In the recent case in Hilhorst v. Amaral, the court considered the effect that a “gap year” in a student’s education had, on a parent’s overall child support obligations.
The court heard that the parents had lived separately for 18 years, and had a daughter together who was now 21 years old. The daughter completed high school in 2016 and took a “gap year” where she did not immediately enroll in a college or university program. At this point, the father took it upon himself to terminate child support.
Then, a year after graduating and with her “gap year” done, the daughter enrolled in a college Veterinary Sciences program for 9 months, to obtain her first diploma. The father conceded that he owed (but had not paid) child support for that period. However, he resisted paying child support for the period that covered the gap year; moreover, he was not willing to pay child support for a second diploma, in Community Studies, that the daughter now wanted to pursue.
The mother applied to have the court order the father to pay child support for the entire period after their daughter completed high school, and until she completed her post-secondary education.
The court both explained the law in this area, and considered the circumstances, writing:
Dealing firstly with the continuity of the child support obligation, it is not the case that the obligation to pay support ceases automatically on the day a child finishes high school. The test under the Family Law Act is set out in s. 31 (1). Parents are obligated to pay support for children who are minors, who are enrolled in a full-time program of education or who are unable because of illness, disability or other cause to withdraw from parental care. This language is easily broad enough to cover a period of time between high school and college unless the child is actually self-sufficient. It is also broad enough to re-trigger an obligation to pay support if the child takes time off and then returns to school to pursue further education.
The question is not whether there is an absolute cut-off date or event for support but whether or not the child remains dependant on the parent to whom support is paid and whether or not that dependency remains reasonable under all of the circumstances. …
The court then applied these principles to the case at hand:
In this case, the child took what amounts to a “gap year” during which she was working and saving money for college and travel. During that time, she was paying modest rent to the [mother] and was able to travel to Europe. The [mother] is not seeking support for the period of July 2016 to April 2017 and is not entitled to it. The [mother] \is seeking support for the period of time the child was enrolled at Algonquin College pursuing a diploma as a veterinary assistant. She also seeks to have that support continue during the time when the child is pursuing a second diploma in community studies.
The court concluded overall that it was not unreasonable for the daughter to pursue a second diploma to “enhance the education she has already obtained.” The court noted that she has a “plan for her career and believes the Community Studies Program will enhance the value of the diploma she has already earned.”
In the end, the father was declared to have an ongoing child support obligation, lasting until the daughter completed her post-secondary education by obtaining a second degree.
For the full text of the decision, see: