Children Come First: A Report to Parliament Reviewing the Provisions and Operation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines - Volume 2


Some jurisdictions have proposed setting up a section 25.1 model using funds under the Incentive for Special Projects component of the Child-Centred Family Justice Fund.



The British Columbia Ministry of the Attorney General requested financial support from the Incentive for Special Projects component of the Child-Centred Family Justice Fund in late 2000. The province wanted to study adding a comprehensive child support service to the services available at its Family Justice Centre in Kelowna. Doing so would provide parents with faster, easier, and less expensive variations.

British Columbia serves families in transition through its Family Justice Centres. With federal funding from the Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund, British Columbia added child support clerks to its Family Justice Centres. These clerks handle initial intake and screening, help clients with financial disclosure, calculate child support amounts according to child support guidelines, and help clients with applications to court. An evaluation recommended expanding the clerk function and integrating it with other family justice services. However, beginning in 1999-2000, many of the clerks were let go in favour of the Rule 5 Project.

The Justice Registry Rule 5 Project, which began in December 1998 and expanded to Kelowna, requires parties to a court application to attend a "triage" session with a family justice counsellor. The triage counsellor helps parties clarify their issues and refers them to community services, including mediation when appropriate. Under the Rule 5 Project, counsellors may refer clients to Parenting After Separation courses, family mediation services (family case conferences and trial preparation hearings are available only on referral from a judge), judicial adjudication, and three remaining child support clerks. An evaluation of the Rule 5 Project will be completed in September 2002.

In 2000-01, British Columbia proposed a pilot to add a quicker recalculation service to the triage services offered through the Rule 5 Project in Kelowna. When the alternative dispute resolution methods offered through triage do not produce an agreement, parents are prepared to present their case in court.

An important element of this extra service will be a formal link with the Family MEP. Other services could include paralegal-style assistance with court documents and affidavits, as well as information sessions for paying and receiving parents on child support issues and processes. The service will be designed for parents trying to vary a child support order because of changing financial or other circumstances.

British Columbia plans to integrate triage, mediation, and the child support clerk service at the pilot site, as recommended in the evaluation of the child support clerks. The Kelowna Family Justice Centre has been chosen as the pilot site because it serves a mid-sized city (with a population of 150,000) that is free of the challenges of remote or multicultural populations, and that has the support of the provincial judiciary and other key agencies.

The pilot would be evaluated on its ability to deliver efficient and cost-effective variations of existing orders, to establish original child support orders, and to build links with other services, such as the Family MEP mediation, Parenting After Separation, Debtor's Assistance, legal advice lawyers and courts.


The Nova Scotia Department of Justice requested financial support from the Incentive for Special Projects component of the fund in late 2000, so that it could enhance and expand the services conciliators use to determine, vary, and recalculate child maintenance in many cases. The money would also be used to expand those services to provincial family courts in anticipation of the expansion of the Supreme Court (Family Division). The province is applying for funding for fiscal years 2000-01 and 2001-02. The final report will include an evaluation, so that the province can decide whether to continue these services.

Since 1998, Nova Scotia has put in place a number of alternative dispute resolution measures with the support of the Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund. For example, intake assistants in the Supreme Court (Family Division) can now use various methods to achieve a consent order. In areas served by the Supreme Court (Family Division), the province also has a successful mediation program in family law matters.

Finally, Rule 70 gave court officials, particularly conciliators, new authority to more efficiently manage and settle child support orders in cases where there is consent. Conciliators assess cases to see whether alternative dispute resolution would work. They look for abuse and for amenability to conciliation and mediation. As well, they can order the respondent to file required information, ensure disclosure, or discuss issues. When they need more information, they can make an interim child support order. An unsatisfied respondent can appeal to the court.

