How do we calculate the amount of child support?

Once you and the other parent have agreed where the children will live and for how much of the time, you can begin to work out a fair amount of child support. Depending on the parenting arrangement, it will be important to know what one or both parents earn in a year.

How do we calculate annual income?

To figure out child support you will have to know what the paying parent earns in a year—before the government taxes were taken off. This is “gross annual income.” The paying parent’s annual income can be figured out by:

  • Using the amount on line 150 on your income tax return (or notice of assessment from the Canada Revenue Agency), and then minus any union dues from that amount, or
  • Looking at your pay stubs for a full year and adding up what you were paid each month (before all the taxes were taken off), or
  • Contacting a Child Support Officer or Family Justice Counsellor to help you (especially if your job situation is complicated).

How do we calculate child support when the children live mostly with one parent?

The parent who has the children most of the time will receive child support. The parent who doesn’t have the children most of the time is the paying parent.

Once you know how much the paying parent earns in a year, the easiest way to work out the basic amount of child support is to use the online calculator at the Child Support Online Lookup.

To find out monthly child support payments using the calculator, follow these steps:

  1. Enter the annual income before taxes of the paying parent (which you figured out above).
  2. Enter the number of children involved.
  3. Select the province where the paying parent lives.
  4. Click on the “Lookup” button.
  5. The monthly amount is displayed immediately in brown text.

The online calculator follows the Child Support Guidelines, which were created by the federal government so that parents know what is fair according to the law. The guidelines are based on what an average parent at each income level would usually spend on their children, if the parents were still together. However, this is only the basic amount of child support. Parents who have separated also have to calculate other types of expenses, which are known as special and extraordinary expenses.

Note: The current child support amounts were introduced December 31, 2011. If you need to figure out how much child support is owed from between May 1, 2006 and December 31, 2011, use the Federal Child Support Amounts: Simplified Tables 2006 to calculate that amount.

For help with your situation, see a Child Support Officer or Family Justice Counsellor. Their services are free. Phone to make an appointment.

If you are a parent on income assistance, talk to someone at the Family Maintenance Program, who will arrange child support for you.  

How do we calculate child support when parenting is shared?

A shared parenting arrangement is when the children live about the same amount of time with each of their parents over the course of a year. That means at least 40% of the time with each parent. If you agree that each of you has the children for about the same amount of time, the paying parent is usually the one who makes the most money. Just because the paying parent has the children for 40% or more of the time does not mean they should pay less in child support.

To figure out the amount of child support for a shared parenting arrangement, you start by putting the gross annual income of each parent into the Child Support Online Lookup, which is an online calculator. If you aren’t sure how to figure out “annual gross income,” see How do we calculate annual income? above. Once you find out the child support monthly payments (as if each of you were the “paying parent”), then you split the difference between those two amounts. The difference in the two amounts is what the higher income earner has to pay to the other parent. Here’s an example of how to do it:

Example: Maria and Sam have two children for an equal amount of time. They want the living conditions in each of their homes to be comfortable for the children, so they worked out child support in a way that provides this.

Maria earns $30,000 a year, which she entered into the online child support calculator, as well as the number of children and province she lives in. She is supposed to pay Sam $463 per month for the time the children spend with him. Sam earns $20,000 and according the calculator, he would have to pay Maria $323 per month for the time the children are in her care. They take the amounts the calculator said they should pay and split the difference: $463 - $323 = $140. Maria will pay Sam $140 per month in child support and Sam does not pay child support.

Parents who have separated also have to calculate other types of expenses, which are known as special and extraordinary expenses.

For help with your situation, see a Child Support Officer or Family Justice Counsellor. Their services are free. Phone to make an appointment.

How do we calculate child support when parenting is split?

A split parenting arrangement is when there are two or more children and each parent provides primary care for one or more of the children, which means:

  • One or more children live with one parent most of the time (more than 60% of the time in the year), and
  • One or more children live with the other parent most of the time (more than 60% of the time in the year).

