The big day is here, and your baby has finally turned 18. You’ve gotten them through their awkward teenage years, clapped the loudest at their high school graduation, helped loan them money for their first car, and now they’re off to college. You look at them and see the potential they have in store, and nothing could make you prouder.
You’re happy to help support them through school, but now that they’re legally an adult, what happens to your support payments? Can you give them money just because you want to, or is it still legally required by your separation agreement?
You may have seen the phrase ‘child of the marriage’ when you were going through your separation and divorce but may have some questions now that your kids are no longer ‘kids.’ How long do payor parents need to keep paying child support? Is there a magic date when child support cuts off? Do children going back to school make a difference?
Our team is asked these questions all the time, so we wanted to help set a few things straight.
What is a ‘child of the marriage’?
There are different definitions of ‘child of the marriage,’ but there are some foundational elements that are important to know. The federal Divorce Act defines a child of the marriage as a child of two former spouses who is either under 18 (the age of majority) and still lives or is under parental control, or is 18 or over but has not become independent due to illness, disability, or any other reason.
In Ontario, the Family Law Act includes a similar definition, but stipulates that a child is an unmarried person who is a minor, who is in a full-time educational program, or who is unable to withdraw from parental care due to illness or disability. In addition, for parents who were not married, the cut off age may be lower, 16 or 17 for example, but it includes the same elements of parental control.
Is there a magic cut off age for support?
No, there is no set cut off age for support. Support can continue for children over the age of majority who are still in school, for example, which depending on the course of study can go well into one’s 20s.
The other issue is for children who are dealing with injury or illness that leave them incapable of supporting themselves or entering full-time postsecondary education. This can include mental health issues or developmental issues. In these situations, child support can carry on for several years after the age of majority, since the child is largely or fully dependent on their parents for support. The parent seeking support for a child over the age of majority due to illness or disability would need to produce medical evidence of the child’s disability, and their need for support.
What about if children continue in post-secondary school?
If a child is over the age of majority but is in postsecondary education full time, they can still qualify as a child of the marriage for support purposes. There was formerly a move to amend the federal Divorce Act to include the words “in pursuit of a reasonable education,” but this bill did not become law, and as such this section of the Act has not been updated in over 25 years.
There are cases that arise in family law with young adults who are over the age of majority who may decide to leave school for a time, and then return to pursue their education later on. In those circumstances, they may not be a child for support purposes while out of school, but support can restart once they return to the classroom.
What if children are working, and self-supporting?
If children are gainfully employed full time, or married, and are capable of supporting themselves financially, then they should no longer be eligible to receive support.
There’s no question that navigating support can be complicated for parents, especially when it takes a significant chunk of a working parent’s paycheque. Even if that parent has no issues supporting their child financially, the obligation to do so in set increments under a set schedule can be confusing as that child enters adulthood.
The important thing to remember is to speak to a lawyer before unilaterally deciding to change support. Even if your child is no longer eligible for regular payments, a lawyer can confirm your obligations moving forward (if any) and can ensure that any changes that you make are entirely within the terms of your agreement so as to avoid any penalties.
Our family lawyers work with clients across the Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo region at all stages of disputes, including complicated separation and divorce proceedings. We understand how these agreements work, and we help our clients navigate their rights and obligations at every step. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how to get started.