Support obligations of stepparents

When a relationship ends, a stepparent can end up paying child support to a child of the marriage even if they do not have an ongoing relationship with that child. According to the Child Support Guidelines, a court can order both a biological parent to pay support and anyone else who stands in the place of a parent to that child.

In Hari vs. Hari, a 2013 decision of the Ontario Superior Court, Mr. Hari was married for 8 years. When he separated from Ms. Hari, his relationship with his stepdaughter effectively ended. Notwithstanding that Mr. Hari did not enjoy an ongoing relationship with his stepdaughter, Ms. Hari pursued him for child support. Mr. Hari agreed that prior to separation, he had treated his stepdaughter as part of his family.

The court ordered Mr. Hari to pay the full table amount of child support. Although his stepdaughter had a biological father who had paid child support for her at one point, he was in arrears. While common sense might dictate that the court would simply offset the support obligations of a stepparent with those of the biological parent, this is not always how the court will apportion support. Particularly if the obligations of the biological parent are not enforceable or are unclear.

What does it take to establish that a stepparent is standing in the place of a parent?

· financial contributions to stepchild
· responsibilities for discipline & schooling
· biological parent inactive in stepchild’s life
· child is on stepparent’s health insurance plan
· child taking last name of stepparent
· long relationship
· child included in stepparent’s family functions

Once established, a stepparent cannot unilaterally terminate the relationship with the child. As well, since support is the right of the child, parents cannot agree to simply contract out of this obligation by, for example, entering into a domestic agreement. If you want to avoid financial obligations for a stepchild, you will need to carefully manage your overall relationship with them so that it’s apparent to everyone that you don’t regard them as your own child.