Must Parents Support Even a Slack Student?
The question considered by the Ontario court in the recent case of Zhang v. Jones was this: If an adult child’s educational path is filled with poor marks, frequent direction-changes, and periods of dropping out, is the support-paying parent’s obligation toward that child affected?
The parents had a son together who was now 22 years old. When they separated, the father was ordered to pay about $900 per month in child support for him. However, the father went to court to have that changed: he claimed that the boy was not serious about his education, and had failed to diligently and actively apply himself to his university studies in particular. More to the point, the father claimed the boy had effectively terminated those studies without telling him.
The mother, in contrast, wanted the support to continue: She blamed the son’s poor marks and erratic attendance history on his purported anxiety and depression. She also claimed that – aside from a four-month period where his depression had interfered – the son had had indeed been in school continuously, and moreover was now actively pursuing a college education.
In considering its decision on support, the court chronicled the boy’s educational meanderings, which included twice changing the direction of his studies, dropping courses, not carrying a full course load, and performing poorly in the courses he was taking. His present overall efforts in connection with his college education were equally unimpressive. While noting that the son claimed to have had a “complete mental breakdown” at one point, the court could draw no firm conclusions as to the factual reason for his poor scholastic performance. The son and the mother had failed to provide any definitive medical proof of the son’s alleged depression.
In short, the court concluded that there was nothing medically wrong with the son; it said “his conduct is equally consistent with someone who for two school years … just did not apply himself to his studies.” Specifically:
Since 2009, [the son] has been given ample and substantial opportunities to pursue his higher education. For three years he has not applied himself and has squandered his time. On the evidence I am not persuaded that [the son] has been suffering from a mental illness. Not for lack of trying on his mother’s part [the son] has also been encouraged to deal with his emotional and psychological challenges which he has refused to do in any serious way.
The revealed quality of his last scholastic efforts at Algonquin College does not demonstrate any effort or resolve on his part to make any changes in his life. In his own words it is “too little, too late”. It is unrealistic of him to expect to be supported by his parents indefinitely in the face of this history.
As a result, the court held that the boy had ceased being a child of the marriage, and that the father’s obligation to pay support had likewise come to an end.
For the full text of the decision,
Zhang v. Jones, 2013 ONSC 4990 (CanLII) http://canlii.ca/t/g01j2
At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at www.RussellAlexander.com.