Child support is money paid to help cover the expenses of raising children. There are two types of child support, base (Section 3) child support and extra expenses (Section 7). Section 7 support is sometimes referred to as extraordinary expenses. Extra expense child support or section 7 child support is payable over and above the monthly base child support amount.
Recently the Alberta Court of Appeal in FJN v JK, 2019 ABCA 305 clarified how an expense is determined to be extraordinary. The court reminded us that expenses are extraordinary if they exceed an amount that the requesting spouse can reasonably cover, taking into account the income of the requesting spouse and any child support received. Thus, the term “extraordinary expense” must be understood within the particular family’s means and circumstance.
If the expenses do not exceed an amount the requesting spouse can reasonably cover, the court may still consider any other relevant factor to decide whether it is an extraordinary expense including any special needs of the child, the overall cost or the nature of the educational program.
The Court of Appeal also reminded us that a decision to order a payment of expenses is discretionary. Even though an expense may fall into the list outlined in section 7, the court must be satisfied that ordering the payment of such an expense is both in the child’s best interests and reasonable according to the means of the family and its spending patterns prior to separation.
The determination of whether an expense should be considered special or extraordinary within the meaning of section 7 is therefore family-specific. It depends on the child, the family, the incomes and the spending patterns during the marriage or relationship.
As a result, the Court’s decision and comments about section 7 expenses may narrow the expectation that some families have about what an appropriate section 7 expense is – particularly for families with higher-earning payor parents. The Court of Appeal’s decision in FJN v JK specifically stated that it is incorrect for a court to characterize something as an “extraordinary expense” just because the payor can afford it. Furthermore, section 7 expenses are not to be used as a mechanism to redistribute income between families even if doing so is with the view that benefitting the other household will result in benefit to the child. The Court of Appeal made this decision in the context of deciding an appeal of a case with a special needs child.
Overall, section 7 expenses are not a given – they are discretionary and require consideration of the specific circumstances of each family.
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