“Daddy?!” An endearment or child support magnet? (Part I)

lorisa stein daddy an endearmentBy Guest blogger Dionne Chambers

Part I: When are you a parent for the purposes of child support?

You’re the parent who has been living with your partner and his children from a previous relationship. You have two special children yourself. The kids share time with their other biological parents at different locations on a rotating parenting schedule.

Some days your household feels as if you’re on the TV set of the sitcom the Brady Bunch. You all participate in lots of family activities. No one takes sides and all the kids get along in sharing the toys and the treats. You read bedtime stories to your partner’s children, and you drop them off at daycare in the morning. You’re in the chef’s hat scrambling to get the family dinner on the table on time most evenings. Above all, you feel closely bonded with your partner’s children, and have a loving relationship with them.

If the relationship falters…

When do you cross the line from a fun playmate, story-teller, and expert chef to parent?

Section 31 (1) of the Ontario Family Law Act requires every parent to provide child support for his or her minor child. So, who is a parent? Section 1 (1) of that statute defines a parent as one which “includes a person who has demonstrated a settled intention to treat a child as a child of his or her family”. The case of Spring v. Spring (1987), 1987 CarswellOnt 1022 provides critical components of the legal term “settled intention”:

  • Quality of relationship, not the duration of the relationship;
  • A state of mind consciously formed and firmly established, and;
  • The length of your intention rather than the length of the relationship is what is important.

The Supreme Court of Canada in Chartier v. Chartier, 1999 CarswellMan 25 provides the following relevant factors in determining whether a parental relationship exists:

  • 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 biological parent.

Wondering whether in your stepchildren’s eyes your status is going to shift from Mom’s cool new partner to the parent paying child support for them upon separation, a little hindsight is particularly telling. Were you always just paying for your natural children’s school trips and sports fees, or were paying for each child who held out their hand without regard whether natural or stepchild. Was your discipline of your partner’s children is more of a “Hey guys, stop it”, or were you offering a consistent strong ethical and behavioural guide to your partner’s children as you did for you your own. Were your drop-offs at daycare akin to that of a taxi driver or you fully engaging the care providers in conversations about the children’s care and needs with offers to help out if the school fell short of staff.

If you chose the latter scenario in each example, it’s time to seek advice from a qualified experienced family law lawyer.