Blended families are extremely common in Canada. Many people who have children and then divorce or choose to cohabitate with someone else create new parental relationships with the new spouse and their child from a previous relationship. While parents of children who divorce or separate will always have an obligation to provide child support to their children, the child support obligation becomes less clear when it comes to stepparents, and even more so if the child is an adult.
Last year, we wrote about a case in which a parent was not required to pay support to their child who was 22 years old and a full-time student. In that case, the mother had requested the father pay support since the parents had the means to do so. However, the court found that the child had taken it upon themselves to apply for financial aid and had also lived independently of both parents for over a year before applying to school. Given those factors, the father was not obligated to contribute financially to her education.
A recent decision of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench addressed a similar situation, this time involving a stepfather of two adult children. The court’s decision helped to clarify the elements that must be in place to require a stepparent to provide financial support to a child over the age of 18.
In the case at hand, the applicant mother and the respondent, the applicant’s former spouse, had been married from 2006 to 2011. The applicant had two children from a former relationship, which had ended four years prior. While the children’s father had been ordered to pay support, he had never done so, and the applicant did not pursue the matter as she had no contact with him.
In 2014, the applicant obtained a judgment declaring that the respondent had stood in loco parentis (in the place of a parent) to the children, which obligated him to pay support. The matter was remitted back to the lower court to determine the quantum and duration of support. However, the applicant did not pursue the matter further and so no support was awarded, and the respondent made no voluntary payments. During that time, the respondent also had no contact with either child.
In June of 2020, the applicant contacted the respondent and told him she planned to apply for child support again, which she did later that year. The application requested retroactive and ongoing support for both children. At the time, both children were enrolled as full-time post-secondary students, and the applicant claimed they did not have the financial capacity to pay their own expenses.
A child of marriage can be over the age of 18 under the federal Divorce Act, however they must be under the care of the parents for a specific reason, such as an illness or disability. Other factors, such as a child being enrolled full-time in post-secondary education, can also be a factor in determining that they continue to be a “child of marriage” but must be considered in the context of the case.
In the case at hand, the respondent had not had any contact with either child since 2011. This was determined to be caused in part by the applicant, because she made no attempts to continue her children’s relationship with their stepfather after the divorce. Once the children reached the age of majority, neither child sought the respondent out themselves to re-establish their relationship or connect in any way.
As for the children’s post-secondary educational pursuits, the respondent was not involved in the planning or decision-making process for either child. Given these factors, the court found that there had been a mutual termination of the relationship between stepparent and stepchild, and so both children had ceased to be a “child of marriage” once they reached the age of 18. The respondent was therefore not obligated to provide ongoing support to either child.
While the court held the respondent was not obligated to provide ongoing support for the children, it still found he owed retroactive child support. The court found that both the applicant and respondent had been complacent, with the applicant’s failure to pursue a quantum order back in 2014 and the respondent’s failure to provide voluntary support payments.
Given this complacency, both children had suffered financially, as they had both been required to obtain student loans for post-secondary education. The court assessed the respondent’s obligation to be 50% of the total arrears up to the time the children each reached the age of 18, given the applicant’s partial blame for the delay.
At Mincher Koeman, our family law lawyers are experienced in matters relating to the determination of child support. We will always guide a client towards the most efficient and cost-effective method of resolving the matter, whether that means going to trial to seek a court order, or simply providing candid advice through amicable negotiations between the parties. We will take a big-picture view of the family’s circumstances to assess the most appropriate way forward for our client while prioritizing the best interests of the child or children involved. For assistance with any child support matter, contact our office for a consultation by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.
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