The Child Support Obligation of Step-Parents
Canadian Journal of Family Law, Vol. 18, pp. 9-158, 2001
77 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2008 Last revised: 30 Jun 2010
Date Written: January 1, 2001
The child support obligation of step-parents has recently emerged as a significant issue in child support law in Canada, both for legal practitioners and government policy makers. The promises of predictability and consistency which that heralded the introduction of child support guidelines have not been realized in this area. Since the introduction of the guidelines in May of 1997, there have been a significant number of litigated cases dealing with issues relating to step-parent liability for support. Practitioners dealing with such cases are faced with an uncertain and unpredictable body of case law, but one which raises the possibility, depending upon the discretion of the court and the circumstances of the case, of the imposition of fairly extensive financial obligations upon step-parents.
The existence of step-families - in ever increasing numbers - gives rise to many legal issues with respect to the recognition and regulation of the relationship between step-parents and step-children. The very formation of a step-parent relationship raises issues about existing child support obligations that must be addressed by a legal system.The purpose of this paper is to review the developing law on step-parent liability for child support in Canada with a view to identifying and clarifying the assumptions and values that are structuring the law. I hope thereby to set the stage for an informed discussion of the appropriateness of our current legal response and the need, if any, for a change or clarification of policy direction, whether by judicial or legislative means. My view is not that imposition of support obligations on step-parents is necessarily wrong or that we should model our law on that of countries that impose either no or very limited obligations on step-parents. Rather my concern is that we should be conscious that we are moving into new territory and that we need to have a clear, informed sense of the nature of step-family relationships and the reasons that justify the imposition of stepparent support obligations. Without that, there is a danger that support obligations may be extended overbroadly and imposed for the wrong reasons - such as the privatization of support obligations to save public funds and or the reconfiguration of very traditional family structures.
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