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24-Year-Olds Twin Embark on Second Degree: Must Dad Still Pay Child Support?

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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.

How Many University Degrees Should Parents Pay For?

How Many University Degrees Should Parents Pay For?

In Ontario, the general obligation of all parents to fund their child’s education is found in the Family Law Act, which provides that parents must support children who minors and who are “enrolled in a full-time program of education”.

But the corresponding obligation on parents who are separated or divorced is a little more complicated. Furthermore, the question of how long such parents must provide support, and whether they should have to foot the bill for a child to attain multiple degrees, complicates the matter even further.

For one thing, there is no defined age-limit after which a child is no longer entitled to receive support for education. For the purposes of the federal Child Support Guidelines, “child” simply means a “child of the marriage”, and that term is further defined by the Divorce Act to mean a child who may be unable to withdraw from parental control because of an “other cause”. When read together, these provisions dictate that an adult well over the age of majority can still qualify as being a “child of the marriage” and in theory be entitled to receive support.

The monetary amount of educational support can also vary. Section 7 of the federal Child Support Guidelines provides that a court may order a parent to pay an amount for child support that covers any or all of the expenses related to post-secondary education, after considering both the child’s best interests and the reasonableness of the expense in relation to the parents’ and child’s overall financial means, and the family’s pre-separation spending habits.

Numerous factors go into the court’s decision on this point. These include the child’s age, academic performance, educational and career plans, and preparedness for self-sufficiency; they also include the parents’ financial circumstances, educational expectations, and involvement in the decision-making.

Finally, there are no automatic limits as to how many post-secondary degrees a child can pursue; once a child has achieved his or her first university degree, the question often arises whether support should be paid for second and third degrees. The court considered this issue in a decision called Haist v. Haist, where the 27-year old daughter had already obtained one degree but wanted to pursue a second degree at teacher’s college. Her father had previously been ordered to pay child support as part of a divorce order, so the question arose whether he should also fund her second degree as well.

The court found that he did: it considered numerous factors including the fact that the daughter had been living at home during her university studies, was enrolled full-time, and was responsible and focused on her studies. She had started the second degree immediately after achieving the first one, and had held various part-time jobs as a means of contributing to her own education. However, she required support because she was unable to get a student loan due to the relatively high combined incomes of her parents. This being the case, and in light of her parents’ respective financial situations, the court found it reasonable for the daughter to embark on attaining a second degree on her way towards a prudent plan for financial independence.

The Court’s decision in Haist v. Haist can be found at http://bit.ly/gg0hJM

Additional information on how child support entitlements are calculated can and further information on family law issues can be found on our web site  www.russellalexander.com