Last Updated: October 19, 2011
Support is money that one person pays to another person to help with living expenses. Spousal support is a payment one spouse pays to the other spouse. Child support is a payment one parent pays to the other parent for the support of their child or children. The word maintenance is sometimes used instead of support. It means the same thing.
The parties can make an agreement about support. Support agreements should be in writing. Each person should get legal advice about their rights and obligations before they sign an agreement. If the parties cannot agree, a court can decide if support should be paid and how much should be paid.
Mediation is often used by separating and divorcing couples to work out practical solutions to their legal issues. A mediator's role is to help the parties make their own choices. A mediator may help spouses find solutions they had not considered before. Spouses can discuss problems and make joint decisions about how to settle them.
Separating couples who cannot reach an agreement on their own, or with the help of a mediator, may be able to negotiate an agreement with the help of a lawyer. Some lawyers who practice family law use a collaborative approach designed to help parties reach an agreement without going to court. A lawyer can give legal advice, negotiate an agreement, write the agreement and explain how it will work. If no agreement can be reached, the matter may be taken to court.
Courts can make orders about support, review support agreements and change existing orders or agreements.
Social Services considers support payments as income. They only consider the amount actually received. If you are receiving financial assistance from Social Services they may require you to try to get and enforce an agreement or order for support.
When a couple separates neither spouse is automatically entitled to spousal support. Spousal support is intended to help balance the financial impact of a divorce. When couples separate or divorce, either spouse can ask for support. By law spouses are defined as couples who are legally married or who have lived together for at least two years, or have had a relationship of some permanence and have a child together. Spouses include same-sex couples.
Determining Spousal Support
Spouses can agree on any amount they like. If a court is asked to decide the issue of spousal support, the court will consider a number of factors to determine whether a spouse should receive support and, if so, how much.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement about spousal support the court will consider factors like the...
- needs and means of the parties
- length of the relationship
- role each spouse had in the relationship
- effect the relationship or its breakdown has had on each spouse
- ability of the spouse seeking support to become financially independent
- legal duty of the supporting spouse to support another person
There are also spousal support guidelines that may help the court or the parties themselves determine spousal support amounts. The spousal support guidelines are intended to provide a starting point within the context of the factors set out above, which must be considered by the courts.
In awarding spousal support, the court does not consider any misconduct of the spouses within the relationship, such as adultery.
Support for a spouse is payable for as long as the spouses agree, or for any length of time that a court orders.
Sometimes a court will expect a spouse to be responsible for their own support after a set amount of time. Other times, the court will not set any limit on the length of time that payments are to continue, for example, in the case of an older dependent spouse or a disabled spouse.
Spousal support is generally taxable income to the spouse receiving it and a tax deduction for the spouse paying it. However, certain requirements must be met for this to be the case.
Both parents have an obligation to support their children. The parent who the child lives with most of the time can apply for support for the child. Child support is paid for children under eighteen. A parent may be able to get support for a child who is over eighteen but still dependent because of illness, disability or other reason, such as full-time attendance at school.
The parent who the child does not live with is responsible for paying child support to the other parent. The other parent contributes to the support of the child by having the child with them. Child support must still be paid even if the paying parent does not see the child. The parent who the child lives with cannot refuse to let the other parent see the child because they are behind in child support payments. Child support must still be paid even if the parent who the child lives with remarries or lives with someone else.
Determining the Amount
There are guidelines in place that set out a fixed amount of support for each child, depending on the paying parent's income and the average cost of raising children.
The fixed amount can be raised if there are special expenses for the child, such as expenses related to health care or extracurricular activities. In some cases, the fixed amount can be lowered if paying that amount would cause undue hardship for the paying parent.
If the child lives with the paying parent more than forty percent of the time the court will consider the fixed amount in the guidelines but will also consider...
- increased costs of shared custody arrangements
- the conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each spouse and of any child for whom support is sought
Parents can reach their own agreement about child support. The agreement does not have to be based on the guidelines, but a court could refuse to approve an agreement that was totally inadequate to meet the child's needs.
Child support payments are not taxable income for the parent receiving them, nor are they tax-deductible for the paying parent.
Interim Support Orders
The court can order child or spousal support to be paid during the time between an application for divorce or other relief and the point at which the court makes a final order. This is called an interim order. When the court makes a final order, it may make an order different from the interim order.
Changing a Support Order
Anyone who has been ordered to pay support or who is receiving support because of a court order can apply to have the order changed. In the case of spousal support, the court can change an order if there has been a change in the means, needs or other circumstances of one of the spouses or of a child. For example, a court might change a support order if the paying spouse lost their job, or if the spouse who was receiving support has an increase in their income.
Where a child support order is based on the guidelines, any change of circumstances that would result in a different amount of child support can justify a change. Types of changes that affect the guideline amount include things like a change to the paying parent's income or a change to the child's special expenses. Child support orders that were not determined in accordance with the guidelines may be changed if there is a change in the means, needs or other circumstances of either spouse or of the child.
The Maintenance Enforcement Office (MEO) is set up to collect support payments. The order or agreement must be registered with the MEO if it is to be enforced by them.
The MEO can...
- have pay cheques, employment insurance, income tax refunds, pension cheques and money in bank accounts paid to the MEO and used to pay support payments
- ask the sheriff to seize property and sell it to pay the support payments
- make the non-paying spouse or parent go to court to explain why payments are not being made
- ask the court to send the non-paying parent or spouse to jail for up to 90 days
- ask to have the non-paying spouse or parent's driver's licence suspended
A person receiving support can sign a form stating that they do not want the payments to be enforced through the MEO. If you collect your own support, you must pay any enforcement costs. You can also register an order with the MEO at a later date if you are having difficulty collecting support payments.
An individual or the MEO can send a court order, or registered agreement, to another province or territory if the person paying support moves to another province or territory. If there is no order or agreement, a court application can be made either in Saskatchewan or in the province or territory where the other person lives.
For More Information
Family Law Information Centre
In Regina: (306) 787-5837
Child Support Guidelines, Saskatchewan
Federal Child Support Amounts: Simplified Tables
Maintenance Enforcement Office (MEO)
In Regina: (306) 787-8961