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Do Step-Parents Pay Child Support in BC?

Each parent and guardian of a child has a duty to pay child support. BC's Family Law Act defines a step-parent as:

A person who is a spouse of the child's parent and lived with the child's parent and the child during the child's life.

With respect to child support, the Family Law Act states:

(4) A child's step-parent does not have a duty to provide support for the child unless

(a) the stepparent contributed to the support of the child for at least one year.

This means that a step-parent will pay child support if (1) they were a "spouse" (meaning they were married or lived together for two years), and (2) the step-parent contributed to the child's support for at least one year.

In assessing whether a step-parent "contributed to the support of the child for at least one year," Courts will look at different factors, including

  • The length of the relationship;
  • The family's spending habits;
  • Who paid the household expenses;
  • The step-parent's direct and indirect contributions to the child.

In Henderson v. Bal, 2014 BCSC 1347, for example, the Court found that the step-father did have to pay child support because he had contributed to the child's support:

Here the stepparent father lived with the child S for 10 years, and has known her most of her young life. She has not known any other father. He allowed her to treat him as her father and he has benefitted from this relationship. He has experienced the joy, laughter and love associated with raising a  child.

The stepparent's role as father has not been replaced by someone else.

During the long time that the stepparent father was part of the household, he assumed parental responsibilities for S and contributed to the household finances.

By contrast, in Sampaio v. Christianson, 2015 BCSC 1712, the Court found that the step-father did not have to pay child support:

Although the evidence shows that the Three Older Children lived full-time in the Matrimonial Home during the period from mid-2006 until May 31, 2008, I find that they did so as part of a separate family unit created by the respondent, not as part of the family unit comprised of the claimant, the respondent and Melissa.

Indeed, even though they were living under the same roof, the claimant went to great lengths to keep the two families' affairs separated, particularly during the year preceding the parties' separation. Expenses for the two de facto households were not shared during the period of time between June 2006 and May 2008.

Each case is different and whether someone was a step-parent always depends on the circumstances.

The obligation of a step-parent to pay child support is secondary to the biological parent. BC's Family Law Act states:

(5) If a stepparent has a duty to provide support for a child under subsection (4), the stepparent's duty

(a) is secondary to that of the child's parents and guardians, and

(b) extends only as appropriate on consideration of

(i) the standard of living experienced by the child during the relationship between the stepparent and his or her spouse, and

(ii) the length of time during which the child lived with the stepparent.

The step-parent's obligation to pay child support is secondary to the biological parents. In calculating a step-parent's child support amount, courts will subtract any child support amount being paid by the biological parents. See MySupportCalculator to determine child support amounts.

If your spouse has children from a previous relationship and you contribute to the support of those children for over a year, you are likely on the hook for child support. Any child support already being paid by the biological parent will be subtracted from your child support amount.

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