To Get Support, Must a Child Get Along with the Parent Who Pays?
Right or wrong, parents throughout the ages have been heard to complain that their children are ungrateful, disrespectful, and rude. It’s not surprising that a parent in this situation might feel rankled by the ongoing duty to provide love, care, and necessities to a child who disrespects them, or with whom they don’t see eye to eye.
In these modern times, where the legal duty to financially support a child is sometimes confirmed and enforced by court order, an interesting question arises: Must a child get along with his or her parent, as a precondition for receiving child support from them?
The answer, as confirmed in a recent Ontario court decision called Nicholson v. Nicholson, is usually “no”.
After their separation in 2018, the mother stayed home full-time to care for their six children, while the father worked as a teacher at a private school.
An issue arose around the ongoing child support for their eldest child, a daughter who had just turned 18. She had been living with the mother since the parents separated, and was just in the process of completing grade 12 with the hopes of attending university in the Fall of 2021. She was currently working part-time at a coffee shop for minimum wage.
The mother claimed the daughter was entitled to receive child support from the father at least until she started her post-secondary education, pending which there would be discussions about her plans.
Although the father agreed that the daughter’s child support should continue until the end of the current school year, he complained that she had unilaterally ceased communicating with him, without any reasonable expectation. This, he said, put the daughter beyond parental control, which meant she was no longer a “child of the marriage” who was entitled to his financial support. He added that the mother had done nothing to assist in repairing the father-daughter relationship.
The daughter admitted to the court that she refuses to have contact with the father, or discuss her school plans with him. She claimed she cut off contact with her father in order to appease the mother.
The court considered the law as it applied to this fact scenario. While declining to make a finding on whether the mother exacerbated the difficulties between father and daughter, the court phrased the key question this way: “Should the father be obliged to contribute to the daughter’s ongoing support and/or school expenses when he has little or no control over her choices?”
In this case, the court ruled, the daughter was still a “child of the marriage” as that term is defined in the Divorce Act. Next, there was nothing in that legislation, nor in the cases decided under it, to mandate that a child must get along with a parent in order to be entitled to support, except in what the court called “extreme situations”.
The court continued:
In most cases, disruptions in the parent-child relationship have complicated and multi-faceted causes. The sparse available evidence does not satisfy the high onus of proof required to establish that [the daughter in this case] has unilaterally terminated her relationship with the [father] for no good reason.
Rather than terminate the father’s support obligation, the court ordered the mother to prepare a detailed educational and financial plan in consultation with the daughter, and provide it to the father for consideration and discussion. The father was ordered to continue the daughter’s present child support until the end of August. As for his financial obligations after that point, the court directed the parents and daughter to sit down and discuss the matter; if they could not agree, then they could return to court for a further ruling.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Nicholson v. Nicholson, 2021 ONSC 3588