Online support tool best serves primary custody arrangements

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Ontario’s new online tool that allows families to set up enforceable child support arrangements or update court orders for child support uses modern technology to provide greater access to justice, but will only help spouses with relatively simple child support arrangements, says St. Catharines family lawyer Sharon Silbert.

The service, which launched in the spring, will best serve people who don’t have complicated separation issues and need a way to consistently address child support, says Silbert, principal of Sharon B. Silbert Professional Corp.

“Some people are hesitant to go through the process of retaining counsel, preparing a separation agreement or filing a court application to get a legally binding document in place that will govern child support,” Silbert tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“Many people live with informal child support arrangements as a result, and this might offer them an opportunity to put something legally binding in place to protect them without all of the cost and complication associated with either going through court or completing a comprehensive separation agreement.”

As a lawyer, Silbert says she always encourages people to complete a comprehensive separation agreement, but she recognizes it isn’t always affordable or practical.

“I see this new tool as an access to justice initiative, which is positive.”

Silbert, who recently attended an Ontario Bar Association webcast that discussed the new tool, says some of her clients are already expressing an interest in including a provision to use the tool in their separation agreements.

It’s important to note the service can only be used for residential arrangements where the child lives primarily with one parent, she says.

“It’s not available in situations where there are shared residence arrangements for children or where there’s a split custody arrangement,” Silbert says. “This is really for situations where children are living more than 60 per cent of the time in one parent’s household and it’s clear that the other person is the one responsible for paying support.”

The service is most helpful for clients where one parent has primary residence for the child and they want to make sure the support arrangements are kept up to date, but don’t want to go through the process of re-hiring a lawyer every year to amend their agreement or update their court order, she says.

Changes in employment, salary or hours of work are examples of when parents may need to update their child support payments, Silbert adds, and often ex-spouses will simply make arrangements themselves without formally changing their legal documents.

“That can lead to problems down the line if there’s a major change in circumstances and support needs to be re-visited and there’s a disagreement about what was actually paid during the period of time when what the parents were doing was different from what was outlined in their court order or separation agreement,” she says.

In those kinds of cases, the Family Responsibility Office may enforce an outdated order or agreement, which can lead to serious consequences such as loss of a driver’s licence if the amount of support set out in the most recent legally-binding document is not being paid.

Use of the service costs $80 for each party, Silbert notes. The Ministry of Finance operates the tool, and individuals can provide their consent to have their income information automatically verified through the department’s connections with the CRA.

While the service won’t serve all families, especially those with shared-parenting arrangements — which is quite common — Silbert says she’s pleased the Ontario government is moving to modernize its child support system. While other provinces have online tools to update existing orders, Ontario is the first province to set up tool that also allows parents to create enforceable support arrangements from scratch.

“It’s a useful service and a step in the right direction. It’s not going to solve every problem for every person, but I think there is going to be a group of people for whom this will be extremely helpful.”

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