More on Child Support for Adult Children Pursuing Higher Education

April 8, 2014
Ron Shulman

Article written by Ron Shulman

In past articles we have written about the complex question of how long a parent should be responsible for supporting a child who pursues post-secondary education – meaning second and third university degrees (such as a Master’s degree, or Ph.D.).

This question becomes necessary because of a relatively new phenomenon in modern society:  that of so-called “adult children” – who are technically over the age of majority but not yet fully independent of their parents.    Rather than take the traditional route (i.e. get a Bachelor’s degree in their chosen field, then venture out from their parents’ home, obtain work, and set up their independent lives), these 18-25-year olds opt to remain living with their parents while obtaining subsequent degrees in most cases.  In other words, they take their time “leaving the nest”, opting instead to live for a (long or short) while in a parent-funded transitional stage between adolescence and full adulthood.

For separated and divorced parents, this raises important issues about child support, more specifically the narrow question of who pays for that higher education.   Admittedly, in Ontario there is main governing principle:  that every parent has an obligation – to the extent he or she is capable – of providing support for his or her unmarried child who is a minor or enrolled in a program of full-time education.  (The federal Divorce Act establishes similar obligations on parents to support their child who is unable to “withdraw from their charge”).

However, in Ontario there remain peculiar challenges in applying this overarching principle because:

  • there are no firm statutory or legal rules about how much post-secondary education a parent is expected to contribute,
  • there are no firm statutory or legal rules about how much each adult child must contribute toward his or her own post-secondary education,
  • there is no automatic cut-off based on an adult child’s age, educational achievements, or aptitude,
  • there are no applicable Guidelines or Tables that quantify how much support should be paid in various scenarios involving second or third post-secondary degrees, and
  • the court decisions as to whether support should continue show no real pattern, and the outcomes vary based on myriad factors (including whether the child has a career plan, and whether his or her aspirations are appropriate in the overall context of the family environment (which can include the parents’ own level of education, the family’s resources, and the level of education reached by siblings).

In other words, support obligations in any given family situation must be determined on a case-by-case basis.   This can leave parents confused, and more importantly can lead to disagreement between them.

Do you have questions about whether to support an adult child who is still in school?  We can provide fact-specific advice.  Contact us for a consultation.