The pandemic has been an incredibly tough time on everyone – feelings of isolation and uncertainty have taken over and on top of that, many people have unfortunately lost their jobs. The question we are constantly being asked is: if you’ve lost your job or had a change in your financial circumstances, can you stop paying child support?
CAN I STOP PAYING CHILD SUPPORT BECAUSE OF COVID-19?
The quick answer is: no one can unilaterally change a judgment or a contract when it comes to child support. However, if one party has lost their job, both parties can agree to a reasonable modification to help them get through COVID-19. It all starts with a conversation between the parties (and if applicable, their lawyers).
It is important to note that child support is an obligation that exists for every parent in Quebec and Canada. By law, both parents must continue to contribute to the needs of their children after a separation. Child support is normally determined based on the annual income of each parent, the number of children, custody time and certain additional expenses to meet a child’s needs. A change in one of these elements can affect the child support payable.
Option 1: come to an agreement with your ex-spouse
If a parent’s economic situation has changed, whether they’re on EI, on a reduced salary, or have lost their job due to COVID-19, instead of going to court to request a formal modification of child support, parties can communicate with one another to try to come up with an agreement. The parties’ lawyers can reach out to one another and propose reducing the payments for the time being; however, once the party who has lost their job becomes gainfully employed, that party can offer to catch up on the payments. A judgment is necessary to modify the support payments and parties can homologate their new agreement by using the Homologation Assistance Service (HAS). The modified judgment will be transmitted to Revenu Québec.
If parents cannot come to an agreement on their own but would like to reach a solution, they can seek the assistance of a mediator to avoid court.
Option 2: going to court to request a modification of child support
What happens if the parties cannot come to an agreement?
The party who cannot afford their child support payments can file a motion in court requesting a modification of child support and explaining their change in circumstance. This is not the most cost-efficient option but can be used as a last resort. However, it is worth noting that due to COVID-19, some courthouses are only hearing what they consider to be “urgent” matters and will not necessarily hear a modification for child support case at the moment.
Option 3: SARPA
Another option in Quebec to modify a child support agreement or court order if a party’s situation changes is through SARPA (the Quebec government’s service called Services administrative de rajustement des pensions alimentaires pour enfants or child support adjustment service). SARPA lets parents change the amount of support payments for children under 18 without having to go back to court. Instead, they can ask SARPA to change the court decision that ordered or approved the support payments for these children. The Commission des services juridiques (legal aid) is responsible for this service. Usually, one parent can apply to SARPA without the agreement of the other parent. But in some situations, both parents must agree. To use the SARPA service, the parents must meet specific requirements, for example, the child must be under 18 and the parents’ situation must have changed. To learn more, visit the SARPA website.
All in all, child support payments should be maintained insofar as possible. Suspending child support collection or payments may not be the best solution as it deprives the child of amounts required to meet their essential needs.
Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments!