The Federal Child Support Guidelines: Step-by-Step


This glossary defines terms used in this guide for child support purposes. These are not legal definitions. Some terms included in this guide may have different meanings for other purposes. You may wish to consult a legal adviser about the legal definition of these terms.

Terminology under the Divorce Act

As of March 1, 2021, the Divorce Act no longer uses the terms “custody” or “access.”

Parenting time

refers to the time that children spend in the care of one of their parents, whether or not the child is physically with the parent (for example, it includes times when children are in school). Parenting time may be set out in a schedule. If you are a parent who had “access” under the Divorce Act, you now have “parenting time.”

Unless the court orders otherwise, a parent with parenting time has the right to ask for, and must be given, information about the health, education and welfare of the children from the other parent or a third party (for example, the school, a doctor).

Decision-making responsibility

means the responsibility to make important decisions about a child’s well-being, including decisions about health, education, culture, religion, and significant extracurricular activities. The Divorce Act says that a parent who has “custody” under an old custody order now has “decision-making responsibility.”

If one parent has all the decision-making responsibilities, they have sole decision-making responsibility. If both parents have decision-making responsibilities, they have joint decision-making responsibility.

Parenting order
is an order made by a court that sets out a number of important details about parenting arrangements, such as the time the children will spend with each parent, each parent’s decision-making responsibilities, and how the children will communicate with one parent when spending time with the other parent.
Parenting plan
describes how parents not living together will care for and make important decisions about their children in both homes. You can agree to any type of parenting arrangement, but you should focus on what is in the best interests of your children.
contact is court-ordered time that a person who is special to a child but is not their parent—for example a grandparent—spends with that child. A court will make a contact order if it is in the child’s best interests.

Old Divorce Act terminology


is a legal term previously used in the Divorce Act that is still used in some provinces and territories. It sometimes refers to the authority that one or both parents have to make significant decisions about their child. It can also describe both the parenting time schedule and how decisions about the child will be made. There are different types of custody, including sole custody and joint custody.

Sole custody means that one parent makes the major decisions about issues such as the child’s education, religion and health care. Generally, the child will live primarily with this parent. This parent would now, with the new terms in the Divorce Act, have sole decision-making responsibility and the majority of parenting time.

Joint custody under the Divorce Act means that parents make major decisions about the child together. Parents can have joint custody even when the child primarily lives with one of them. Parents with joint custody now have joint decision-making responsibility, as well as parenting time.

is a legal term previously used in the Divorce Act to refer to the time a parent or other person spends with a child, usually not the parent with whom the child primarily lives. If you are a parent who had “access” under the Divorce Act, you now have parenting time.
Age of majority
means the age when a child legally becomes an adult in the province or territory where the child lives. If the child lives outside Canada, the age of majority is presumed to be 18.
means that you and the other parent come to a common understanding about your child support arrangements. The laws in your province set out how to make this agreement legally binding so that you both have to follow it.
Annual income
means the income used to calculate child support under the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
means a process in which a neutral person–an arbitrator–makes decisions on legal issues. Under this process, both parents agree that they will allow the arbitrator to make decisions. The arbitrator acts like a judge.
Child of the marriage

means a child that spouses had together during their marriage, including an adopted child, who:

  • is under the age of majority and still in the parents’ charge; or
  • has reached the age of majority but cannot become independent because of an illness, disability or other cause.

It may also include a child of only one spouse if the other spouse acted in the place of a parent to the child during the marriage. In law, the Latin expression “in loco parentis” is often used to describe this concept.

Child support
means the amount of money one parent pays to another to support their child financially after a separation or divorce. It is also sometimes called “maintenance.”
Child support guidelines
are laws with rules and tables used to determine how much child support should be paid when parents separate or divorce. The Federal Child Support Guidelines are regulations under the Divorce Act and apply when parents divorce. Provincial or territorial guidelines apply when there is no divorce.
Child support tables
are tables included in federal, provincial or territorial child support guidelines. The tables set out basic child support amounts based on income. Under the Federal Guidelines, there is a separate table for each province and territory to reflect different tax rates between provinces and territories.
Collaborative law
is a process in which both parents, their legal advisers and potentially other professionals agree to work cooperatively to come to an agreement. During the collaborative process, both parents agree not to bring any court applications.
Comparison of household standards of living test
means a test that courts use when there is a claim for undue hardship in child support cases.
Consent order
means an order a judge will make once both parents agree on certain issues.
Court order
means a written decision made by a judge. Parents must follow what the court order says. Court orders can be changed by going back to a judge and asking for a change, but only if there is a good reason.
Designated provinces
are provinces that have made arrangements with the federal government to use their own child support guidelines instead of the Federal Guidelines to determine the amount of child support when parents divorce if both parents live in that province. This means that the provinces’ guidelines apply whether parents separate or divorce. Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick are designated provinces.
The Divorce Act
is the federal law that sets out the rules for legally ending a marriage.
Family dispute resolution process
is an out-of-court process that parties can use in a family law dispute to attempt to resolve any issues upon which they cannot agree. There are many types of family dispute resolution processes, for example negotiation, mediation, collaborative law, and arbitration.
Family justice services and programs
are public or private services and programs that help people dealing with issues arising from separation and divorce.
Family violence
means behaviour by one family member towards another family member that is 1) violent or 2) threatening or 3) coercive and controlling, or 4) that causes fear for a family member’s safety.
Imputing income
means attributing an income to a parent when, for example, the judge does not think that the amount of income a parent claims is a fair reflection of the actual income and capacity to pay child support, or when the parent refuses to show income information when required by law to do so.
Legal adviser
means a person who is qualified in a province to give legal advice to someone or represent them in court. This can be a lawyer, and in some provinces, may include other professionals.
Maintenance enforcement
means legal actions taken to compel a person to comply with support requirements set out in a court order or written agreement.
Maintenance Enforcement Programs
are provincial and territorial programs that enforce child support obligations set out in a court order or written agreement.
Majority of parenting time (formerly referred to as sole custody)
refers to situations where a child spends more than 60 percent of the time with one parent.
means a process in which a neutral third party helps parents come to an agreement about issues related to separation and divorce, such as child support.
Parenting arrangements
are a plan that you or a court make for the care of your children after you separate or divorce. Parenting arrangements include “parenting time” and “decision-making responsibility.”
Parenting time
means the time that children spend in the care of one of their parents, whether or not the child is physically with the parent (for example, it includes time when children are attending school).
Paying parent
means a parent, or a spouse who has acted in the place of a parent, who has a legal duty to pay child support.
Provincial child support services
are provincial administrative services that calculate initial child support amounts based on the applicable child support guidelines or adjust existing child support amounts, either up or down, to reflect updated income information.
Receiving parent
means a parent, or a spouse who acts in the place of a parent, who is legally entitled to receive child support.
Shared parenting time (formerly referred to as shared custody)
means situations where a child spends at least 40 percent of the time with each parent over the course of a year.
Special circumstances
are provisions in a court order or written agreement that benefit a child and that need to be considered when determining child support. An example would be if the paying parent transfers part of his or her share of the family home to the other parent without compensation so the children won’t have to move. In this case, parents may agree, or a court may decide, that the amount of child support should be lower than the amount determined by using the Federal Guidelines.
Split parenting time (formerly referred to as split custody)
means situations involving more than one child where each parent has the majority of parenting time—over 60 percent—with at least one of the children.
Variation order
means a court order that changes some or all of the terms in an existing support order.