24-Year-Olds Twin Embark on Second Degree: Must Dad Still Pay Child Support?
We have written in the past about how parents can no longer assume that they have done their duty once adult children have obtained one degree from an institute of higher education.
In a case called Holman v. Holman, one of the issues was whether the father, who had split from the mother, was still obliged to pay child support for his two twin daughters, who were now 24 years old. Under the terms of their settlement and subsequent divorce order, the father was obliged to pay $10,000 annual towards the children’s education as long as they were enrolled in a program of post-secondary education.
Both girls had obtained their first university degrees in 2011. One of them continued to take part-time classes in 2012; the other took a two-year diploma course that ended in 2013. Both girls earned about $24,000 at part-time jobs, and still lived rent-free with their mother. (And in the case of one of the girls, she had told the father that she did not wish to work full-time since it would reduce the amount of time that she spends at the gym.)
After their first degree, the father told them both in writing that he was only prepared to cover the cost of their first degree; both responded that they did not have an issue with their father’s position. The parents therefore went to court to have the father’s support contributions adjusted to accommodate for the facts.
The court examined the situation. In Ontario, the law is clear that parents cannot automatically assume that their child support obligations end once they have put their children through one college or university degree. Instead, whether or not the support obligation continues past an initial degree will depend on a number of factors, including the means, needs and circumstances of the children, as well as each parent’s ability to contribute to child support in light of the personal circumstances of their own.
More importantly, the father could not unilaterally decide that his educational support obligations to his daughters ended once they had completed their first degree. Instead, as the court put it, “an undergraduate degree in these increasingly competitive times may merely be the first step in the journey to become sufficiently educated for the workplace.”
The court examined each of the girls’ overall educational goals, together with their respective efforts in obtaining them. For example, one of the daughters had taken a 4-year degree and then entered a veterinarian technician program; the father pointed out that she didn’t need the degree and could have entered that same program right out of high school. In assessing the daughter’s educational path, the court wrote:
I disagree that [the second daughter’s] decision to pursue an undergraduate degree before enrolling in the Veterinarian Technician’s program disqualifies her from parental support in the post-May 11, 2011 period. [The mother] provided credible evidence that [the daughter] initially aspired to be a Veterinarian. Enrolment in the Bachelor of Science program was the prelude for her to achieve this goal. She subsequently realized that her academic goals were beyond her grasp. She then decided, upon graduation, to pursue a more realistic goal within the discipline that she had chosen for a career.
In my view, [the daughter] should not be punished by being deprived of parental support because of the professional goal she initially set for herself but settled for something else. Indeed, it is to her credit that she did not turn her back on her aspirations after completing her undergraduate degree but chose to pursue a diploma within her chosen field. [The father] should not be relieved of the responsibility to support her because of the educational choices which she reasonably made.
With that said, the court also pointed out that although the law does not require her to foot the bill on her own entirely, the daughter should have been asked to contribute part of her $24,000 in annual earnings to put herself through school. As a result, the father’s support obligations toward that daughter were reduced for the year.
The court made further adjustments in light of the parties various obligations, as well as their current and past contributions to the girls’ support and education.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Holman v. Holman, 2013 ONSC 6988
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.