Does a Parent/Child Rift Impact Child Support? Here is the Test
One of the foundational principles of Canadian Family law is that child support is a right that belongs to the child, not the parent. And while the amount can be contingent on many things, the entitlement to support almost never hinges on the fact that an eligible child does not get along with the support-paying parent.
This was the gist of our Blog from a little while ago, titled “To Get Support, Must a Child Get Along with the Parent Who Pays?”. We covered a decision where the court explained that under the Divorce Act and its caselaw, nothing says that a child must get along with a parent to be entitled to support, except in “extreme situations”.
Another recent case called F. (M.L.) v. B. (I.E.) also talks about this issue, and provides an easy test for when those “extreme situations” might arise.
The parents had divorced in 2007 and their adult child, over whom they had joint custody, was now in University. The court order called for her to live with the mother, and the father had parenting time. He also had an obligation to pay a set amount of support, which he asked the court to change partly because there was a material change: The daughter was now living with him significantly more, while doing her studies.
This would shift the child support obligation to the mother, who resisted partly on the basis that the daughter had withdrawn from parental control, and they no longer got along.
The court did not agree that the mother should be off-the-hook for child support for that reason alone.
A court was certainly entitled to take into account that a child had terminated its relationship with the parent from whom support was being sought. However, courts will generally not terminate a parent’s obligation to pay child support solely because there is no relationship between them – the possible exception being where the decision is unilateral and without any reason.
In cases like this, the mother had to adduce “substantial evidence” that:
- The daughter was responsible for the breakdown of the relationship;
- The mother had persevered in trying to preserve or rehabilitate their relationship; and
- The daughter unequivocally rejected those efforts.
Courts find it hard to assess conduct as part of the decision-making around child support; the wisest legal approach is to avoid cutting off support even for an eligible child who is estranged, except in the “clearest of cases”.
In the case at hand, the court ruled that the mother’s evidence fell far short of what was required to show the mother-daughter relationship was broken to the extent that child support should not be owing. She did not establish that the daughter unilaterally, and without any apparent reason, terminated their relationship and was responsible for its breakdown. Nor did the mother provide reliable evidence that she had persevered in her own efforts to preserve or rehabilitate the relationship, and that the daughter unequivocally rejected those efforts.
For the full text of the decisions, see:
(M.L.) v. B. (I.E.), 2021 ONSC 3522
For some other decisions cited by the court:
Fanelli v. Valente, 2019 ONSC 5056 (S.C.J.)
Nafar-Ross v. Raahemi, 2018 ONSC 3054 (S.C.J.)