Child Support for University Kids

Author: Calgary Family Lawyer Mat Wirove

For a variety of reasons, many studies have shown that children today require more and more education to become self-sustaining.  This means that children even over the age of majority have to stay dependent on their parents later in life.  A common issue for divorced or separated parents is how child support is supposed to work for children who have turned 18. 

The Divorce Act stipulates that a parent has a responsibility to pay support for any child that is either under 18, or is over 18 but unable to withdraw from a parent’s charge due to illness, disability or other cause, or unable obtain the necessaries of life.  The Alberta Family Law Act defines a child as under 18 years of age, or who is between 18 and 22 and is unable to withdraw from their parents charge because they are a full-time student.  The Federal Child Support Guidelines outline that the amount for an adult child is first determined by the tables as if the child is under the age of majority, but then the Court must consider whether that amount is appropriate having regard to the condition, means, needs and other circumstances of the child and the financial ability of each spouse to support the child.  

When an adult child is in the parent’s care due to a disability, the child support analysis is generally pretty straight forward and the table amount from the Child Support Guidelines is used.  However, when a child is attending full time at post-secondary, there are a variety of different ways that child support can be paid. For example, when children choose to pursue post-secondary education and in the course of doing so no longer reside with either parent, the rationale for the application of the Child Support Guideline table amounts may no longer be appropriate.

Moreover, Section 7 of the Child Support Guidelines should also be considered when determining child support for adult children.  This section states that a child support order can provide for an amount to cover post-secondary education expenses such as tuition, books and residency.  The guiding principle in this section is that the expense is shared in proportion to the parent’s incomes after deducting from the expense, the contribution, if any, from the child.  

There may be an expectation that an adult child in post-secondary contribute to some extent to their university expenses. A parent does not have an indefinite obligation to provide child support to a child who is attending university.  What is a reasonable contribution to their own expenses will depend on the resources of the child and the parents, the expectations of the family and the opportunities for the child. 

The analysis for child support for an adult child seeking support requires disclosure of the child’s finances. Therefore, the courts have found that the child has a duty to disclose their financial information so that the everyone can see what income they are able to make, the required costs of education and if they can realistically be expected to contribute.  This contribution can come from scholarships, bursaries, RESPs and income.  

A common resolution of the issue of child support for children in university is that the Child Support Guidelines Section 7 expenses required to attend school like tuition, books, residency, and travel, are shared between the parties proportionately to their incomes while the base Section 3 table amount of child support is suspended. The base monthly child support may start again if the child returns home over the summer months.  

Furthermore, some other general principles in child support for adult children in school include:  

  • An adult child will usually be supported at least for his or her first level of post-secondary, while any further degree may not be a reasonable child support expense.  
  • The analysis will often include a determination of the child’s academic success and legitimacy of the child’s career path; 
  • As a child becomes more educated, the courts are less likely to award support as the child is required to contribute more towards their educational expenses; 
  • If the second degree is not connected to the first, the court will likely terminate support; 
  • Adult children can also bring their own applications for child support;
  • If the parents are well educated it is more likely that the child will be supported to a similar level of education as the parents; and 
  • Payments can be made directly to the child however, this is ordered in exceptional circumstances. 

Child support for adult children after separation or divorce can be a very complex analysis. The child support lawyers at Crossroads Law are experienced in handling these cases and have successfully resolved many in negotiation and mediation. If you have any questions please contact one of our family lawyers. 

Filed Under
Child Support