Child support obligations might seem clear at the time they are issued, but sometimes the small wrinkles in life can have a significant impact in what parties to a support order understand their obligations and rights to be. This was seen recently in a decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice when it was asked to consider whether a child’s “gap year” between high school and post-secondary education should waive her father’s obligations towards child support payments.
Cutting off child support after high school graduation
The mother and father had a child in 1997. The parents separated in 2000 and had lived apart from one another up until the trial. The father’s child support obligations were established in 2001 and changed slightly over the years as his income fluctuated. Their daughter graduated from high school in 2016. At that time the father unilaterally terminated child support. The daughter enrolled in college the following spring, at which time the father acknowledged that his child support obligations resumed while she was in school, but he did not believe it to be his responsibility to have made child support payments during her gap year.
Upon completing her first diploma, the daughter decided to pursue a second diploma. The father believed he was not responsible to continue to make child support payments while his daughter pursued a second college diploma.
The mother applied to the court, looking to have the father pay child support throughout their daughter’s entire post-secondary education.
Assessing child support obligations during the gap year and through a second diploma
The court first looked at whether child support obligations continued through the daughter’s gap year. The court wrote
It is not the case that the obligation to pay support ceases automatically on the day a child finishes high school. The test under the Family Law Act is set out in s. 31 (1). Parents are obligated to pay support for children who are minors, who are enrolled in a full time program of education or who are unable because of illness, disability or other cause to withdraw from parental care. This language is easily broad enough to cover a period of time between high school and college unless the child is actually self-sufficient. It is also broad enough to re-trigger an obligation to pay support if the child takes time off and then returns to school to pursue further education.
The question is not whether there is an absolute cut-off date or event for support but whether or not the child remains dependant on the parent to whom support is paid and whether or not that dependency remains reasonable under all of the circumstances. In this case, the child took what amounts to a “gap year” during which she was working and saving money for college and travel. During that time, she was paying modest rent to the (mother) and was able to travel to Europe. The (mother) is not seeking support for the period of July 2016 to April 2017 and is not entitled to it. The (mother) is seeking support for the period of time the child was enrolled at Algonquin College pursuing a diploma as a veterinary assistant. She also seeks to have that support continue during the time when the child is pursuing a second diploma in community studies.
With the gap year off the table, the court then turned to child support obligations during the daughter’s second diploma. In writing its decision, the court stated “I do not consider it unreasonable for the child to pursue a second diploma to enhance the education she has already obtained. She has a plan for her career and believes the Community Studies Program will enhance the value of the diploma she has already earned.”
The court ordered the father to continue paying child support until the daughter completed her second diploma.
Getting a spouse to pay child support can be difficult. It is prudent to obtain guidance from a knowledgeable and experienced family lawyer f you and your child’s other parent disagree over child support obligations. The experienced and compassionate team of family lawyers at Borden Family Law are here to help. We assist our clients on a range of complicated support issues, and our focus and dedication on family law has provided us with the in-depth knowledge needed to best serve our clients. Call us at 905-576-6090 or reach us online to see how we can help you. Please remember to ask us about our flat fees.