Can child support go directly to the kids?

Paper family on a beach. Stock photo by Getty Images

A recent child-support decision from B.C.’s Supreme Court tackles an occasional bone of contention for paying parents: can you pay support directly to the kids?

Koch v. Koch was largely consumed with a different issue: that payor Patrick Koch was either hiding earnings or remaining intentionally underemployed so he could pay less child support. This is a common quibble that can result in long and complicated litigation.

Another aspect of the case though, saw Mr. Koch arguing to pay support directly to the couple’s older child, now aged 20.

Courts are familiar with the question of how much child support goes to children over the age of majority. Typically, a child in university is still eligible for support, even if they’re still technically an adult. Mr. Koch didn’t gripe about paying to support his elder daughter, he just wanted to send the money to her directly.

Courts typically don’t allow this unless the payee parent has consented. Overall, there’s a reluctance to let a parent decide how they offer support.

It was addressed in a 2006 Supreme Court of Canada case:

“It is not for the payor parent to decide that his/her support obligation can be acquitted by buying his/her child a new bicycle.” 

Why does it matter? Past case law has established several specific reasons.

Two come from a 2009 B.C. case, Swiderski v. Dussault:

“The first is that the receiving parent usually has custody, and must be the one to make decisions about the child’s expenditures.  A private unilateral scheme operated by the payor can be a method of control, which undermines the authority of the custodial parent.

“The second reason is that the payor is in sole possession of the information about direct payments.  Unless the payor is forthcoming about such payments in a timely way the payee is at the mercy of the payor’s record-keeping.”

The 2010 case of Greene v. Greene highlighted another concern:

“The payor may well choose to make the additional payments for recreational or other activities which present him/her in a more positive light to the children and others, whereas the custodial parent may find him/herself funding more mundane daily living expenses.”

In other words, mom spends money on food and toiletries, but dad’s support money buys a cellphone, movie tickets and fun stuff. Dad rules!

That said, judges will sometimes allow a direct payment. This could happen to ease tension between the parents or if there’s a suspicion that the custodial parent is keeping or misusing funds. Some other factors include:

  • Who enforces a direct payment order?
  • Do the children have experience and ability to handle large sums of money?
  • Would direct support payments affect their eligibility for student loans?

Mr. Koch lost his gambit to pay direct child support. It’s a rare case that allows such payments and courts are cautious about allowing such a departure from the norms of child support.

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