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It’s Time to Recalculate!

This month, we examine the second service offered by the Alberta Government to help the payees and payors of child support: the Alberta Recalculation Program.

The purpose of the Alberta Recalculation Program, as outlined on their website, is to “annually recalculate child support based on the parents’ current income tax information. Our goal is to help parents keep child support levels in line with their income, so that families can avoid the time and expense of asking the courts to review their child support orders.”

That mission statement is music to the ears of most family law lawyers. Most of us are looking for ways to help our clients solve problems. If a file involves a disagreement over support, it is most advantageous to equip our clients with a tool that allows a neutral third party (the Recalculation Program for example) to assist them in the future. This can reduce conflict within the family, avoid legal fees and avoid using court resources.

A brief rundown of the program:

Since 2015, all child support orders granted in Alberta must contain a clause that states whether or not the Recalculation Program may be applied to that particular order. If your Support Order indicates that it may be recalculated by the program either the payor or the payee may register for an annual recalculation of both Section 3 and Section 7 child support.

There are situations where the program may decline to recalculate:

  • if the payor and the recipient lives outside of Alberta;
  • if the Order states that the payor’s income was imputed;
  • if the Order sets a specific court review date for support that is still in the future;
  • If the Order is “without prejudice” or “pre-disclosure” (unless the order also specifically states that program may recalculate the child support);
  • The order also must not direct the program to recalculate using documentation other than the income information the program normally requires; and
  • Situations in which recalculation could produce an unjust result, for example:
    • when a parent’s income tax return may not be an accurate reflection of their available earnings to pay child support (for example, the parent earns non-taxable income or controls their earnings through a private corporation or family business); or
    • the children in the court order will be over (or near) 22 years of age when the recalculation takes effect.

One common reason the program will decline to recalculate relates to the italicized section above. If one or both parents earn their income from self-employment or partnerships or are involved with private corporations the program may seek the consent of the other party to accept the self-employed person’s reported guideline income. The program will not recalculate if consent is not given. This relates to the self-employed parties ability to run expenses through this business and the potential that the personal benefit of any of those expenses should be added back to the payor’s guideline income.

If you are deemed eligible for the Recalculation Program, the administrator will reach out to the parties on an annual basis to request their tax documentation for the most recent tax year. If the information is not provided, the program will complete the calculation as if the payor’s income had increased by up to 25% or as if the payor’s income was $31,200 – whichever is the higher amount.

Once they have the information they require the program will live up to its name and will recalculate! If the program’s calculations show a difference of at least $10 per month in child support the decision changes the amount of child support payable in the parties’ court order. The parents are responsible for paying the new amounts stated in the decision unless an objection is made within 30 days after the Recalculation Decision is sent. Each of the recipient and the payor is charged a service fee of $77 for the recalculation.


With the explanation set out above, it is easy to see how this program can be beneficial. The parties submit their documents to a third party so there is no need to dispute how and when that happens. There are consequences for parties who do not submit their financial information. Also, the decision is binding and take effect within a month, there is no need for the parties to retain lawyers and attend court to receive the amount they are entitled to.

However, it is also foreseeable that there may be circumstances in which the outcomes determined by the Recalculation Program are unjust. For example, if tax returns are not completed on time and the amounts are automatically adjusted. Payor’s are also paying on ‘old’ income amounts – the numbers are adjusted based on a recalculation date and determined using the most recently available tax returns. So, its possible that a payor is ordered to pay in January 2020, on the total they earned in 2018 (as the 2019 tax returns would not yet be available). If a payor experiences a drop in income and has not been savvy in saving, they may be paying a higher proportion of their total earnings. The courts have stepped in to say that they will do what the Recalculation Program cannot, and will attempt to fix these issues (See Pinter v Pinter 2016 ABCA 58). But that process may negate some of the benefits of the program.  

All and all – the Recalculation Program is a good tool that may help. If you have any questions or concerns about this program please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.