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Child Maintenance Claims: Can a Payor Claim Legal Fees as a Tax Deduction?

Interesting case out of the Tax Court this month: in Trignani v. Canada, [2010] T.C.J. No.141, the court determined that a man who had joint custody of his child but who was paying net maintenance to the children's mother, was entitled to write of those legal expenses he incurred to pursue his child support claims. In this case, the appellant, Mr. Trignani, was pursuing sole custody of his child, which the court determined to be a bona fide claim. After the parties' separation July 2000, they entered into an agreement in August 2000 providing for joint custody and for Mr. Trignani to pay maintenance. The parties filed against each other in spring 2001, each claiming sole custody and child maintenance. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice pronounced a consent order in April 2001 that the parties have equal time with the child (the mother's access to be supervised) and Mr. Trignani was to pay child support. Notwithstanding this order, for the next five years, Mr. Trignani had the child in his care for the majority of the time.

The court order was varied in 2006 by Minutes of Settlement which provided for joint custody and for Mr. Trignani to pay child maintenance which appears to have been a set off between his and the appellant's guideline income obligations. The tax court held that, despite interim agreements reached by the parties between 2001 and 2006, Mr. Trignani at all material times had a live claim for child support and sole custody. The fact that he agreed to a settlement in 2006 which provided that he pay net maintenance to the respondent did not detract from the viability of his claim prior to that point and did not extinguish his right to claim the monies expended on pursuing his child support claim as a tax deduction. In cases where joint custody is sought or where sole custody is a reasonable consideration, the tax considerations raised in Trignani v. Canada should be considered when deciding whether to claim child maintenance. This case could have far reaching implications. It remains to be seen whether the decision will be appealed and how the decision will be woven by lower courts into the fabric of Canadian family law.

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