Can I stipulate how my ex spends child support payments?

, ,

Imagine this not too uncommon scenario …
You pay child support to your ex spouse.  But, you are concerned about your ex’s spending habits. You go on social media and see your ex taking selfies at the mall, bragging about buying the newest (most expensive) gadgets. You see your ex is driving a brand new vehicle. She, or he, even goes on vacations to luxurious resorts. You are likely concerned that the child support payments that you are making are not being used for the children but rather for your ex’s expensive lifestyle.  

What can you do?

The short answer is … not much.  Payor parents are often surprised to learn that they can’t decide how the other parent spends the child support.

Child support payments are, in almost all instances, determined by reference to Child Support Guidelines.  If the child or children reside with one parent at least 40% of the time then there is a “primary parenting” arrangement.  This means that the non primary parent (the parent with less than 40% of the time with the children) pays child support to the other parent.  In this case, the amount of support is calculated based on the non primary parent’s income.

For example, if there are 2 children and they reside primarily with mom, and dad earns a gross annual income of $75,000 in British Columbia, then dad’s monthly basic child support obligation is $1,164.00.  A link to BC’s child support guidelines can be found here – .  Beyond basic child support there may also be “special or extraordinary expenses” for the children (known as “section 7 expenses” under the Child Support Guidelines), which are typically paid for proportionally based on each of the parents’ respective incomes.     

The purpose of child support is, in essence, to ensure that children are not economically deprived because their parents have separated.  From the children’s perspective, in an ideal world, their parents would still be together to provide emotional and financial support for them.

Thus, if you are paying child support but feel that the recipient is wasting the money, you may feel obligated to do something about this.  Maybe you want to pay the money directly to the child.  Maybe you want to get a Court Order directing how the recipient parent will spend the money.  Maybe you want to stop paying child support altogether.  However, none of these are viable options.

Various courts across Canada have held that it is up to the parent entitled tor receive child support to determine how she or he spends the money in the best interests of the child (or children).  The fact that child support payments indirectly benefit the recipient parent does not mean that the child support payments can or should be adjusted (for further reading, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench recently addressed this issue in an April 24, 2020 decision from that court – BDM v. MMM, 2020 ABQB 288 ).

Ultimately, if you are concerned that your spouse is seriously misusing child support payments, and is unable to manage their finances such that it is affecting the best interests of your children, you may need to consider adjusting the parenting arrangement that is in place.  In this case, the children’s best interests may be met by changing which parent they primarily live with.

If you have questions about child support or adjusting a parenting order or agreement, or any other family law matter, our experienced team of family law lawyers are available to help you assess your specific situation and provide trusted advice on how to best move forward.