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Do Support Obligations Survive a Kid’s Hiatus from School?

As I have written before, in Ontario all parents have an obligation under the Family Law Act to support their “child” which is defined to include an unmarried child who is “enrolled in a full-time program of education”.

But what happens if the child takes a break from his or her studies?

This was the situation in a recent case called Murchison v. Farmer, 2013 ONCJ 652.  There, the court considered the mother’s contention that her child support obligations payable to the father (who had sole responsibility for the child since separation) should end because the 18-year old daughter had taken nearly a year off from school before returning to study full-time.   The mother asserted that her child support obligations should end the moment the now-adult daughter took a hiatus.

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In explanation, the father conceded that the daughter had had some challenges in connection with her education since the couple separated (due mainly, he said, to some emotional issues arising from the fact that the mother herself had chosen not to continue a relationship with the child). On her 18th birthday, when she became an adult, she was attending high school, but then took a 11-month break before switching to an alternative high school for a while, attending 4 days per week.  She was now doing very well in her post-secondary program, and was working towards full-time towards a diploma to become a physiotherapy assistant, with an expected graduation in September 2013.    The daughter also maintained part-time work while studying, working 20 hours per week at a tanning salon earning minimum wage.  She continued to live with the father throughout.

In assessing these circumstances, the court first confirmed that under the Family Law Act, the mother had an obligation to support a “child who is dependent”.   This included adult children in a course of full-time study.

Next, the court pointed out that “full time study” could include a short hiatus.   Here, even though the daughter stopped attending for less than a year, the fact that she took a break did not relieve the mother of the obligation to pay support when the daughter later returned to school. Although this will depend on the facts of each case, essentially the parent’s obligation to pay support can be revived after the child’s hiatus from school ends.

Do you have questions about support for an adult child who is still in school?   Contact us for a consultation.

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