How the courts calculate child support in Alberta

When a couple separates or divorces, there tends to be chatter around child support. Often one parent – sometimes both – feel the amount to be paid isn’t fair. But Canadian law is clear on why child support is required and how it’s calculated.

The law states child support is an undisputable right of the child and creates an obligation for both parents. This is important because courts are legislated to protect the best interests of the child and do this by ordering child support payments. Children have the right to the financial means and support of their parents. The payments can be ordered by the court, or alternatively they can be worked out in mediation to avoid expensive court costs.

Before child support can be calculated, a parenting schedule needs to be set.

There are two types of parenting schedules, one is split parenting, and the other is primary parenting. Split parenting is when both parents have the children in their care for more than 40% of the time – think of a week-on, week-off schedule. Primary parenting is when one of the parents has the children in their care for more than 60% of the time.

In a split parenting schedule, both parents’ incomes are reviewed, and child support payments set. With a primary parenting schedule, it’s the income of the parent who has the child for less than 40% of the time that matters.

Income is set after parent’s exchange tax and financial information. Income for wage earners is their gross income as seen on line 150 of the income on their tax returns. This is straightforward, unless the parent in question is a business owner, as often there are expenses deducted from income.

With incomes determined, parents can reference the Federal Child Support Guidelines child support tables to determine payment amounts. The tables look at income and the number of children in the family to set the child support obligation.

With primary parenting the parent who owes child support simply pays their table amount. In split parenting, both parents owe child support based on their incomes. They can pay each other their support amounts, or they can subtract the lower amount from the higher amount to calculate a single offset payment.

Given how child support is laid out in Family Law, there is not much to argue about in determining payments.

As with most matters in law there are some exceptions to the rule. Calculating income for a business owner can be challenging if their income is contested. This can lead to expensive disclosure of financial statements for the company. Business expenses claimed for a phone, vehicle, dinners out with the company credit card can be considered personal expenses, and even though these may be legitimate tax deductions, they can be considered a personal benefit for the owner and change the income for the purpose of calculating child support.

If you’re thinking about separation or divorce and would like more information, please call us at 780.831.7370 or email We’re here and ready to help.