Back to (paying for) school: Child support and postsecondary education

September 11th, 2012 by John Schuman

In Ontario, child support does not necessarily end when a child turns 18 years old.  It can continue if the child remains dependant on her parents because she is pursuing full-time education or suffers from some infirmity that prevents her from becoming financially independent.  However, child support can change a lot after a child turns 18 because the parents, and the court, have greater freedom to deviate from the child support tables.

The cost of postsecondary is a special expense under Section 7 of the Child Support Guidelines.  Those costs, over and above that the child can reasonably contribute, are shared by parents in proportion to their incomes (if postsecondary education should be affordable for the family).  The amount that a child is expected to contribute to her postsecondary education costs goes up with every year of that education as that child can earn more from summer employment or other sources.  However, families that can easily afford those educational costs may be expected to pay the bulk of them the whole way through, while lower income families may be simply unable to contribute at all.  All “children” are expected to take advantage of any scholarships, bursaries, or grants that are available to them.

Child support often works very differently for children who stay at home for their postsecondary education versus those who go away for school.  For children who stay at home, base child support often continues under the tables while parents share required cost of tuition, books and other education related expenses.  It does not have to be this way and parents can agree to other arrangements to meet the child’s financial needs.

A Child going away to school creates more opportunities, or issues, to meet that child’s financial needs.  Part of the cost of going away to school, which the parents will share, includes the cost of housing, food, and similar expenses while away at school.  However, those expenses are supposed to be covered by base child support.  One option is for the parents to share all of the away from school education costs and to reduce the base child support while the child is away to reflect the  fact that the recipient parent only has the cost of keeping a home for the child to come back to.  If the child moves back for the summer, then the table child support resumes for those months.  If the child does not show any interest in returning home, then the question arises to whether their base child support should continue at all.  However, this is just one option.  Sometimes, the support payor offers to pay the full costs of all the child’s expenses related to school away from home, without contribution from the other parent, in exchange for an end to the base child support payments.  There may be other options that work well for the family.

Once a child turns 18, but is still dependant due to her education or health, parents have the freedom to restructure child support to whatever works best for them.  The system of having base child support in accordance with the tables, and a sharing of special and extraordinary expenses, is no longer mandatory.  Still, judges will expect that the child support arrangements will benefit the child as much as that system, even if the arrangements are very different.

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