Nowadays, the definition of what constitutes a family becomes broader. With this change comes increasingly diverse questions. One question we see frequently surrounds the issue of step-parents and child support. Do step-parents pay child support in BC? In this blog, we’ll provide the answers.
How does BC Define a Step-Parent?
Under British Columbia’s Family Law Act, a step-parent is defined as:
A person who is a spouse of the child’s parent and lived with the child’s parent and the child during the child’s life.
When it comes to child support, the Family Law Act states the following:
A child’s step-parent does not have a duty to provide support for the child unless the step parent contributed to the support of the child for at least one year.
This means a step-parent is obliged to pay child support if they were married to (or lived with) the child’s parent for two years, and they contributed to the support of the child for at least one year. While this seems clear cut, the term “contributed to the support of the child for at least one year” can be considered somewhat ambiguous. In fact, Courts will examine several different factors before concluding:
- The length of the relationship;
- Family spending habits;
- Who paid the household expenses;
- The step-parent’s direct and indirect contributions to the child.
Examining Legal Examples
Luckily, there are several legal examples we can reference for guidance in this area.
In Henderson v. Bal, 2014 BCSC 1347, for example, the Court found that the step-father did have to pay child support because he had contributed to the child’s support:
Here the step-parent father lived with the child S for 10 years, and has known her most of her young life. She has not known any other father. He allowed her to treat him as her father and he has benefitted from this relationship. He has experienced the joy, laughter and love associated with raising a child.
The step-parent’s role as father has not been replaced by someone else.
During the long time that the step-parent father was part of the household, he assumed parental responsibilities for S and contributed to the household finances.
By contrast, in Sampaio v. Christianson, 2015 BCSC 1712, the Court found that the step-father did not have to pay child support:
Although the evidence shows that the Three Older Children lived full-time in the Matrimonial Home during the period from mid-2006 until May 31, 2008, I find that they did so as part of a separate family unit created by the respondent, not as part of the family unit comprised of the claimant, the respondent and Melissa.
Indeed, even though they were living under the same roof, the claimant went to great lengths to keep the two families’ affairs separated, particularly during the year preceding the parties’ separation. Expenses for the two de facto households were not shared during the period of time between June 2006 and May 2008.
While step-parents are obligated to pay child support in some instances, this obligation is secondary to the biological parents. In calculating a step-parent’s child support amount, Courts will subtract any child support amount being paid by the biological parents.
If your spouse has children from a prior relationship and you contribute to the support of those children for over a year, you are likely going to have to pay child support.