One of the most common questions regarding child support payments is, how long does a parent have to pay child support? The answer to this question quite simply depends on the circumstances of the case.
The requirement to pay child support ends when a child reaches the age of majority, which in Ontario is 18 years old. However, a common misconception or misunderstanding is that child support ends once a child reaches this age and does not extend past a child reaching the age of majority. While this understandably is a logical assumption, it’s not entirely correct.
Family Law Act
- 31 (1) under the Family Law Act states that every parent has an obligation to provide support, to the extent that the parent is capable of doing so, for his or her unmarried child who is a minor, enrolled in a full-time program of education, or is unable by reason of illness, disability or other cause to withdraw from the charge of his or her parents.
- 15.1 under the Divorce Act states that a court of competent jurisdiction may, on application by either or both spouses, make an order requiring a spouse to pay for the support of any or all children of the marriage.
Now, because neither the Family Law Act nor the Divorce Act specifies a set age at which point child support is to stop, the question often arises as to when the support payor parent no longer has to continue supporting the child.
In Ontario, a parent’s child support obligation continues so long as the child is considered to be a “child of the marriage”. What does this mean?
Under the Family Law Act, a child of the marriage is defined as a person whom a parent has demonstrated a settled intention to treat as a child of his or her family, except where a child is placed in a foster home.
Under the Divorce Act, a child of the marriage is defined as “a child of two spouses or former spouses who, at the material time,
a. is under the age of majority and who has not withdrawn from their charge, or
b. is the age of majority or over and under their charge but unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause, to withdraw from their charge or to obtain the necessaries of life.
The “other cause” mentioned is generally referred to as being enrolled in post-secondary education (more on this below).
While there are different definitions of a “child of the marriage”, the basic concept that courts follow is the concept of dependency. If a child is dependant on his or her parents as a minor, or has not withdrawn from their authority and can show why he or she is dependent, this person will be considered a child under the law.
Do I Have to Pay Child Support if the Child Moves Out?
As previously mentioned, dependency plays a significant role in determining whether child support will still be owing. If a child decides to move out of their parent’s home before they reach the legal age of majority, child support might end. A court will assess the child’s dependency and determine whether the child is financially dependent for the purposes of child support. It is likely that because the child decided to move out and is seen as independent from their parents, child support will effectively be terminated.
Both the Family Law Act and the Divorce Act provide that if a child continues their education by pursuing a post-secondary degree, child support will continue. The quantum of the support, however, will vary depending on the child’s school and living circumstances, as well as the parent’s financial means.
For example, if the child is attending post-secondary school out of town and will be living away from home during the school year, child support will be lowered to reflect this. On the other hand, if the child is living at home while attending post-secondary school, child support is paid to the parent with whom the child lives, usually at a higher quantum in order to reflect the child’s living expenses at the home. Tuition, books, and transportation to and from the program are shared in proportion to the parents’ incomes.
The courts have expressed on numerous occasions that although child support continues while the child pursues a post-secondary degree, there is an understanding and expectation that the child will contribute towards their tuition and expenses. How much they have to contribute is always case-specific and varies depending on the circumstances. Some students are able to work part-time during the semester, while others can only work during the summer while they have a break from class. Aside from a child’s availability to work, the parent’s education and financial means are also taken into consideration. In one case where the parents were successful lawyers, a 23-year-old child entering her first year of medical school was entitled to continuing support.
Does child support extend to a second or third-degree?
Although parents continue to have an obligation to pay child support while the child pursues a higher education, what happens if a child wants to pursue a second or even third degree? This has become somewhat of a contentious issue in recent years, as the demands and competition of the job market have forced students to stay in school longer and pursue multiple degrees in order to give themselves “an edge” over others.
The courts have acknowledged that pursuing a good career often requires a second degree (law school, medical school, dental school, etc.) As such, courts have stated that child support may continue until the child completes their second or even third-degree as well. Again, whether a parent will be obligated to continue child support will vary depending on the facts of the case.
It is important to note that although child support may extend throughout a child’s post-secondary education, including multiple degrees, there are actions that will warrant the cessation of child support. A child cannot expect support to continue if they are unreasonably pursuing multiple degrees without any clear career plan. For example, after a student dropped out of law school to pursue a Master’s in education without a solid career path, the judge did not award further child support because of the child’s lack of career plan.
Nussbaum Law is a Toronto based law firm that exclusively practices family and divorce law.