Can Child Support be Nil?

can child support be nil

I spoke with a woman (let’s call her Sandy) recently who told me she and her ex (let’s call him Mark) have been separated 7 years but have not filed for divorce because they’re avoiding to deal with child support. They have a very amicable relationship and a cohesive co-parenting arrangement and worry that the judges will mess it all up by imposing child support. They have not been paying child support to one another for the last 7 years, and don’t intend to ever do.  

Sandy and Mark are not unique. Many ex-couples set up their own parenting schedules, and their own child support arrangements way before they start looking into submitting the legal paperwork. A lot of times it happens organically- one parent moves out, the other stays in the matrimonial home with the kids, and naturally requires assistance from the one who moved out. They come up with an arrangement that gets them by on what the courts like to call “on an interim basis”, i.e., temporarily until a final agreement or court order is reached. 


Is Sandy correct in her belief that the man in the black gown will mess up their co-parenting/child support synchrony? 

Yes, if these two scenarios apply:

  1. Their child support arrangement, in this case nil, is considerably different from the child support federal amount that applies to them (more on this below). 
  2. The divorce documents submitted do not contain a proper explanation of the reason for the discrepancy, or “deviation” as referred to in a court setting.  

Let me explain… 

Child support calculations are impacted by 3 factors:

  1. The two parties’ incomes
  2. Number of children
  3. Parenting arrangement (custody)
    1. Is it shared?- the two parents have parenting time with their children approximately equal amounts of time
    2. Or is it sole or Joint?- one parent has the kids more time than the other. 

There’s an important distinction to understand here about the third point. In a shared custody arrangement, child support is a set-off amount. Meaning, it’s the result of:

Amount higher income parent owes (minus) amount lower income parent owes = what higher income parent pays lower income parent. 

For example, in Sandy’s case, her yearly income is $108,000, and Mark’s is $120,000. They have 3 children. According to the calculation, Sandy owes Mark $2,059 and he owes her 2,273. Because they have a shared custody arrangement as per 3(a) above, if they were to go by the guidelines, Mark owes Sandy a set-off amount of $214. 

If Sandy has the kids more time than Mark, then the child support calculation wouldn’t be a set-off amount. Mark would pay Sandy his full portion of $2,273. 

Quite different, right?

Okay….so you are interested what the guideline amount is for you and your ex?

There’s a couple of places online where you can get that calculation for free. You just need to know approximately how much your spouse makes:

So What About Sandy?…Can she and Mark keep this arrangement even after they file for divorce?

Because the federal guidelines amount payable by Mark is minimal ($214), and not too far off from what they agree to ($0), from my experience, the Judge will most likely accept this arrangement. 

I am sharing this simply from the perspective of my experience working at Alberta Courts, and later submitting 100s of client files into court for Judges’ reviews. This is not a blank rule. Please don’t hold me accountable if you don’t have a similar experience. 

As for Sandy.. 

I wish for her and Mark to take a leap of faith, and submit their divorce, with their current arrangement. I think they will have a good chance at receiving their final Divorce Judgment, with their parenting and child support arrangements intact. I wish that for her because I know it will give her closure and maybe even put an end to her fear of the man in the black gown.   

Want to know more about the subject and much more about the basics of divorce in Alberta? Sign up to the Divorce 101 Webinar.  

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