To calculate child support in the case of a split parenting arrangement, the first step is for each parent to use the Child Support Online Lookup as if they each had to pay child support. They would enter their annual income (see How do we calculate annual income?), and the number of children who live with the other parent. The paying parent will be whoever has to pay more according to the child support calculator. However, the amount that parent has to pay is the difference between the two amounts they got for each parent. Here’s an example of how to do it:

Example: John and Helen have three children. When they separated, they agreed that two of the children would live with John most of the time, and the other child would live with Helen most of the time. Using the Child Support Online Lookup, they find out how much child support each of them would have to pay if they were the paying parent. John enters his annual salary, and enters 1 child (the child not living with him). Helen enters her salary and 2 children (the number of children not living with her). The calculator says John should pay Helen $400 per month for the child in her care, and Helen should pay John $250 per month for the children in his care. But because John has to pay more, he is the paying parent. To get the actual amount of child support he should pay Helen, they split the difference in the two amounts: $400 - $250 = $150. John has to pay Helen $150 per month in child support.

Parents who have separated also have to calculate other types of expenses, which are known as special and extraordinary expenses.

For help with your situation, see a Child Support Officer or Family Justice Counsellor. Their services are free. Phone to make an appointment.

How do we calculate other types of expenses for the children?

Before you agree on a final amount of child support, consider all of the other costs of raising your child or children. These are called special and extraordinary expenses. These types of expenses are not included in the basic child support amounts that you get if you use the online calculator. They should also be included in your child support agreement.

Special and extraordinary expenses are defined as:

  • Necessary — because they are in a children’s best interests, and
  • Reasonable — because they take into consideration how much the parents earn and what the family's spending patterns were before the separation.

Special and extraordinary expenses include the following:

  • Child-care expenses that a parent with whom the children live faces as a result of the parent's job, illness, disability or educational requirements for employment.
  • The portion of a parent's medical and dental insurance premiums that provides coverage for the children.
  • The children’s health-care needs over and above that covered by insurance (for example, orthodontics, counselling, medication, eye care and other items) that exceed $100 per year.
  • The children’s extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities.
  • The children’s extraordinary expenses for primary and secondary education or other educational programs.
  • The children’s expenses for post-secondary education.

You and the other parent are free to decide which expenses are reasonable and necessary. Once you do that, you can decide how much each of you will contribute to them. As a general rule, you would share the cost in proportion to your incomes, but you may agree to another arrangement.

To share expenses in proportion to your incomes means each of you pay a portion of the cost — a percentage amount — equal to what you earn. For example, if both parents have the same income, they would each pay for one-half (50%) of the cost of the activity. Here’s an example of how to do the calculation if you don’t earn the same amount:

Example: Peter and Candice agree that they will share the cost of their son’s soccer. Peter has an income of $20,000 and Candice has an income of $30,000, which makes their combined income $50,000. Of the $50,000, Peter earns 40% of the total and Candice earns 60%. This means Peter should pay 40% of the cost of the soccer and Candice should pay the remaining 60% of the cost. So, if a year of soccer for their son is $200, then Peter would pay $80 and Candice would pay $120 toward the cost.

Keep in mind that special and extraordinary expenses have to be reasonable based on the parents’ financial situation and the children’s needs. A Child Support Officer or Family Justice Counsellor may also be able to help you determine special or extraordinary expenses.

What should we do once we agree on an amount?

Once you and the other parent agree on an amount of child support, including special and extraordinary expenses you should:

  • Write up the details of your agreement,
  • Ask a Family Justice Counsellor to review it (if you have any doubts),
  • Each sign it — with two different witnesses watching each of you sign,
  • Ask the witnesses to sign the document, and
  • Put it in a safe place or ask the staff at the court registry to “file” it. (Provincial Court has no filing fees.)

You don’t have to file your child support agreement at the court. So long as your agreement follows the Child Support Guidelines, it is a valid document. You are only required to file your agreement in court if:

  • You want to enroll in the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, or
  • The paying parent hasn’t been paying the child support amount you agreed to and you need to go to court to get a child support order.

You and the other parent should continue to talk about child support at least once a year. If there are any changes in either parent’s income, you should discuss whether the current child support amounts you agreed to are still covering the costs of raising the children.