What can the court do when a father takes steps to evade his responsibility to pay child support?

Answer: Evading child support responsibilities is a common tactic used by abusive men to maintain power and control over their former partner. This allows them to limit her options, to tell the children that if their mother would just come back to him they could live at the standard they were used to before the separation, to convince the children that it is the mother’s fault that they can’t go on a trip, engage in extracurricular activities, and so on.

There are a number of ways an abuser can attempt to get out of paying child support.

Some men work entirely for cash and others supplement their regular pay cheque with under-the-table work. In either case, this income is commonly not declared on the father’s family court financial statement, with the result that the amount of child support awarded is less than it should be.

Other abusers quit a job, take a job at a lower rate of pay, work part-time even though full-time work is available or decide to go back to school in order to avoid paying child support.

The court can impute income where there is reason to believe the father either has or could have more income than he does. There are steps women can take to assist the court in doing so.

If the woman knows there is cash income, she needs to let the court know about it. For instance, perhaps when she lived with her partner, he worked for cash and he told her about it. Perhaps they put this money in a separate bank account for special expenses. Perhaps she managed the family’s finances, so he gave it to her for general household use. She may know about the cash income because someone has told her about it since the separation. She may even be able to give the court a rough estimate of how much money he earns under the table.

If her abuser has become un- or under-employed when there is work available for him, the woman should introduce evidence to establish this. For instance, she could attach a newspaper ad for employment in her former partner’s field as an exhibit to her affidavit. She could provide an affidavit from a work colleague about the availability of ongoing work or about anything the abuser may have said about why he was quitting his job.

In either of these situations, if the woman has evidence that the abuser’s standard of living (his housing, car, vacations, etc.) is not consistent with his declared income, she should present that to the court. Of course, the abuser can respond by claiming that someone else is paying for these luxuries, but it is still important to raise the issue in the mind of the judge.

If the court is persuaded (on a balance of probabilities) that the father could or is earning more money than he is declaring, the judge can impute income. In other words, the judge can say that, for the purposes of determining the amount of child support to be paid, the court will assign an income to the father, regardless of what he has claimed in his financial statement. Once this imputed income has been determined, the amount of child support to be paid can then be calculated.

Of course, the abuser will then likely attempt to avoid paying child support by leaving the jurisdiction, declaring bankruptcy or closing his bank account, but getting a court order for the appropriate level of child support is the first step.

February 2014