West Coast LEAF was recently granted leave to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada in a case about the ability of judges in BC to ensure that children and their caregiving parent get the financial support to which they are entitled, by making changes to existing child support orders.
In this important family law case, called Michel v Graydon, the paying parent, Mr. Graydon, did not consent to an annual review of the child support owing. When the child was 20 years old and living independently, he successfully sought cancellation of his child support obligations, which had remained unchanged since the amount to be paid was set in 2001.
Ms. Michel suspected that Mr. Graydon had been underpaying on the basis that his income was greater than the amount assumed in 2001. She asked the BC Provincial Court to account for the increases in Mr. Graydon’s income and was awarded $23,000 retroactively.
BC Supreme Court and BC Court of Appeal overturned the award of retroactive child support on the basis that the judge did not have the power to make changes to the child support order, as the person being supported was no longer a child under the Family Law Act.
The vast majority of unpaid child support in Canada is owed by male payers to female recipients on behalf of children who disproportionately reside with their mothers.
The gendered distribution of child care responsibilities after separation and unpaid child support have long been recognized as contributors to the feminization of poverty.
Ms. Michel’s circumstances as a single mother living on a fixed income are not unusual; the amount of support outstanding in her case is among the billions of dollars of unpaid child support payments across Canada.
In our intervention, we’ll be arguing that child support obligations in the Family Law Act must be interpreted in a generous manner, to promote–and not subvert–substantive equality. Women remain vastly overrepresented among child-carers and remain disproportionately economically insecure after the breakdown of a relationship.
Assertions that child support is a “right of the child” ring hollow when a child’s primary carer is unable to secure the necessary financial support to ensure the child’s well-being. On the contrary, interpreting the law to deny judges any power to vary child support orders where one parent has vastly underpaid child support creates a perverse incentive to avoid providing accurate and timely reporting of income.
Through this case, West Coast LEAF will continue to fight against the feminization of poverty through law and policy, and will promote gender equality in child support and family law. It will be heard on November 14, 2019.