In a recent Ontario decision, the court ruled that a mother was not obligated to pay child support for her adult children who were not pursuing a post-secondary education. The children claimed to have taken a year off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mother Applies to Terminate Support for Adult Children
The parents married in 2000 and separated in 2017. They have two children together, born in 2000 and 2001, who had lived with the father since 2018.
In 2018, when both children were under the age of 18 and in school, the court had issued a temporary order by which the mother would pay $2,241 per month in child support, based on her annual income of $163,701. She was also ordered to pay $2,100 per month in spousal support to the father, whose annual income was imputed at $26,000.
In 2018, the older son turned 18 and graduated from high school. He did not attend school in the 2018-2019 academic year, but attended college in the fall term of 2019. He did not return for the spring session in 2020 and did not enroll in the 2020-2021 academic year.
The younger son turned 18 and graduated from high school in 2019. He did not attend school in the 2019-2020 academic year or the 2020-2021 academic year.
The mother brought a motion to the court seeking to terminate her child support obligations to the father. She argued that the 2018 interim order had been premised on the children being enrolled in school after their respective eighteenth birthdays, but that neither child had been enrolled in a program of education since their eighteenth birthday.
Court Considers COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Case
The court first noted that the mother had lost her long-time job with a car rental agency in May 2020 as a result of market downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she was given a severance package by her employer in an amount equivalent to her regular base rate salary of $139,316 for a period of 18 months, she had been unemployed since that date.
Additionally, the court observed that one week after the mother had filed her motion, both children applied to and were accepted into post-secondary education programs, which they stated they planned to attend in the fall of 2021. They claimed that they had not pursued their education in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and their desire not to attend online courses.
Finally, the court noted that the 2018 temporary court order was only intended to last until the trial, which would have been expected to proceed by early 2020. However, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, trials had been delayed, and, given the resulting trial backlog, there was no certainty when the parties’ trial will be reached. As such, the court ruled that, given the delay, it was appropriate that the court revisit the interim order on the mother’s motion.
After reviewing the relevant legal principles regarding child support for adult children pursuing post-secondary education, the court stated:
“An adult child cannot, however, indefinitely postpone the commencement of post-secondary education and expect to remain a dependant, entitled to parental financial support. In the absence of “illness or disability” or some other cause that makes him “unable” to attend school, he no longer qualifies as a “child of the marriage” within the meaning of s. 2(1) of the Divorce Act.
While virtual learning may not be ideal, [the sons’] decision not to enroll in any educational program for the 2020-2021 academic year was their choice. It was a choice that, as adults, they had every right to make, but it is not a choice that the [mother] should be required to pay for.”
In the result, the court therefore found for the mother and terminated her child support payments. However, the court noted that it would be open to the father to apply for child support from the mother should either of the children attend an educational program in the future.
At Feigenbaum Law, our goal is to help you move forward following the breakdown of a relationship while retaining as much financial stability as possible and ensuring your children are provided for. Mark Feigenbaum is able to counsel his clients on all potential risks that may result from a family law dispute, not just those related strictly to the breakdown of a marriage. Contact Mark online or call him at (905) 695-1269 or toll-free at (877) 275-4792 to book a consultation.