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