When it comes to family law matters, various legal intricacies can overwhelm individuals trying to navigate separation or divorce proceedings. One such complexity revolves around what are known as “Section 7 expenses.” It is, therefore, critical for both parents to understand what Section 7 expenses are, as they will directly impact each party’s financial responsibilities. 

We will provide a high-level overview of Section 7 expenses in Alberta, including what constitutes a Section 7 expense, how expenses are decided, whether they are “necessary” or “reasonable,” and how they are allocated.

What are Section 7 Expenses?

Section 7 expenses are special or extraordinary, reasonable and necessary costs related to a child’s general upbringing and well-being. These expenses differ from the standard day-to-day expenses of raising a child, such as clothing, food, and transportation, which are covered under child support payments. The overarching categories of Section 7 expenses include:

  • Education costs;
  • Extracurricular activities: 
  • Healthcare insurance or medical treatments; and 
  • Childcare.

Factors Determining Eligibility of Expenses 

Before determining whether a specific cost is a Section 7 expense, a court will take into consideration the “necessity of the expense in relation to the child’s best interests and the reasonableness of the expense in relation to the means of the spouses and those of the child and to the family’s spending pattern prior to the separation.”

Distinguishing Section 7 Expenses From Regular Child Support Payments

When it comes to distinguishing Section 7 expenses from expenses that are covered under child support, there are specific factors to consider. Some of the key areas of Section 7 expenses are described below in further detail:

  • Education costs: Items such as tuition fees and tutoring while a child is in primary or secondary school, may be considered Section 7 expenses. However, standard school fees and supply expenses are generally not considered a Section 7 expense. If a child chooses to pursue post-secondary education, parents may also be required to cover costs related to tuition and living expenses. Although child support obligations do not automatically end when a child reaches the age of 18, the child may be expected to reasonably contribute to such costs with the parents supplementing the remainder. 
  • Extracurricular activities: Fees and expenses related to sports, music lessons, school trips, and other enriching experiences qualify as Section 7 expenses. Equipment and items required for participation in a particular activity or course, such as sports equipment or technology, may be considered an extraordinary expense. 
  • Healthcare insurance and treatments: healthcare insurance premiums are considered to be Section 7 expenses. Additionally, health-related expenses that exceed insurance reimbursement by a minimum of $100 annually are considered extraordinary expenses.
  • Childcare services: Costs associated with childcare services due to the parent’s employment, disability, or education for employment, such as after-school care or daycare, are also considered Section 7 expenses. 

Allocation of Costs and Enforcement of Financial Obligations 

The Federal Child Support Guidelines provide that each parent must contribute to Section 7 expenses as part of their parental obligations to their child. Section 7(2) of the Child Support Guidelines states that the guiding principle in determining cost allocation between the parents is that the expense is “shared by the spouses in proportion to their respective incomes after deducting from the expense, the contribution, if any, from the child.” Therefore, a court will consider “subsidies, benefits or income tax deductions or credits relating to the expense, and any eligibility to claim a subsidy, benefit or income tax deduction or credit relating to the expense.” Parents should note that the universal child care benefit, or eligibility to claim this benefit, will not be included in the court’s assessment.

Consent Order

Parents may decide who pays which expenses and on what basis without requiring intervention by the courts. If parties can reach an agreement, it is recommended to document it in a written consent order. 

Court Order

Judicial intervention may be necessary if the parents cannot agree on allocating Section 7 expenses. A judge may consider the parents’ respective incomes and other payment orders to determine the contribution amount to be allocated to each parent on a proportional basis. 

Enforcement of Section 7 Expenses

Regardless of whether Section 7 expenses are addressed through a consent order or court order if a parent fails to meet their obligations, they can face significant consequences. A court may enforce compliance against the party in default of their obligations, which can result in significant financial penalties.

Resolving Disputes Relating to Section 7 Expenses  

While child support payments are the child’s right and are intended to maintain the child’s lifestyle following the parents’ separation, Section 7 expenses may be discretionary. Section 7 expenses can change over time. Therefore, regular communication between the parents is necessary. If a dispute arises as to whether or not a Section 7 expense is necessary, it can be beneficial to work with an experienced family lawyer who can advocate for your claim and help you ensure your claim is supported with appropriate evidence. 

In many cases, the Section 7 expenses in dispute may not be significant enough to justify incurring substantial litigation costs. Therefore, negotiations and mediation may be suitable alternative dispute resolution methods to help parents reach a mutually agreeable resolution if they wish to resolve matters outside of court. 

Contact Getz Collins and Associates for Trusted Advice on Relocation and Mobility Concerns

The compassionate team of family lawyers at Getz Collins and Associates understands that every family is unique. We provide comprehensive family law services to help you resolve disputes relating to child support, parenting time, property division, and guardianship applications. From drafting a separation agreement to litigating disputes in court, our family law team is ready to assist you. We will ensure you understand how the law applies to your circumstances and provide the necessary information to help you make informed decisions for your family.

From our offices in Calgary and Strathmore, our family lawyers work closely with clients throughout Alberta, including Airdrie, Cochrane, Okotoks, Drumheller, Chestermere, Hussar, and all surrounding areas. Please contact us online or at (587) 391-5600 to learn how we can assist you.