Child Support – Does it continue past 18? How about 22?

Here is the situation. You have a child with a partner – spouse or otherwise. You separated years ago and you have been paying some child support for the last while. Your child is about to turn 18. You think, “Okay, I may choose to continue helping my child out financially as they pursue some sort of post-high school education, but I certainly have no obligation any longer to pay their way.” Think again.

The law in Canada is fairly clear that, subject to a few considerations mentioned below, if you have a child, and that child is over the age of 18, you will be obligated in some fashion to continue paying child support. Take a look at these scenarios to see where you fit in, and if continued child support might be in your cards:

1)      Your child has completed high school and has been living primarily with the other parent. They now start university and continue living with the other parent.

In this situation, you are likely going to keep paying the regular child support (Section 3(2)(a) of the Federal Child Support Guidelines) you had been paying, in addition to some portion of the Section 7 “Extraordinary Expenses” for at least their tuition and books. The law is a bit hazy on the level of support that must be paid for these section 7 expenses. Typically, the child will be responsible for some portion of their tuition and book expenses, usually ranging between 30% and 50%, depending on a few factors.  Some of these factors include:

a)       The loans, RESPs, bursaries, grants, scholarships, etc. the child has in hand, or has applied for;

b)      The child’s own employment income;

c)       The parents’ ability to pay for the schooling;

d)      The degree to which the parents had discussed the likelihood of the child attending a post-secondary facility, and the parents’ discussions surrounding how that would be paid for;

e)      The relationship, or lack thereof, the child has with the paying parent;

f)        The reasonableness of the child’s choice of schooling;

g)       The success the child has had already in that post-secondary school;

h)      Potential for the schooling to result in a career or employment upon the completion.

Once it is determined what percentage the child should contribute towards their education, the parents will then share the remaining percentage in proportion to their incomes.

2)      Your child has completed high school and had been living primarily with the other parent.  They now have decided to move out on their own in a new city 500km away and attend a two year program at hairdressing school.

In this situation, it is likely the school they have chosen will trigger continued child support obligations. However, given that they are now not living with the other parent, it may be the case that paying regular child support is not appropriate.

For something like this, the law seems to be moving to something called a Section 3(2)(b) analysis. In this analysis, the child prepares a budget for their total cost of living in that new community and attending school. This goes beyond tuition and books, and discusses their rent, vehicle expenses, bills, etc. It should not include extraneous expenses such as weekly golf games, for example. The parents then look at the budget, agree to it, and contribute in proportion to their incomes for the shortfall the child will experience between their budgeted expenses and how much money the child expects to earn or access out of their own pocket. Some of the considerations in 1) above may also be taken into account when discussing the parents’ obligations to contribute to the child.

3)      Your child has been in university for four years and just finished their first degree. The child is still living with the other parent and has decided to go for a post-graduate degree and pursue medicine. You had been paying the support as outlined in 1) above throughout the first degree, but now you are wondering what’s going to happen. Tuition for medical school is $40,000.00.

In this situation, the law is less clear.  A lot of the focus seems to be on what the parents had discussed with respect to their child in the past. Had they discussed and agreed that their child would pursue medicine? Did they talk about paying for it? Does the child have the aptitude to complete a medical degree? Given the child is now older, in what way can they now supplement the costs of their own tuition and books? Can the parents afford such a substantial contribution? These and other factors will be crucial in determining the parents’ obligations to support the child in the second post-secondary degree.

Although it is not absolutely clear, it is likely that the Section 3(2)(b) analysis is appropriate in this situation, even though the child may still be living at home. This is so because the child is now of such an age and maturity that contributions should be formalized with them directly. The situation that had been in place prior to their 18th birthday, and therefore appropriate for regular Section 3(2)(a) child support, is likely not going to be there any longer once they are 22 or 23 years old – even if they are still technically living with the other parent. This may be an arguable issue, however.

As you can see, having your child turn 18 is not going to end child support obligations in many circumstances. The above 3 scenarios are just a few of very many that you may be facing as your child, or children, grow up and wish to extend their educations.