Early results from the evaluation of the conciliation service indicate that:
  1. it resolves 60 to 70 percent of cases, without mediation or court,
  2. many orders are being complied with, and
  3. both applicants and respondents are very satisfied with the new process

The Supreme Court (Family Division) of Nova Scotia supports a holistic approach to separation and divorce. It strongly supports options outside court for resolving family matters.

More conciliation training will encourage use of Rule 70 conciliation procedures, and in particular will introduce them to provincial family courts as unified family courts expand. Federal Department of Justice officials have recommended funds to train court administrators and justice officers based at three court sites: Halifax Regional Municipality, Cape Breton Regional Municipality, and one provincial family court. The orientation will:

Nova Scotia offered further training in conciliation to its court staff in 2001-02.

Nova Scotia intends to evaluate these services along with others offered by the Supreme Court (Family Division). The expected findings of the evaluation include:


Working with a community mental health organization, Newfoundland and Labrador set up a pilot project in 2001 to integrate family justice services and to resolve family law disputes more holistically. Known as Family Justice Services Western, this pilot will serve divorcing and separating parents who apply to the supreme and provincial courts in Corner Brook. The province would like to develop this pilot further in fiscal years 2001-02 and 2002-03.

Supreme Court and provincial family court judges in Corner Brook proposed to house a series of innovative family justice services with Blomidon Place. Blomidon Place "work[s] together with professional agencies, community-based groups and consumers to promote quality community mental health services through structures that address individual family and community issues." The board of Blomidon Place comprises representatives from government, community groups, and clients.

Family Justice Services Western will offer alternative dispute resolution in cases involving custody, access, and child support; legal information; multidisciplinary community services (including home assessments and supervised access); and parent education. Family and youth counselling are also available at Blomidon Place.

The project's short-term objectives are:

The project's long-term goals are:

The pilot requires four staff members:

Newfoundland and Labrador passed regulations in 2001 to support the Divorce Act, section 25.1, which allows a province to set up an administrative body to recalculate child support on the basis of updated income information. Provincial legislation, the Family Law Act, has similar provisions. This pilot will help the province decide whether this authority should be invested in the SASW or in the recalculation clerk.


Saskatchewan is studying an administrative mechanism for determining variations and other recalculations of child support through a dispute resolution clerk operating out of the Maintenance Enforcement Office.

Participants in the 1998 custody and access workshops repeatedly raised concerns about access to justice. Currently, parties seeking a recalculation must hire a lawyer or use a self-help kit. The legal aid caseload may delay and frustrate parties seeking variations. As well, lack of access to timely variations may increase enforcement costs, decrease support to children, and cause frustration with the justice system.

Under the proposal, the dispute resolution clerk, or conciliator, would receive referrals from the Maintenance Enforcement Office. This person would travel to each judicial centre, as access to lawyers and courts can be particularly difficult in rural areas. The conciliator would assess changes in the parties' financial circumstances or in the custody of and access to the child. He or she would also gauge the impact of these changes on existing orders or agreements.

Then, she or he would offer conciliation or mediation services to clients. Parents would make their own agreement or a consent order could be filed. (A parent who disagrees with the recalculated order may still apply to court.) In cases where custody or access are issues, the conciliator could provide mediation if possible, or refer parties to mediation. The conciliation service will be accessible by toll-free line and by mail, and will be evaluated.



The states of Washington and Oregon have set up successful child support administrative schemes.


The Division of Child Support can order child support administratively for parents on social assistance or for parents who fill out a form to apply for the division's services.

A child support enforcement officer then prepares a notice of proposed child support and sends it to the applicant for approval. If the applicant does not agree with the proposed amount, the enforcement officer negotiates with the applicant. If he or she agrees, the other parent is served with a notice and finding of financial responsibility by certified mail.

The other parent (the "obligor") has 21 days to return an objection to the Division of Child Support. If the obligor responds with a request for a hearing, the division's personnel set a hearing date 90 days later. If an objection doesn't arrive on time, a default order is entered against the debtor.

