Child support, while most commonly paid for children of a marriage under the age of 18, can also extend into adulthood under certain circumstances. If a child has an illness or disability, for example, and is unable to provide for themselves, the parent paying support may be required to continue that support after the child reaches the age of majority. The most common reason child support extends beyond the age of 18, however, is for children who attend post-secondary education.
The amount or frequency of support for a child enrolled in college or university may depend on whether they live full-time at home while attending school, or live on their own during the school year. For example, if a child remains at home while attending school, the paying parent will likely be required to continue support payments as usual, in addition to paying their share of the cost of the child’s education.
For children who opt to live on or near campus during the academic year and return home for the summers, the paying parent will likely only have to pay regular support during the summer months. Of course, they will likely pay more for their share of the educational costs since living expenses may be factored in.
Given the above, what would be the case if an adult child opted to postpone post-secondary education? Would the paying parent be required to continue support indefinitely until the child decided to enroll? In a recent Ontario decision, the Court opted to suspend a mother’s child support obligations while her sons opted to postpone college due to COVID-19.
In the case at hand, the parents had been married for nearly twenty years and shared two sons. At the time of separation, the boys were both minors and opted to live with their father after the mother was granted exclusive possession of the matrimonial home. At the time, the mother was ordered to pay the father $2,100 per month for spousal support, and $2,241 per month for child support.
The children have since reached the age of majority. The oldest graduated high school in 2018 and took a year off of school before attended college in 2019. However, he only attended for one semester before opting to leave and began working in seasonal and part-time positions. The youngest graduated high school in 2019 and chose not to enrol in post-secondary school. Both children remain living with the father.
The mother lost her job as a result of cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic and fell behind in her support payments.
The mother filed a motion to terminate her child support obligations citing a “material change in circumstances”. She pointed out that the support was ordered when both of her sons were under 18 and enrolled full-time in high school. Since then, they had both turned 18 and were no longer attending school. She further argued that her oldest son’s attendance at college for one semester should be ignored since he had opted to leave in order to enter the workforce. Further, he had not provided a transcript to show that he had successfully finished the semester.
The father argued that, regardless of the educational component, both children were still dependent on him financially and he would be unable to provide for them without the support payment. Less than two weeks after their mother filed the motion, both sons applied to college for the 2021-2022 academic year and both were admitted. They claimed they had opted not to attend school in 2020 because they didn’t want to attend college online due to the pandemic.
The Court agreed with the mother. While acknowledging that it can be common to take a “gap year” after high school, the Court said there were limits on the support a parent should be obligated to provide:
[A]dult children cannot indefinitely postpone the commencement of post-secondary education and expect to remain a dependant, entitled to parental financial support.
Further, while the Court sympathized with the less than ideal circumstances of attending college during a pandemic, the choice to postpone was still one the sons made for themselves. While they had the right to make that decision, it would be unfair to expect their mother to continue to support them after making that decision. Leaving the option open to the father to reapply for child support if the children resumed full-time school the following year, the Court suspended the mother’s child support obligations in the interim.
The family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman are exceptionally experienced with respect to child and spousal support awards following the breakdown of a relationship. We will work with you to ensure that you receive a support award that accurately reflects the true financial positions of the parties. Contact our office today by calling us at 403-910-3000 or contact us online.
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