A family law lawyer will advise you that child support in Canada does not automatically end for a child when he or she turns 18 years old unlike several jurisdictions of the United States. In Canada, child support continues for children after their 18th birthday in one of two circumstances:
1. If the child is disabled, such that he or she remains dependent and cannot obtain employment that is adequate to meet his or her needs; or,
2. When a child is enrolled full-time in a program of education. In theory, that program of education must be career-oriented and not just an excuse for the child to remain dependant. There is a debate over whether a “victory lap” in high school, where a child who spends an extra year in high school, qualifies the child to continue receiving child support. Some factors to be considered are if the child is spending that extra year to hang out with friends, or to avoid entering the workforce or postsecondary education, rather than continuing their studies to meet the educational requirements of a particular program.
An important difference in child support for children over 18 years of age is that the child support tables no longer presumptively apply (although most judges use the tables as a starting point) and other arrangements can be made for their support to suit their particular circumstances.
For children over 18 years old, who are enrolled in a full-time program of education, their educational expenses may be special or extraordinary expenses. This means that the child’s parents must contribute to postsecondary education, tuition, books, residence, and other related expenses in proportion to their incomes.
This does not mean that children of separated parents are automatically entitled to have their entire postsecondary education paid for by their parents while their peers that have intact families have to pay for school. Judges are supposed to consider:
- What arrangements would have been made for the children’s education if the family was still intact
- What contribution the child should make to his or her own education. The longer a child spends in school, the more that the courts expect the child to consider. The courts expect children to apply for grants and scholarships and to incur a reasonable amount of student debt in light of the parents’ financial situation.
However, where it is not clear how these factors should impact on the amount of child support, judges err on providing support to the child.
It is common for the child support payer to pay full table amount of support while the child is at home from school and a reduced amount while away at school. The logic behind this is that a portion of the base child support is to pay for food and accommodation, but the parents are already sharing the cost of food and accommodation as special or extraordinary expenses. However, the recipient parent is also maintaining a home for the child to come back to, so some amount of support is appropriate to cover that expense.
Since the tables no longer presumptively apply, parents of adult dependent children are free to agree to other arrangements than the above to share the child’s expenses. Sometimes one parent pays all of the post-secondary costs and stops paying base child support. Sometimes the parents each agree to be responsible for specific expenses.
After a child turns 18, child support may not end, but the parents have more freedom over how they will share the child’s expenses. For further information regarding child support for children over 18, please consult a family law lawyer.