The enforcement officer, who has had the file throughout the process, signs the default order. The order has the immediate force and effect of a court order. If one of the parties objects to the amount of child support assessed, the support officer then takes measures to bring the parties to a consent agreement on the amount of child support.

The modification process resembles the child support establishment process. The modification review takes place on the request of one of the parents. The enforcement officer responsible for enforcing the payments also manages the case. Once this person has received the application for a modification, she or he sends a notification of review the other parent, along with a child support schedule and a financial declaration, which both parties must fill out, sign, and return.

After the enforcement officer has finished the review, he or she sends a review findings notice by certified mail to both parents. If the parents disagree with the finding they can request a modification conference, which is an informal meeting between the officer and one or both of the parents. They may bring income and other information pertinent to the officer's findings to this meeting.

When a parent asks for a modification to a court order, the file is reviewed and then sent to the prosecuting attorney's office. The prosecuting attorney takes the matter to court.


The administrative child support scheme closely resembles the Washington model. Both states' approaches typify the American administrative child support approach in various states.

First, the State of Oregon sends a request for administrative hearing to the obligor by certified mail and to the obligee by regular mail. Once the parties have received the notice, they both have the right to:

If the parties agree with or ignore the amount assessed, the proposed order they received is filed with the court as the new support order. The court is involved at this stage in Oregon, which differs from the procedure in Washington's purely administrative model. At this stage, the county court sends a copy of the new support order to the Department of Human Resources for enforcement procedures.

If either party disagrees with the support amount assessed, he or she must return the written request for a hearing within 20 days of receiving the documents. An administrative hearing is then set to take place within 30 to 60 days, and the Department sends a notice of hearing to the other party.

The parties are asked to testify about their finances before an administrative referee of the Employment Department Hearings Unit. The parties get a copy of the referee's decision within seven to 14 days of the hearing. At this point, the parties can agree with the referee's decision or disagree with the order by appealing to the court where the referee's order was filed. If the disputing party does not attend the administrative hearing, the state attributes the party's income based on the most recent information available.

The Oregon process for modifying an existing order is quite systematic. First, the request or notice for modification is received if the obligor is on public assistance, or if the existing order is at least two years old, agency personnel then send both parties the following documents:

After the 30-day period has passed, the review modification process starts. If a modification is best, the state's motion for modification and proposed order is prepared and sent to both parties. A request for administrative hearing, a support computation worksheet, and the other party's uniform income statement are enclosed with this form.

The parties then have 30 days to request a hearing. Doing so triggers the same hearing process as for the establishment cases. When the order resulting from the hearing is received from the Employment Department Hearing Unit, the order is filed with the court if the original support order was administrative.

If the parent wants to modify a judicial order, the administrative order is docketed with the court and an order approving administrative order is prepared and sent to the parties, along with a notice of intent to enter order or judgment. The parties have 10 days from the date of service to object to the proposed order, in which case the matter would be set down for a court hearing.


In Australia, the Child Support Agency uses a formula to assess child support.

If a parent seeking child support does not already have a child support order, he or she can apply for the services of the Child Support Agency. The formula takes into account each parent's taxable income, the number of children, the set living expenses of the parents, and the living arrangements of the children. If circumstances change, the parents must advise the Agency and ask it to revise the assessment. If either parent is unhappy about the assessment, she or he can object in writing to the Child Support Agency. If the parents disagree with the outcome of the objection, they can apply to the Family Court.

An assessment period will last no longer than 15 months. A new assessment period starts once a current tax assessment is issued.

In New Zealand, the person with custody applies to Inland Revenue for child support. Inland Revenue, using a standard formula, calculates how much child support must be paid each year. It then divides the annual assessment into monthly amounts, and sends a letter to the paying parent telling him or her how much to pay, and a letter to the child's custodian saying how much he or she will receive. Inland Revenue Child Support collects payments from the paying parent and passes them on to the custodian, or to the government, if the custodian is receiving a benefit.


