Responsibility of the Step Parent to provide child support


To what extent does the step parent owe responsibility to provide child support? This question is a big concern for many couples who want to be in a relationship, but are scared of stepping into the shoes of a parent for their step children.

What is the definition of a step parent? The Family Law Act [S.B.C. 2011, C.25] (“FLA”) defines step parent as a spouse of the child’s parent and having lived with the child’s parent and the child during the child’s life.

Therefore, the first requirement to be a step parent is that a person needs to qualify as a “spouse”; that means a person either needs to get married to the child’s parent, or has lived with the child’s parent in a marriage-like relationship for at least 2 years, or has a child with the child’s parent.

Section 147(4) of the FLA provides that a child’s step parent does not have a duty to provide support for the child unless the step parent has contributed to the support of the child for at least one year, and a court proceeding for the child support against the step parent is started within one year after the date the step parent last contributed to the support of the child.

In D. (D.C.) v. C.(R.J.P.), 2014 BCSC 2420, the court held that the expenditures by the step parent on behalf of the step child that are trivial in nature, sporadic, or in the character of gestures of occasional generosity or kindness may not qualify as contributions that attract a duty of support.

In MME (Guardian Ad Litem) v. LMJ, 2002 BCCA 568, a jury’s decision finding the step parent not liable for support was found reasonable by the Court of Appeal because, although the parties shared a bank account from which child expenses were paid from, there was no evidence the guardian contributed to this account past the amount he withdrew from it.

Section 147(5) of the FLA says that a duty to provide support for a child by a step parent is secondary to that of the child’s parents and guardians, and extends to be based on the standard of living experienced by the child and the length of time during which the child lived with the stepparent.

In Russenberger v. Rebagliati 2000 BCSC 82 (CanLII), it was found that since the step parent supported the children, indirectly, by bearing the cost of the home the children were living in for some time after the relationship, the step parent’s support obligations were satisfied and the Court would not order any further support.

According to section 149 of the FLA, the step parent has a duty to provide child support only when the step parent and the child’s parent are separated.

Section 5 of the Child Support Guidelines grants discretion to the court to determine the quantum of support payable by a stepparent:

  • Where the [person] against whom a child support order is sought stands in the place of a parent for a child, the amount of a child support order is, in respect of that [person], such amount as the court considers appropriate, having regard to these Guidelines and any other parent’s legal duty to support the child.

To summarise, the step parent has to be cautious not to assume a parent’s role voluntarily, if he/she does not want to be in place of a parent and be liable for child support when separated from the parent of the child. Occasional gifts or buying treats or meals for the child may not affect the step parent’s position of not assuming parent’s role, as long as the step parent is not assuming the financial liability of the child.

If you find yourself in such a situation, please contact the writer for legal advice.