In family law, it is well known that child support is the right of the child, and parents are required to meet their child support obligations. After a divorce, it is not uncommon for a party to find a new partner, which can reshape the family dynamic in different ways. This raises the question of whether or not step-parents are required to make child support payments to their step-children.
In this article, we will discuss circumstances when step-parents are required to pay child support for their step-children, which depend highly on the facts of the situation. We will discuss the factors that the court will consider, as it depends on the nature of the relationship between the step-parent and step-child. Finally, we will examine a recent Alberta case, Thierman v. Tymchuk, to illustrate how the court will apply the legal principles and factors. This will provide key insights for step-parents or other parties in blended families.
In order to find that a step-parent is obligated to pay child support, they must be found to stand in place of a parent. In other words, the step-child is considered a “child of the marriage” for the step-parent. The court will look at the nature of the relationship between the step-parent and step-child and consider the intention of those involved.
The court must consider intention as inferred by the actions of the parties, not just a formally expressed opinion. Based on the evidence, the court must be able to infer that the step-parent treats the child as a member of their family.
Relevant factors include, but are not limited to:
If the evidence shows that the step-parent acted as if the child was a “child of the marriage,” then the same Divorce Act obligations and rights would apply to a biological child. This means that the step-parent must provide child support and may apply to enforce their custody or access (i.e. parenting) rights toward the step-child.
The court has emphasized that these factors are highly dependent on the case’s specific facts. We will discuss a case example below to illustrate how the factors are applied in a specific circumstance.
The parties involved were Mr. Thierman and Ms. Tymchuk, who were never married but dated and cohabited for approximately 2-4 years. They separated in 2018.
Ms. Tymchuk had two children from her previous relationship, and the parties had two children of their own during their relationship. After separation, the parties arranged for Mr. Thierman to have regular parenting time with the children, which stopped after he began his treatment for alcohol addiction in 2020.
Ms. Tymchuk claimed that the two older children from her previous relationship had no contact with their biological father since 2008. Instead, the children had a significant relationship with Mr. Thierman, according to Ms. Tymchuk, as he entered their lives when they were 8 and 6 years old. In particular, she claimed that Mr. Thierman participated in the children’s school and extracurricular activities, they all attended family gatherings together, and he financially supported the children during their relationship. After separation, she claimed that Mr. Thierman’s step-children would join when he had parenting time with his two biological children.
Mr. Thierman’s position was that he was not involved in the care of his step-children in that he and the children did not interact as a family unit. He claimed that he only included his step-children on his benefits plan at the request of Ms. Tymchuk and because it did not cost additional fees to do so. He also claimed that his step-children never considered him a father figure, and after separation, they sent texts to suggest that they did not want to see him.
The court did not accept Mr. Thierman’s claim that he did not play a parental role in his step-children’s lives. The court considered the following evidence, which suggested that he acted as a parent for his step-children:
The court noted that the children’s views are not determinative of whether or not the step-parent acts as a parent for the children, considering that the children may resent or reject the step-parent’s authority despite the step-parent providing for them. Therefore, even though the older step-child, in this case, had expressed that they did not want to see him, this was not determinative of if Mr. Thierman stood in place of a parent. Also, the text messages from the step-children suggested that they expected Mr. Thierman to provide their support, as he had taken care of them as a parent.
Considering the evidence as a whole, the court concluded that Mr. Thierman was acting in place of a parent and was responsible for child support payments for his step-children, including child support arrears.
After a separation, families change and evolve to include new partners, which may give rise to new obligations or rights for the step-parent if they are found to act in place of a parent for their step-children. Given that these findings depend on the case’s unique circumstances, you should contact one of our family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman, who are experienced in assisting parties with issues such as child support and parenting when a step-parent is involved. Our Calgary family law lawyers are dedicated to finding the best resolution for you and your children after a divorce.
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