With the 1997 changes to the child support laws came a vast requirement to provide timely and accurate information to custodial and non-custodial parents and their families, to members of the legal community, to the judiciary, to accountants, and to Canadians generally. The federal Department of Justice launched public information products and services to inform and educate its target audiences about the reforms and their implications. In addition, communications staff provided advice and support to the rest of the Department and to the Minister of Justice.


After the Child Support Initiative was announced in the March 1996 federal budget, the federal Department of Justice provided a toll-free telephone information line that Canadians could call for general information about the new child support laws. Initially, the telephone service was part of the budget line, but the Department later maintained it separately.

Trained operators answered more than 118,000 calls, sent out more than 150,000 publications, and referred callers to other sources of information or service, when needed. Most callers wanted The Federal Child Support Guidelines: A Guide to the New Approach, which summarizes the Guidelines. The line was open Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, with extended hours during advertising campaigns.

We periodically reviewed the demand for the toll-free line so we could hire and train any needed operators. Call volume fluctuated depending on the public environment. For example, during advertising campaigns or following mail-outs, calls increased substantially.


On May 1st, 1997, the child support amendments were in force, but a June federal election delayed the release of some information, including the direct mail campaign with    Revenue Canada (now CCRA).  Revenue Canada sent information about the new tax treatment of child support to approximately 725,000 Canadians who reported paying or receiving child or spousal support. The federal Department of Justice participated in the mail-out, enclosing a pamphlet about the federal guidelines and informing people of its toll-free information line. In the two weeks immediately following the June 1997 mail-out, some 12,600 people called the federal information line for more information.

Just before the mail-out, the federal Department of Justice mailed information on the new laws to some 12,000 family law lawyers and judges involved in child support cases.


The federal Department of Justice produced these publications to help parents and the legal community understand the new child support system:

In addition, posters and bookmarks were produced for use at conferences and exhibits.

By May 1, 1997, the provinces and territories had many copies of the federal publications. They distributed the federal materials with their own information on court procedures and other provincial matters, using a child support kit folder supplied by the federal Department of Justice. Since the beginning of the Child Support Initiative, the federal Department of Justice has distributed more than one million publications to the provinces and territories and to callers to the toll-free telephone line.

Two of the publications, the Federal Child Support Guidelines pamphlet and Federal Child Support Guidelines: A Guide to the New Approach were transferred to audiocassette for persons who are visually impaired.

As well, a newsletter went out four times a year to members of the legal community and to people interested in the Child Support Initiative. Each issue contained federal news about, for example, regulatory amendments, consultations, recently released research reports, and new publications. The provincial and territorial governments and public legal information organizations were invited to include information in each issue.


In fall 1997, the federal Department of Justice launched a national advertising campaign to raise public awareness of the child support guidelines. The campaign was a joint effort by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments and included their telephone numbers for further information. Ads appeared twice in some 160 daily, weekly, and community newspapers across the country. The ads also appeared in magazines, including Maclean's, Chatelaine, TV Guide, TV Hebdo, L'Actualité, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, and Enfants Québec.

In winter 1998, ads appeared in selected legal and accounting publications to inform readers about publications that could help assist them, including The Federal Child Support Guidelines: The Complete Workbook and The Federal Child Support Guidelines: Reference Manual. As well, the Department advertised in selected family magazines to raise awareness about the child support guidelines and to further promote the federal, provincial, and territorial information lines.

In April 1998, the federal Department of Justice launched a national campaign to inform more than 750,000 Aboriginal people about the child support guidelines, the department's toll-free telephone line, and the Department's Internet site. The campaign ran for two months and included radio announcements and newspaper advertisements in English, French, and Inuktituk. Participating broadcasters were encouraged to translate the material into the Aboriginal languages of the communities they served.

