What Happens if Kids Skip School? – When Child Support is Tied to School Attendance
Many disputes between former spouses end up in court because the parties have different interpretations of the wording of a previously-agreed to separation agreement or other domestic agreement. The recent Ontario case of Banting v. Banting is just one recent illustration; in this case, the court was asked to evaluate a separation agreement provision relating to the father’s obligation to support his twin sons while they were in school.
The parties’ marriage in 1990 had been brief – only three years – and when they separated in 1995 they entered into a separation agreement which obliged the father to pay child support in the amount of $1,200 per month for their twin boys. This obligation was to continue for each child until he “becomes 18 years of age and ceases to be in full-time attendance at an educational institution”.
The interpretation of that provision became contentious when the father realized that both twins had established a significant track record of skipping classes in high school. School attendance records showed numerous absences during a two-year period: about 70 days for one of the twins, and 90 days for the other. In fact, starting in September of 2009 the boys attended only sporadically for two months, after which point they were de-registered and removed from school entirely. Moreover, the twins’ plans for any further education were vague and ill-conceived.
The court was asked to determine whether the twins – who were 20 years old at the time of trial – were no longer “in full-time attendance at an educational institution”, to the point where the father’s obligation to pay child support for them should be eliminated, going-forward. In light of their previous erratic attendance in high school, he was also seeking reimbursement for any support he had paid after the twins’ 18th birthday.
The wife claimed that since it was a threshold for paying child support (which was aimed at benefiting the children), the term “full-time attendance at an educational institution” should be broadly interpreted. She also pointed to the fact that the twins had attended a GED Preparation Course, were enrolled in a Literacy and Basic Skills program, and were currently attending a “Step Up” program at a Community College which was designed for youth to explore their career choices, learn workplace skills, and connect with local employers. All of these educational initiatives should be considered to be the equivalent to “full-time attendance at an educational institution,” the wife claimed, and this meant that the father’s child support obligations should continue.
The court considered these arguments, but quickly dismissed them. First of all, it was not impressed with the twins’ purported dedication to these various higher-education programs: according to the evidence given by the Registrar of one of the courses, the twins had missed numerous classes and had erratic attendance records at those programs as well.
Next, the court conceded that other Ontario courts had shown considerable latitude in connection with ordering support for children pursuing education to continue (with one prior court observing that “[t]he road to academic success is not always a straight line”). However, in this case the “line” for these twins was not merely non-linear, it was – in the court’s words – “broken”. Citing the fact that the wife had not brought forward any evidence to show precisely why the twins’ attendance was poor, the court ordered that the father’s child support obligations were to case, and that he should be reimbursed $16,500 representing the over-payment he made after the twins turned 18.
The Banting v. Banting case is a good illustration of how lack of specificity and imprecision in domestic agreements can land you in court with your ex-spouse. Russell Alexander can provide you with advice that is tailored to your specific situation. For more information or to make an appointment, see www.russellalexander.com.
For the full-text of the decision, see: Banting v. Banting, 2011 ONSC 406 http://bit.ly/lvE5Q3