We’re at the Supreme Court today to advocate for a child support system that’s equitable and accessible. Alongside our friends at LEAF National, we’re intervening in Colucci v Colucci, a case about what factors judges should consider when deciding whether to retroactively reduce or increase the child support owed by a parent.
In this important case out of Ontario, the father chronically underpaid child support for more than 16 years, accumulating a debt of more than $170,000. During that time, Mr. Colucci failed to disclose his income, rarely made voluntary payments, and left Canada twice without giving notice. After his children became adults, Mr. Colucci applied to reduce his child support arrears claiming that his child support obligation had been too high compared to his actual incomes. While the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted him a retroactive reduction to what he owed, this was overturned on appeal, and the case is now at the Supreme Court of Canada.
You’ve heard us say that Canada’s child support system is broken—the Colucci case is just one example of the pervasive underpayment of child support in Canada.
The whole point of child support under Canada’s Divorce Act is to make sure that children have the resources they need to thrive after relationship breakdown. Instead, children have missed out on billions of dollars of unpaid child support arrears. That is money that could have gone toward lifting children out of poverty and providing them with key essentials, such as safe and secure housing, healthy food, warm clothing, and educational supports.
We know that the child support system does not exist in a social vacuum. The research shows:
- The economic destinies of women and children are linked, as most children continue to live with their mothers after relationship breakdown;
- The underpayment of child support compounds the feminization of poverty; and
- Intimate partner violence—a gendered phenomenon, where women represent the vast majority of victims—is too often used to evade paying child support.
In light of the pervasive underpayment of child support and the gendered experiences of the child support system, West Coast LEAF and LEAF National are asking the court to eliminate incentives for the under payment of child support and make it easier for parents to access the child support their children are owed.
This intervention is part of West Coast LEAF’s larger work to improve access to justice. The barriers to accessing child support reflect larger issues in the family law system, including a complex and inaccessible dispute resolution process; limited access to affordable legal representation or legal aid; and power and resource imbalances between separated partners.
Bringing an application for child support is challenging enough, especially when parents also need to get time off work to attend court, arrange childcare, find legal representation which they may not be able to afford, made all the more impossible for those also dealing with family violence.
And in BC, legal aid will not fund standalone applications for child support, so the recipient parent will also have legal bills to pay as they try to get the financial support for their children to which they are entitled. Some things are so unfair that they’re unjust.
At West Coast LEAF, we will not give up on advocating for a family law system that ensures that families are safe and secure in all their forms.
We are grateful to our pro-bono counsel in this case, Jennifer Klinck and Joshua Sealy-Harrington of Power Law/Juristes Power.
Read our June 2020 blog post comparing this case with another case challenging unpaid child support that was decided at Supreme Court of Canada in fall 2019.
Read our Globe and Mail op-ed in which we lay out the systemic reforms we believe are necessary to repair Canada’s broken child support system.