Release: Supreme Court to decide case on child support orders with critical impacts on women and children’s poverty

Ottawa, ON – Tomorrow, on November 4, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments in a family law case from Ontario that will significantly affect women and children’s poverty. LEAF and West Coast LEAF will be intervening in the appeal to highlight the reality that child support in Canada is chronically underpaid and overwhelmingly gendered. LEAF and West Coast LEAF are available for comment before or after the hearing.

This case is about a father who, for 16 years, repeatedly underpaid child support to a mother, resulting in a debt of more than $170,000. During that time, the father failed to disclose his income, rarely made voluntary support payments, and absconded twice without notice to his family or the Family Responsibility Office overseeing his support—first to the United States, and then to Italy. After his children no longer qualified for ongoing support because they were grown, the father applied to substantially rescind his debt. The Superior Court of Justice granted the father a retroactive reduction in child support arrears, reducing his debt to $41,642.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario overturned this decision, and now, the Supreme Court of Canada will have the last word. In doing so, it will decide the factors that should be taken into account when a judge is deciding whether to retroactively reduce, or retroactively increase, the child support that someone owes. This will have a significant impact on whether children and their caregivers are provided with the support they need and are legally entitled to receive.

LEAF and West Coast LEAF have intervened in this case to provide the Supreme Court with an accurate picture of how child support is paid (or not paid) across Canada. The reality is that child support is dramatically underpaid and overwhelmingly gendered. The economic destinies of women and children are intertwined, as most children continue to live with their mothers after relationship breakdown. In the vast majority of cases, it is the father who is supposed to pay child support to the mother, and it is the father who fails to do so. Our intervention also highlights the interconnectedness of child support and intimate partner violence; in abusive relationships, financial abuse and threats are often present. Given all this, every unpaid child support instalment both contributes to women’s socioeconomic inequality and deepens child poverty.

“Unpaid child support is a key driver of the feminization of poverty,” says Kate Feeney, Director of Litigation at West Coast LEAF. “The bottom line is that single mother-led families are missing out on billions of dollars of unpaid child support, money which could be paying for essentials such as safe and secure housing, heathy food, and warm clothing.”

“Court decisions do not take place in a vacuum,” says Megan Stephens, Executive Director and General Counsel of LEAF. “Courts need to understand the realities of child support underpayment to better appreciate how varying someone’s outstanding child support debt may further exacerbate women’s and children’s economic marginalization.”

Felice Colucci v Lina Colucci

Hearing at Supreme Court of Canada, November 4, 2020, 9:30 a.m. (link to webcast here)


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