Question: I am engaged to someone who already has kids from a previous marriage: 6, 13 and 14 years. If he defaults on his child support payment, will I be asked to pay his support? Will my income be factored in? How can I protect myself? – Advice Scene
Child support is the right of the child and the obligation of the parent. So, the quick answer is no. But, like most things in the law, things can be more complicated than that.
Child support is always payable by a biological or adoptive parent that has a child for 50% of the time or less (where there is “shared parenting”, the amount of child support can vary from the child support tables, but usually both parents paytable child support to each other). For more about how child support works watch this video and listen to this podcast.
In Ontario, getting married does not mean you “own” your spouse’s assets nor does it mean you are responsible for their debts – including any debts for child support. Part 1 of Ontario’s Family Law Act covers property division on separation. For a full explanation of how that works, watch this video, and listen to this podcast. But to summarize, separated married spouses share in the increase in each other’s net worths, but not in the actual assets themselves. Common-law couple have even fewer property rights. So, if your fiancé is in debt to his ex for child support, that is not your debt.
However, unfortunately, that may not be where it ends. Your fiancé’s child support debt could end up being your problem too.
First, with regard to property division, if you separate, you share in the increase in your spouse’s net worth. If you are married to your spouse, and he builds up a child support debt, that debt decreases his net worth. So, on separation, his net worth is lessened by the amount of that child support debt. Since, on separation, you essentially get half of his increase in net worth (and he gets half yours), any debt he reduces is how much you will get by half of the value of that debt. So, you end up indirectly paying half of that child support debt because of the decrease in what he shares with you. If you have a greater increase in net worth during the marriage, you would owe him an “equalization payment”. So, if his net worth is decreased by child support debt, how much you owe would be increased by half the amount of that debt. In that case, you are, indirectly, paying half of that child support debt.
These types of debt problems, which can have very unfair results, can be fixed with a marriage contract. Click the link to see a video on how to use a marriage contract to avoid sharing your spouse’s debts. You could have a contract that says your spouse’s child support debts will not affect the property. Equalization if you’re separate.
There is another way child support for your spouse’s kids can become your problem. I noted that child support is the obligation of parents. That can mean more than just biological or adoptive parents. While biological and adoptive parents always pay full table child support, other people who have acted as a parent to a child can be on the hook for child support too. That means that, as a step-parent, you could end up owing child support to your spouse’s ex. Listen to this podcast that explains more. This does not mean you share in your spouse’s child support obligation, but it means you have your child support obligation for the kids. As explored in this video from a high-profile new story, acting as a parent to someone else’s kids can create a child support obligation – especially where you do it with the best motivations.
So, while you are not directly responsible for your fiancé’s child support, you could end up sharing in that debt if you separate from him after getting married if he owes back child support. You could also end up owing child support yourself if you act like a parent to his kids.
“This article is intended to inform. Its content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon by readers as such. If you require legal assistance, please see a lawyer. Each case is unique and a lawyer with good training and sound judgment can provide you with advice tailored to your specific situation and needs.”