Child support in a blended family:  What are your obligations as a step-parent?

March 26, 2016

By: Ashley Iyathurai, Law Office of Jeff Jiehui Li

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. You should contact Jeff Li or a family lawyer if you are concerned about your family law issues.

Step-parents living in a blended family should be aware that, on separation, they may be required to pay child support for their step-children. The courts have recognized that families are now more diverse in their composition, and support orders now echo these changes.

At law, an order for child support is not limited to only the child’s biological parents. Under the Family Law Act (FLA), a parent is defined as “a person who has demonstrated a settled intention to treat a child as a child of his or her family,” with exceptions carved out for foster parents. Because a step-parent can also be included in this definition, on separation, the step-parent may be responsible for providing support for an unmarried minor child, or a non-minor child enrolled in a full time educational program.

The language in the Divorce Act is similarly structured to include step-parents as well. Under the Act, “a child of two spouses or former spouses includes (a) any child for whom they both stand in the place of parents; and (b) any child of whom one is the parent and for whom the other stands in the place of a parent.”

The parent seeking to bring a claim for child support must establish that the other person has met this threshold, that is, that he/she has demonstrated an intention to treat the child as a child of the family.

It is worthwhile to note, upon separation, a step-parent who was standing in the place of a parent, cannot then unilaterally withdraw him/herself from the relationship.

In Chartier v. Chartier, the Supreme Court of Canada provided some guidance on how the Act should be applied in this context. In making this determination, the court will utilize its discretion to determine, if in fact, the person was standing in the place of a parent to the child.

The court will assess the nature of the relationship by looking at a number of factors including: intention, whether the child was involved with the extended family in the same way as a biological child, whether the person has provided financially for the child, whether the person was involved in disciplining the child, how the person represents the child to others, and the child’s relationship with the absent biological parent.

None of these factors will be used in isolation to make this determination. Instead, the court will consider all relevant factors in order to accurately assess whether or not the person has met the standard set out in the Act.

Once the court establishes that there is, in fact, a parent-child relationship within the meaning of the legislation, the step-parent can then exercise certain rights as well, such as applying for custody or access.

As issues involving step parents and step children may be complicated, one should consult an experienced family law lawyer if caught in such a situation.

 

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