When Does a Seriously-Ill Adult Child Stop Needing Support?
In a brief decision from a few weeks ago, the court considered a narrow but interesting point: For an adult chid with a serious disease, when does he or she stop being a “child of the marriage” for child support purposes?
In Furlani v. Furlani, the father brought a motion to terminate the child support he had been paying as part of his divorce from the mother. The mother opposed the request as premature: she was concerned that the health of their adult daughter, who had Cystic Fibrosis, might not remain be stable enough in the future to warrant terminating support now.
The court reviewed the evidence jointly tendered by the former couple. In the course of finding that the daughter no longer fit within the definition of “child of the marriage” under the Divorce Act, and that the father’s support obligations should therefore be terminated, the court summarized the evidence and its conclusions this way:
[The daughter] was diagnosed at age three with cystic fibrosis. Her mother testified about the difficulties [the daughter] experienced as a child and the efforts that [the mother] had to make to get the doctors to finally arrive at the correct diagnosis. I understand very well the effect that diagnostic testing and treatment of young children can have on the child and the parents, alike.
I also understand how difficult it can be for the parents of a child who has gone through such testing and treatment to let go, once the child has reached adulthood. There is always a fear that the past will return with a vengeance. In [the daughter’s] case, it is a certainty that her illness will one day pose great challenges. In fact, she faces many challenges today, including requiring treatment for lung and sinus infections.
However, at present, [the daughter] is overcoming these challenges. She is now 21 years old. She lives in southern Ontario with a partner, with whom she is romantically involved. Although both her parents share concerns about it, [the daughter] has entered into a formal contractual relationship as an apprentice to learn the tattoo trade. While she is not yet earning income from that trade, [the daughter] does have income in the form of Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments that she has been receiving since she turned 18.
The court added that while the Divorce Act’s “child of marriage” definition excludes a child over 18 who is “unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause” to withdraw from her parents charge or to obtain the necessities of life, the daughter in this case did not fit that category; indeed the court noted that “[s]he appears to be a determined young lady.” It also pointed out that the parents’ provision of financial assistance from time-to-time did not change that assessment; the court observed “this is something that parents of young adults are often called upon to do.”
Finally, while acknowledging that the parents were concerned about their daughter’s future, the court pointed out that it was charged with making a determination based on her present situation. In this particular case, the daughter was able to remove herself from her parents’ charge and would continue to be able to do that for the foreseeable future; the father should no longer be obliged to pay support for her. Another motion could be brought in the future, if her health and abilities were to change.
For the full text of the decision, see: