The Supreme Court of Canada in Michel v. Graydon, 2020 SCC 24 recently released a decision clarifying its position on awarding a variance in retroactive child support to children who are not adults.
Retroactive child support is support that a parent is ordered to pay in situations when they should have been paying more child support than they had been previously under the Child Support Guidelines. Sometimes, the avoidance of the party paying support may not be discovered until the child is an adult. This decision now gives clarity in this important area of family law as to the difference between what should have been paid in child support and what amounts of retroactive child support can be recovered when the child is an adult.
The facts of this case revolved around two parents, referred in the decisions as "M" (the mother) and "G" (the father). The parents had a child referred to as "A", who was born in 1991. M and G separated in 1994. Upon separation, A lived with his mother and his father agreed to pay child support. These terms were formalized in an Order on Consent in 2001.
The father's child support obligations came to end in 2012. After this time, the mother came to realize that the father had been understating his income firm 2001 to 2012, with the exception of 2004. Upon learning this fact, the mother applied under British Columbia's Family Law Act to retroactively vary child support for the period in which the father underreported his income and underpaid his child support.
The Application first appeared before a hearing judge who awarded the mother $23,000 in retroactive child support. However, on appeal to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the father was successful in overturning the decision. The court referred to a 2006 Supreme Court of Canada decision, which held that an Application for child support under the Divorce Act had to be made while the child was still "a child of the marriage". The court held that the same position should be made to an Application under the province's Family Law Act.
The mother appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. In the majority's decision, the court stated that Applications for retroactive child support must be analyzed through the provincial and federal laws for which they are based. The court stated that its decision in 2006 only applied to the Divorce Act, and should not be interpreted as an imposition on all provincial laws dealing with the issue of child support.
The SCC held that it was within the law to to award a retroactive variance of child support. Upon reviewing the facts of the case, the court held that the father had underreported his income, which lead to his failure to meet his child support obligations. The court also found that the payor father would not experience undue hardship if he was required to make the payment of retroactive child support. As a result, the hearing judge's decision was enforced and the father was required to pay $23,000 plus costs. And we are confident that those costs would be significant.
If you are dealing with a complication arising from a situation of retroactive child support as it applies to your family law and parenting matter, we invite you to contact an experienced lawyer at our firm for more information about how we may be of assistance.
Aubrey Sherman is the managing partner at Sherman Law LLP in Kitchener, Ontario. His practice focuses on family law, estate planning, and estate administration. The team at Sherman Law LLP in Waterloo Region has over 40 years of experience providing clients with creative and innovative solutions. If you wish to discuss your family law or estate planning matter in further detail, please contact our office to arrange for a consultation. We can be reached by phone at 519-884-0034 or by email.