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If you are a step-father or step-mother and your spousal relationship breaks down, you may be obligated to pay child support to your former spouse for the support of your step-child. In this article Nadine Russell looks at some of the factors the courts will consider when deciding whether or not a step-parent is required to pay child support if the relationship ends. If you are a step-father or step-mother and your spousal relationship breaks down, you may be obligated to pay child support to your former spouse for the support of your step-child. This could be the case, even if you have only cohabited a short period of time.

According to the Family Law Act, RSO 1990, c F3, the definition of “parent” specifically includes a person who has demonstrated a settled intention to treat a child as a child of his or her family. There is no specific time-frame for how long you need to be in a spousal relationship before you are considered a “parent”. For example, in a recent decision of the Ontario Court of Justice, Vernon v. Roban, 2012 ONCJ 820, the court found that a step-father met the definition of “parent” after a marriage of 2 ½ years even though the step-father and mother cohabited together for only 22 months.

The Supreme Court of Canada has set out some of the relevant factors the court is to consider in defining the parental relationship, including:

  • Whether the child participates in the extended family in the same way as would a biological child;
  • Whether the person provides financially for the child;
  • Whether the person disciplines the child as a parent;
  • Whether the person represents to the child, the family, the world, either explicitly or implicitly, that he or she is responsible as a parent to the child; and
  • The nature or existence of the child’s relationship with the absent biological parent.1

In the Vernon v. Roban decision, the father was living in St. Vincent when the parties were married and moved to Canada to be with the mother 9 months later. The parties had two children together during their relationship and the mother had a child from a previous relationship. After 22 months of cohabiting together in Canada, the parties separated. The court ordered the father to pay interim child support for the step-child, finding that despite the short duration of cohabitation there was a strong prima facie case that the father demonstrated a settled intention to treat the step-child as a child of his family. Some of the factors that lead the court to this conclusion were:

  • The father declared to his co-workers that the step-child was his son;
  • He attended church with the mother and step-child regularly;
  • He took the step-child to school every day;
  • He took the step-child on all family outings along with his biological children; and
  • He took part in the caregiving of the step-child in the same manner as he took care of his biological children.

Whether or not you believe this is “fair”, the welfare of children is one of the most important considerations in the eyes of the court. In today’s world, where blended families are common, the focus is on ensuring a child is given proper financial support by all of his or her “parents”, whether biological or not.

Nadine Russell is an Associate Lawyer with our Family Law Team. If you have any questions concerning cohabitation agreements or any other family law related matters, please contact her at [email protected] or 519-660-7838

1 Chartier v. Chartier, 1999 CanLII 707 (SCC).

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