Family, Mediation

Online calculation system positive, but limited in scope

A new online support calculation system may well divert some family law cases out of the court system, but its impact will be limited, says Oakville family lawyer and mediator Cathryn Paul.

“It is a very interesting and helpful idea,” says Paul, whose family law practice focuses on mediation and arbitration. “My concern is there are a lot of circumstances we can see where it will not apply.”

Ontario’s proposed legislative update provides for an administrative authority to calculate and recalculate child support amounts. The idea is that, 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 expenses.

This can be particularly helpful for those who want to update those calculations every year, says Paul.

It is also a step in the right direction in the ongoing attempt to make justice more accessible, something which continues to be a major concern in family law. And it could relieve some of the burden on the Ontario Court of Justice, which is overwhelmed with family law cases, she adds.

While some people may see only small or incremental changes to their income, resulting in an insignificant change in child support payments, others like to update it regularly, says Paul. Once the calculation system is implemented, separated parents will be able to do that online.

Paul says the amount is often recalculated after all the previous year’s income statements are filed.

But those who receive more than 20 per cent of their income through rental income, seasonal employment or self-employment can’t use the tool nor can those whose income is derived from a corporation on which the paying parent is a director.

And Paul points out that those whose incomes exceed $150,000 also can’t use the online calculation method.

The exception that Paul believes will end up excluding the most number of people is shared custody, which is a very common arrangement.

“The new system is not a panacea, it does not apply to everybody, but it is good because it does divert cases from the court. They just have to be simple situations,” says Paul.

Aside from the recalculation of Table child support, parties often find themselves in a dispute over special or extraordinary expenses.

“Some of those can be calculated in this new system, but some cannot,” says Paul.

For instance, the new system doesn’t address such costs as post-secondary education expenses, extracurricular activities, or participation in a competitive sport. But it does cover child care and uninsured medical or dental expenses.

“If there is anything that is discretionary, if there is no agreement, they have to go to court,” says Paul.

The bottom line, she says, is that separated couples now have another option, in addition to settling on their own or going to court.

“It will be interesting to see how many people opt into this new system," she says. "Where you have substantive arguments, that’s where the court system becomes involved."

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