Single Mom’s Victorious Legal Journey for Disabled Adult Son Finally at an End
This week we reveal the happy ending to one devoted mother’s ceaseless struggle to obtain child support for her disabled adult son. It started with the landmark 2017 decision we wrote about previously, which prompted the Ontario government to amend the Family Law Act in response to the mother’s constitutional challenge. Before this decision, only adult children who were still attending school, or whose parents had been formally married and divorced, were eligible for support.
At that time the mother had argued before the court – successfully – that this distinction between married and unmarried parents was unconstitutional, and that she should be able to claim support from her son’s father in her particular case. Under a ruling released last week, the mother has finally obtained a court order awarding her support in line with the new legal principle that she herself fought for.
The situation sparking this noteworthy legal change involved the mother and her now 23-year-old son for whom she provided full-time care. Her son’s disabilities left him unable to attend school, and he was unable to work and support himself. In the time since the son had turned 18, she had been receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits for him, in addition to funding from both Development Services Ontario and a local community living agency. However, those benefits did not cover her son’s added medical and recreational expenses costing about $1,400 per month.
[While we have you here, we wanted to remind you that you can get the latest articles delivered to your inbox. Sign up here.]
The mother turned to her son’s father – whom she never married – to contribute $800 per month, in keeping with the amounts set out by the Tables derived from the Child Support Guidelines. By agreement, it was later dropped to $630 a month, but he later applied to the court to lower that even further or terminate his obligation entirely, pointing to the fact that his son was already receiving ODSP and other benefits.
Last week, the Ontario court ordered him to pay monthly support of $518.14, for the balance of her son’s life. The court added that this amount was not based on Table amounts, but rather on a “broader analysis, considering all of his needs, some of which are his daily basic needs and some of which might be considered traditionally … extras,” and one which focused on both parents sharing the responsibility toward their adult child equally.
In doing so, the court brought an end to the mother’s efforts to not only address son’s unique needs, but also change the law for the benefit of parents in similar situations. In that prior constitutionally-focused ruling from 2017, the court had held that the wording of the relevant Family Law Act provisions relating to child support improperly connected an adult child’s eligibility to child support to his or her attending school – and yet did not allow for support due to any other reasons, such as disability. That judicial conclusion prompted the government to pass legislative amendments that went into force in December of 2017. Now, adult children in Ontario who are unable to withdraw from the care of their parent, due to illness or any other reason, are now eligible to claim support.
This latest ruling applies that principle and ends one mother’s long journey for justice.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Coates v. Watson,  O.J. No. 4598, 2018 ONCJ 605