As part of the campaign, the Department produced a poster and a special version of the pamphlet, Federal Child Support Guidelines (10 things you should know), which it distributed to band offices, hamlets, co-ops, friendship centres, and Aboriginal child and family support services. As a result of the Aboriginal campaign, the CBC's Northern Service asked the Department to develop a public service announcement for television.

Between January and March 1999, the Department published a notice in selected transportation magazines explaining how changes to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act could affect holders of certain transportation licences.

In March 1999, a slightly revised version of the fall 1997 print ad appeared in daily and community newspapers across the country. The ad appeared in daily newspapers three times and in community newspapers twice.

Finally, in October 2000, with the support of various government stakeholders, the Department launched a television campaign to encourage the payment of child support and to promote positive parenting. The ad focused on the message that children need love, attention, and financial support from both their parents. Again, it provided a toll-free number for viewers to call for further information.


In 1998, the Department developed and launched a child support Web page on its site to provide divorcing and divorced parents with information on the Child Support Initiative. It also provided a source of legal and research information for family law professionals and others concerned with the technical aspects of the reforms.  In 1999, the Department added a list of selected case law and summaries to the site.   In the summer of 2000, following focus testing with potential users, the Department revamped the child support site to make it easier to use.


The federal Department of Justice worked with the provinces and territories to maximize the impact of communications across the country. Each province and territory developed its own complementary communications tools, including:


Both before and after the Federal Child Support Guidelines came into force, the federal Department of Justice offered training to lawyers, judges, mediators, and other legal professionals to help them implement the Guidelines. At the request of all provinces and territories, Department officials attended countless provincial or territorial seminars, conferences, and training sessions to educate legal professionals about the new child support laws.


The federal Department of Justice focused on reaching people who have a hard time getting information about the Canadian legal system and the Guidelines. The Department assessed these people's needs to find out how best to reach them. First, 12 organizations across the country identified three to five groups within their province or territory and some of the barriers these groups faced. Then, 11 contractors studied how best to provide information to a specific group, with a view to developing communications tools and activities for that group.

Research by: Groups studied:
Barreau du Québec low- and middle-income payers of child support (Quebec)
Community Legal Education Association (Manitoba) low-literacy and low-income people (Manitoba)
Community Legal Education Ontario low-income women (Ontario)
Law Courts Education Society northern First Nations communities (British Columbia)
Legal Studies Program, Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta intermediaries (Alberta)
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick rural parents, including women leaving violent relationships (New Brunswick)
Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland low-literacy and low-income people (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan rural parents, including rural women in abusive relationships (Saskatchewan)
Shannon Gullberg Aboriginal people (Northwest Territories)
The People's Law School recent immigrants (British Columbia)
The Public Legal Education Society of Nova Scotia the Canadian military

These reports were summarized in How to Provide Hard-to-Reach Audiences with Information about the Child Support Guidelines: A Summary of Findings From the Needs Assessment Research, Phase 2.[549] These studies helped the federal Department of Justice, as well as public legal education and information organizations, provide law information to groups affected by various economic, linguistic, geographic, or other circumstances.


Although no one method surfaced as the "best" way to provide information in all circumstances, the needs assessment reports suggested three methods were most likely to reach the identified groups: information for service providers, print materials, and a national media campaign.


Service providers - such as staff at a community information service, a cultural community centre, a religious organization, or a women's shelter - regularly come into contact with members of the public. People turn to service providers for help in times of need and rely on them for support and answers to questions. The researchers found that many non-legal service providers did not have basic information about the Guidelines. Many service providers said they would be interested in learning more so that they could serve their clients more effectively. As a result, a law information kit was developed for service providers. It brought together a range of information about family law, including child support issues.


Many participants in the studies were interested in short, clearly written print materials. So the Department updated the divorce booklet, which includes information on custody, access, child support, spousal support, property division, and ways to get a divorce. The booklet had gone out of date since it was written in 1986. The new text was presented in a simple format and was written to a Grade 8 reading level.


The national television campaign, described above, was an important way to communicate  with hard-to-reach Canadians.