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If we never married, do I still have to pay child support?

When two parents get a divorce in Canada, federal law makes it very clear that child support is legally required. Whichever parent is not the primary caregiver for the child or children will pay a court-ordered sum of money to the other parent to help cover the costs of raising the kids.

If the parents were not married, however, what rules apply? According to the Government of Canada, provincial or territorial child support guidelines determine who pays what when unmarried parents decide not to raise their child together.

Each province has its own set of guidelines but they all agree on one thing: parents must support their children financially, even if they are not doing it together. In the words of the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario, a parent has a legal obligation to support his or her child, “regardless of whether [the parents] were married, living together or have never lived together.”

Even in situations where a parent has had no role in raising the child and perhaps did not wish to have a child at all, the law requires him or her to pay child support.

Not all parenting situations are black and white

There are some grey areas concerning child support obligation, particularly concerning unmarried same-sex couples. The non-biological parent may have to pay child support after a break-up, especially if he or she adopted the child. Similarly, a person who takes on a parental role with a child who is the offspring of his or her partner but is not his or her own, may be required to pay support if the couple separates.

In the incredibly unlikely situation that two parents share custody in a precise 50/50 split, theoretically one could argue that child support is not necessary. Disparities in income would likely negate the argument, however.

Reducing the burden

There are situations in which a judge might reduce the amount of support. An example would be if you can prove making the payments as ordered would create an unbearable financial hardship. If the child's other parent is married or in a common-law relationship, that might affect the support amount as well.

To sum up, there are almost no scenarios in which a non-custodial parent is not legally required to provide financial support for his or her child. If you have questions about your rights as a parent to child support, whether you are custodial or otherwise, it is a very good idea to speak with a lawyer for clarification.