In family law, we are seeing an increasing number of clients with multiple ex-spouses and children from past relationships. These clients bring with them new challenges for family lawyers. For example, parents may want to have the same parenting regime with children from multiple relationships, or may wonder why their child support obligations are so much higher than if all of their children had arisen from one relationship.
A parent paying child support must pay the Child Support Guidelines’ Table amount of child support for each particular household of children. However, where a parent is paying child support for children in two or more separate households, this can quickly become much more expensive than if all of the children resided in the same household. For example, a parent who makes $45,000 annually would be required to pay $644 per month for two children in the same household. By contrast, that parent would be required to pay $406 per month for each of the two children if they were in separate households, equaling a total of $812 per month.
Is there an argument to be made for splitting the $644 Table amount and giving one half to each child’s household? The generally answer is “no”. However, a parent may be allowed to pay a reduced amount of child support if he or she can show that paying Table child support for multiple households will cause him or her undue hardship. Note, however, that the threshold for proving undue hardship is very high.
Custody and Access
Where an individual has children from multiple relationships, the following factors can become important to a judge deciding issues of custody and access:
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- If the step- or half-siblings’ relationship is positive, this can be a factor in favour of the children spending more time together. Conversely, if the relationship is negative or harmful, this can be a factor favouring the children spending more time at the other parent’s house;
- In determining whether a parent will play a positive role in the lives of the children for whom the court is deciding custody and access, the court may look at that parent’s role or relationship in his/her other children’s lives;
- The court may strive to order a parenting schedule that allows a parent to have all children from multiple relationships with him or her at the same time, particularly where the children have a close bond. For example, parents who have children from one relationship with them every second week will likely want to have the children from their second relationship with them on those same weeks;
- Evidence about a parent’s ability to co-parent with one partner may be relevant to determining whether sole or joint custody is appropriate in respect of the parent’s children with another partner.
It is also important for a parent to know that, even where custody and access have already been determined for one set of children, family law proceedings in respect of his/her other children may reveal facts or lead to an outcome that then requires the custody and access arrangements for the first set of children to be revisited.
For a more in-depth discussion on child support and custody in situations where children from multiple relationships are involved, see our recent article.