On Friday, June 4, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Colucci v Colucci, setting out much needed clarifications in child support law that make it easier for mothers and other single parents to receive the child support that they are owed. We are thrilled that the Court adopted many of the arguments that we set out alongside our friends at LEAF in our joint intervention in the case.
As we have shared with you before, the stark reality is that there are literally billions of dollars of unpaid child support in Canada, much of which is owed to single mothers and their children. Last week, the Supreme Court set out a legal test that recognizes this reality, and takes serious steps to address it.
This case concerned a father who, after 16 years of actively evading his child support obligation, owed the mother of his children more than $170,000. Despite his delinquency, he successfully asked a court to reassess his income over the entire 16-year period and subsequently reduce his child support arrears to $41,642. The case was ultimately appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which was asked to revisit how the courts should decide whether to retroactively decrease a parent’s child support obligation or cancel their arrears.
We intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada jointly with LEAF to highlight substantive equality as an important consideration in a child support analysis. Parents who receive child support, typically mothers, are systematically disadvantaged in the child support system because of power dynamics and information imbalances with payors, as well as access to justice barriers. We argued that this reality results in the chronic underpayment of child support and the feminization of poverty. We also proposed a new legal framework to eliminate the incentives of payors to conceal income or delay payments.
On these issues, the Supreme Court unanimously adopted our proposed legal framework, including the principle that payors must provide full documentation of their income to support a request for a retroactive change to their child support obligation. Only the payor knows when his income has increased or decreased—accordingly, it is his sole responsibility to provide concrete proof of those changes.
This decision comes on the heels of last year’s positive Supreme Court decision in Michel v Graydon. Together, these two cases represent a significant victory for single mothers and their children.
West Coast LEAF and LEAF are grateful to the case committee members, including Natasha Bakht (University of Ottawa), Vicky Law (Rise Women’s Legal Centre), and Deepa Mattoo and Tamar Witelson (Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic). A big thank you to pro bono counsel Jennifer Klinck and Joshua Sealy-Harrington of Power Law for their hard work on this case.