What Do the NFL Suspensions Teach Us About Child Support?

September 25, 2014
Ron Shulman

Article written by Ron Shulman

The sports fans among you may be following the debate over the suspensions of NFL players Adrian Peterson (for alleged physical abuse of his child while imposing disciplining) and Ray Rice (for the alleged physical assault in an elevator of his then-fiancée, now his wife).

In both cases, the “off-duty”/off-field conduct of these high-salaried NFL players brought their incomes to an abrupt halt, in Rice’s case on an indefinite basis, and in the Petersen incident temporarily (he has since been reinstated to the team).

Although few of us have multi-million dollar salaries, for Family Law purposes it raises of the theoretical question of what happens when a support-paying parent loses his or her source of income – whether due to misconduct or otherwise – and specifically how it affects the obligation to pay child support for any children that he or she had with the blameless recipient.

In Canada, courts charged with the task of making child support awards in a divorce scenario are given a broad scope for reviewing the financial and employment-related circumstances of each parent.  This includes examining the reason why a parent – whether the paying or the one receiving support for a child – is unemployed or under-employed.  In this context, “intentionally” covers any situation where the paying parent has an obligation to pay support but does not work, or does not work to his or her full potential or capabilities.  It can also cover situations where either parent instigates his or her own firing or suspension from work.

In the case of a parent who has lost a job due to his or her off-duty conduct, the threshold question of whether that conduct warrants termination will be more relevant to (and more likely to be resolved by) the laws relating to employment.    This means that for the purposes of Family Law a court will generally not look too far into the merits of a person’s wrongful dismissal claim; rather the Family Court will assess the situation with a more limited view of determining income for child support purposes.

In particular, under the Child Support Guidelines the court may impute income to the support-paying parent who is intentionally unemployed or under-employed.  The amount imputed by a court is what it considers appropriate in the circumstances, and is governed by a review of the evidence.  This in turn requires the court to review of the paying parent’s historical income and earning capacity, and it will impute income accordingly.  Child support obligations are based on this amount as usual, with due consideration given to various other factors.

In short:  Generally speaking a paying parent may not be able to take the benefit of a reduction in income – to the point where child support should be reduced – where he or she has lost a job due to his or her own misconduct.    However, there is no general rule, and the outcome will always be guided by the particular facts.

Do you have a situation involving a job loss?  Are you concerned with how child support will be affected?  Contact us for a consultation.