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Mom Unilaterally Pays for Kids’ Special Expenses for School – Years Later, Should Dad Be Expected to Contribute?

Mom Unilaterally Pays for Kids’ Special Expenses for School – Years Later, Should Dad Be Expected to Contribute?

At the time of their separation and divorce 20 years ago, the court had made an order requiring the father to pay child support to the mother, to help cover the expenses of their two children, who were now both in their early 20s.

Some of these expenses related to their son’s attendance at a U.S. university until mid-2018, and to their daughter’s briefer stint at a local college for about a year.  The father faithfully paid the required child support over the years.

The mother now applied to the court to have that decades-old prior order changed retroactively, to add a new requirement that the father share in paying for the “special expenses” (as prescribed in section 7 of the Child Support Guidelines) relating to both children.  She asked that the father be obliged to pay for a period starting in at least the year 2000.

It seems that over the years, the mother had been unilaterally paying what she said were significant special expenses for the children’s in relation to their schooling, especially in the past few years when the children were pursuing post-secondary education.  However, she was either remiss or reluctant to ask the father for his contribution.  As the court explained:

The [mother]  claims that on June 12, 2014, she emailed the [father] alerting him to the fact that the children would both be attending university, and impliedly requested the [father] to contribute.  The [father] insists that he did not receive the email, and points out that he had changed his email address approximately a year before the email was sent. 

In explaining why it took her a further four years after that e-mail to go to court to try to have the father’s obligations enforced, the mother said she was afraid of the father, because he had been abusive towards her during the marriage and after separation.

In response, the father pointed out that:

1) There was nothing in the original order requiring him to contribute to section 7 expenses;

2) He was never consulted in any way as to the expenses the mother was incurring;

3) He never had an opportunity to provide input on what activities should be contributed to;

4) He already spent about $80,000 on extracurricular activities for the children over the years, himself, which would already fall in the category of the section 7 expenses being claimed.

After assessing the evidence on the whole, the court rejected the mother’s retroactive request for the section 7 special expenses, writing:

There are several difficulties with the [mother’s] claim for a contribution to section 7 expenses. 

First, apart from some general emails there was no formal request for a contribution to specific special expenses.  Ordinarily, parties would discuss which specific activities or other matters would legitimately constitute a special expense, to which both parties should contribute, and court action, in the event of disagreement, could sort out the matter at the time.  That did not happen.

Furthermore, at this point it would be difficult to determine, with any accuracy, exactly what contributions either party has made to what could legitimately be considered to be special expenses.  Both parties have attempted to do so, but I am not convinced that their calculations are particularly accurate. 

The court observed that at this late stage it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to impose a reasonable cost-sharing agreement after-the-fact.  It also noted the parents had essentially been informally sharing the children’s extra educational costs over the years, without a formal court order being in place.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Lochhead v. Lochhead, 2019

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

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