or time spent at extracurricular activities, some just count the actual time spent at that parent’s home.

Many cases are disputed very far in our Court system because of this ambiguity. The Ontario Court of Appeal released a decision in 2005 called Froom v. Froom. This was an appeal from a Trial Judge’s decision to a higher Court.

The father had won at the Trial level because the Judge found he met the 40% threshold based on the number of days his children resided with him. On the appeal though, it was acknowledged that if the Trial Judge had counted the hours, and not days spent with the Father, he would not have met the 40% (and so would have paid Table support).

But the Court of Appeal upheld the Trial Judge’s decision – they said that there is no universally accepted method for determining the 40%. They said the Trial Judge’s method (counting days instead of hours) was consistent with what many Judges do – try to avoid rigid calculations and instead look at the bigger picture.

What does this mean for the rest of us? It means there is no right or wrong way to calculate the 40% rule. If you and your spouse are not able to reach an agreement on whether you have Shared Custody, a judge may have a lot of discretion to in deciding it.