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Online calculation useful, with limitations

An incoming online support calculation system will help improve access to justice in Ontario, although it has limitations, says Toronto family lawyer Audrey Shecter.

The proposed system will only work for those with regular T4 tax forms from employers, not those who are self-employed, post a high income or have complicated tax returns, she says.

“It sounds like it will be a useful tool for simple matters,” says Shecter, a lawyer with Beard Winter LLP. “It will be extremely beneficial in certain circumstances.”

The legislative update provides for an administrative authority to calculate and recalculate child support amounts. For an $80 fee, separated couples can go online to determine what they should pay or expect to receive in child support without having to go to court and incur those additional related expenses, Law Times reports.

For those who consent to the terms of the separation agreement and don’t dispute the payor's income for support purposes or how it changed from one year to the next, the new online system will prove useful, says Shecter.

And that, she adds, could improve access to justice, which is woefully lacking in family law where more than half the participants try to go at it without a lawyer.

“It will absolutely make support orders and enforcement of those orders more accessible,” she says.

Right now, if a separated couple wants to make a change, they have to craft a written motion, either on consent or contested and become involved with court procedure. Many may simply not bother due to the expense, stress and technical procedures required, says Shecter.

The new system, which is a joint partnership with the Ministry of Finance, Service Ontario and the Family Responsibility Office as well as the Ministry of the Attorney General, would sidestep that and provide a more accessible system to make changes, she says.

Service Ontario has developed the online portal while the Ministry of Finance will provide an automated employment and income verification service to access information from the Canada Revenue Agency.

But there are still limitations, says Shecter.

There are a myriad of scenarios in which the system wouldn’t be useful, says Shecter, beginning with those who dispute the payor’s total income.

Those who earn more than 20 per cent of their income from rental properties, as well as self-employed and seasonal workers, also cannot make use of the new online tool, adds Shecter.

“If there’s any question about the support payor’s income, you would still want to consult a family lawyer or if there’s a situation that involves anything other than a T4,” says Shecter.

The goal in those situations, she adds, is to ensure all of that income is captured for support purposes.

“The new system certainly isn’t going to take away from the role of the family lawyer,” she says.

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