Supreme Court ruling forces B.C. man to pay $23K in retroactive child support
'Child support is a right that belongs to the child. The parents can’t negotiate it away,' say judges
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled a B.C. father must pay $23,000 in retroactive child support to his former common-law partner and child, even though the child is now 29 years old.
Originally a civil matter in New Westminster, B.C., the case of Michel v. Graydon wound its way through the courts for years, eventually becoming a question of whether courts could change past child support orders under B.C.'s Family Law Act, even if the child is over the age of 19.
"Family law cases aren't usually the kind of cases that go all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada," said Raji Mangat, executive director at West Coast LEAF, an intervener in the case.
"And even though this case is focused on the family law act here in B.C., it's going to have implications across the country."
A court summary of the decision said the nine justices agreed that preventing retroactive child support hurts women most and that "people shouldn't be able to profit from acting badly."
Danelle Michel and Sean Graydon were common-law spouses from 1990 until 1994. They had a child in 1991. After their separation, the child lived with Michel, and Graydon agreed to child support payments of about $340 a month based on his stated income of $40,000 a year.
Retroactive support upheld
Graydon's child support payments ended when the child became an adult, but Michel discovered Graydon's income was higher than stated and she filed for retroactive support based on his actual income.
She asked the B.C. provincial court to look at the increases in Graydon's income and a judge ordered Graydon to pay $23,000 in retroactive support, split between the mother and child.
Graydon claimed it was too late to order retroactive child support because the child was now an adult, a claim the B.C Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal agreed with.
Michel subsequently had her counsel file an application to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, which was heard in November 2019.
On Friday, all nine judges said Graydon had to pay the $23,000, the judgment clearing the way for courts to have the power to change past child support orders, even if the child is now an adult.
"Child support is a right that belongs to the child. The parents can't negotiate it away," according to the summary of the decision.
With files from Yvette Brend