Case allows for creative approach to support arrangements

A recent case that upheld parties’ ability to deviate from the Federal Child Support Guidelines if the outcome is to the children’s advantage has given counsel freedom to offer creative solutions to their clients – but they must do so cautiously, Oakville family lawyer and mediator Cathryn Paul tells Law Times.

“With the increase in mediated and negotiated settlements in child support matters, there has been an exploration of alternatives to the Child Support Guidelines,” the legal publication reports, referring to Stevenson v. Smit, where “one such agreement came under scrutiny.”

The case saw parties record an intention to equally share the major expenses for their children in a separation agreement. But after three years, the father defaulted and alleged he could no longer meet the terms of the agreement, Law Times reports.

The case is an example of why, when parties stray from the Child Support Guidelines, there must be caution about doing so, says Paul.

“Until this case, we have really been of the view that you can’t deviate too far from the guidelines, particularly when children are primarily with one parent, say 60 per cent of the time,” Paul tells Law Times.

“The view has been that you are kind of stuck. This case gives a lot of room to negotiate as long as arrangements provide for the children. They can’t be worse off. It’s a matter of restructuring how their needs are met.”

In the article, Paul says even with the freedom to deviate from the guidelines, clients should always be fully informed about their options.

“We still let parties know what the legal landscape is, but the case has given us confidence in being creative,” she says in Law Times.

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