Child Support: Support for Step-Children, Part 1

Am I obligated to support my spouse's child?

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If your spouse has a child from a previous relationship, you may be required to pay child support should your relationship breakdown. In this post, we will discuss how these situations arise.

When parents move on to form new relationships, their new spouses can sometimes assume the role of parent to a child from the previous relationship, even though they are not the biological parent. This is known in law as standing "in loco parentis" which means "standing in place of a parent." In these situations, a parent-child relationship can form, which may give rise to an obligation to support that child.  This can happen regardless of whether you are married or living common-law with your new spouse.

Why do I have this obligation?

The ability for courts to order a non-biological parent to pay child support stems from the definitions of "parent" in the Family Law Act of Ontario, and "child of the marriage" in the Federal Divorce Act. In the FLA, parent is defined as an individual who has demonstrated a "settled intention to treat a child as his or her family." In the Divorce Act, which only applies to married couples, "child of the marriage" includes any for whom an individual is "standing in place of a parent."

Both these definitions contemplate a situation in which someone who is not the biological parent of a child has assumed the role of a parent. If the court finds that an individual has stood in place of a parent, or has demonstrated an intention to act as a parent to a child, they may order that that individual pay child support.

What about the biological parent's obligation to support the child?

Even if your spouse is receiving support from the biological parent, you may still be required to support the child if the court deems that it is in the child's best interests to have that additional support.  The amount of support may be impacted by the support already being paid by the biological parent.

If you are ordered to pay child support and the biological parent is obligated to, but is not supporting the child, you may be able claim compensation from the biological parent.

Part 2 of this post explores when a court will order support, the factors they will consider, and whether you can withdraw from your role as a "parent". You can read it here.