The potential for child support obligations of a non-biological parent in a short-term relationship
The Family Law Act provides a definition of what it means to be a parent. In section 1, “parent” includes a person who has demonstrated a settled intention to treat a child as a child of his or her family, except under an arrangement where the child is placed for valuable consideration in a foster home by a person having lawful custody.
This definition is, without a doubt, one of the broader definitions in family law. And it is certainly a definition that ought to shock anyone who finds themselves in a relationship with a person who has dependent children. After all, if you do not have biological children nor do you adopt any children, it is hard to believe you could still find yourself obligated to pay child support.
What does it mean?
So, what do they mean by a “settled intention to treat a child as a child of their family?” Julien v Julien, a 2021 Ontario family law decision, provides a comprehensive summary of the law, based on a twelve-day trial where said question was the main issue. Julien briefly outlines some of the case law on the definition of “parent”:
Although not an exhaustive or mandatory list, a number of factors have been suggested (see: Chartier and Proulx v. Proulx, 2009 CanLII 19388) for consideration in determining whether a person was a parent to his or her partner's children from a previous relationship such as:
Participation of the children and purported parent in family events;
Purported parent's financial contribution towards the children;
Purported parent's participation in household duties related to the children;
Purported parent's involvement in the discipline of the children;
Children's use of purported parent's surname;
Purported parent's presentation, explicit and implicit, of himself as parent to the children, to family, and to the community;
Purported parent's consideration and related efforts to adopt the children;
Reference to the purported parent as "dad" [or mom];
Length of the purported parent's relationship with the children;
Age of the children when the relationship commenced; and,
Nature of the children's relationship with their biological father.
Generally speaking, a person is found to be a parent, for purposes of child support, when they treat the child like their own—everything a typical parent would do could be evidence to support the proposition that the individual should be treated as a parent.
Since the main implication is child support, a financial payment, it seems that one of the most important factor in this analysis may be the financial contribution of the purported parent. In other words, a Court is going to look at the financial impact of the purported parent leaving the family, on the children. If an individual was financially supporting the children, to the point of dependency, a Court will have trouble with the idea that the purported parent should no longer financially contribute to those children simply because the relationship is over. Since family law is generally concerned with the interests of children, a Court is going to want to protect the children to the best of their legal capacity. However, this is not to say that if a purported parent does not financially contribute to the children then they will not have a child support obligation; it is simply one factor that bolsters the biological parent's case.
Obvious takeaways? When individual ‘A’ enters a committed relationship with a parent, individual ‘B’, individual ‘A’ may potentially open themselves up to liability for child support in the event the relationship breaks down. This will depend on their level of involvement with the children of individual ‘B’ and of course the "settled intention" of the 'A'.