To Get Retroactive Support, Does a Kid Have to be Eligible at Now … or Only Back Then?
A recent Ontario case highlights an interesting “timing” conundrum in Family Law: when a parent applies for retroactive child support, does it matter that the child over 18 when the application is made? Or does that make the child ineligible for support?
And what if it’s a motion to retroactively change existing support levels?
The law on this point was canvassed in the recent case of P.M.B. v. A.R.C.-A. The mother wanted support to cover a period when the child was 18 and attending school full-time. However, on the date of her application, the child was 19 and no longer attending school. She asked the court to order child support that was retroactive (i.e. effectively “back-dated”) to cover the child’s eligible period.
In considering that claim, the court resorted to the principles set out in a well-known Supreme Court of Canada decision in D.B.S. v. S.R.G., where the court set out the factors that family courts should take into account in detailing with such retroactive applications.
That higher Court had confirmed the general principle (known as the “D.B.S. rule”), that a claim for retroactive support cannot be made unless the child is eligible for support at the time the application is made. As the court in P.M.B. v. A.R.C.-A. put it: “Child support is for children of the marriage, not adults who used to have that status.”
(But this principle comes with a caveat, because the standards and thresholds for what makes a child eligible for support are slightly different under the provincial Family Law Act versus the federal Divorce Act. Also, other established factors that need to be examined, such as the reason for the parent’s delay in applying, the conduct of the paying parent, the circumstances of the child, and the hardship that such an award may entail. In short: Child support eligibility is a complicated legal issue).
However – as with all rules – there are some exceptions. The D.B.S. rule will usually be found not to apply in cases where:
• There is an existing order in place (and an established support obligation under either the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act) and a motion is being brought to change it retroactively;
• A party has engaged in blameworthy conduct (for example where the support recipients have been thwarted or blocked from pursuing a motion to vary support because of some misconduct by the paying parent); or
• The paying parent has failed to disclose income increases to the recipient parent, in a manner that the court considers blameworthy.
Ultimately, and after considering all of these principles, the court in P.M.B. v. A.R.C.-A. decided to stray from the usual D.B.S. rule, for various circumstantial reasons. These included: a) the existence of an oral agreement for child support; b) the fact that two of the three children were still under age and eligible for support when the retroactive support order was being made; and c) because the father had been fully aware of his support obligation – and the fact that he was not meeting it – all along.
For the full text of the decision, see:
P.M.B. v. A.R.C.-A., 2015 ONCJ 720 (CanLII)
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