As I have written in previous articles, under Ontario law every parent has an obligation to financially support his or her child. The extent and duration of this child support obligation will depend on various factors, primary among being the needs and best interests of the child.
Where a child has special needs, it is particularly important that parents fulfill that duty, and situations of separation or divorce can bring the question of the proper allocation of responsibility to the forefront.
Under Ontario’s Family Law Act and Child Support Guidelines, specific provisions exist to cover “special or extraordinary expenses”. The Guidelines state that a court, on the request of either parent, may provide for an amount to cover any or all of certain specific expenses, namely:
Expenses under this heading must exceed any insurance reimbursement by at least $100 per year. By legislation, these expenses specifically include:
• orthodontic treatment
• professional counseling provided by a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist or any other person
• occupational therapy
• speech therapy
• prescription drugs
• hearing aids
• glasses and contact lenses.
Certain educational programs
This heading covers those “extraordinary” expenses that relate to primary or secondary school education, or are in relation to any other educational programs that meet the child’s particular needs.
Extracurricular activities. This heading covers extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities in which the child is involved.
Note that in this context, the question of what are “extraordinary expenses” is not necessarily left to the parents’ discretion – rather, these are amounts that are considered by the court to be appropriate, taking into account various factors which expressly include “any special needs … of the child” and other similar factors that the court considers relevant.
In all cases, the amount a court can order in this manner will depend on the child’s best interests, and the reasonableness of the expense in relation to the parents’ ability to pay, plus the parents spending patterns during the time they lived together.