Parents are legally obligated to support their children for a specified period. Following a separation or divorce, child support is typically paid by the parent with less parenting time to the other parent.
Child support is paid to the other parent to cover some costs associated with the child’s maintenance. But at what point does a child cease to be eligible to continue to receive such support? In British Columbia, child support normally terminates when the child reaches the age of majority – nineteen years old. However, there are some exceptions to this.
This article examines some exceptions and looks at a recent decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, in which a mother sought child support for her 25-year-old daughter after completing her tertiary studies.
The federal Divorce Act (the “Act”) applies to parents who have been divorced. Under the Act, child support applies to “children of the marriage”, which is defined as those under the age of majority that have not withdrawn from their charge, or over that age and under their charge “but unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause, to withdraw from their charge or to obtain the necessaries of life.”
The Family Law Act (the “FLA”) of British Columbia applies to couples who separate but are not divorced. Under the FLA, the parents have a duty to provide support for the child, which is defined to include a person aged 19 years or older who is “unable, because of illness, disability or another reason, to obtain the necessaries of life or withdraw from the charge of his or her parents or guardians”.
As a result, children over 19 who cannot support themselves due to illness or disability are eligible for child support.
Another reason an adult child may be unable to withdraw from their parents’ charge is that they are pursuing further education.
To determine whether pursuing post-secondary education is a valid reason for continued dependence on one’s parents, courts consider whether:
- the educational pursuit is reasonable; and
- it is appropriate that the burden of financing the pursuit falls on the parents.
The courts have developed a range of factors to be considered when determining whether child support should continue, including:
- whether the child is enrolled in a program of studies;
- whether the child is eligible for student loans;
- whether the child has a reasonable career plan;
- whether the child is contributing through part-time employment;
- the child’s age and past academic performance;
- whether the parents made plans for the child’s education; and
- whether the child has terminated a relationship from the financially supporting parent.
In Zandbergen v Craig, the parties divorced in 2009 after a 14 year relationship that produced two children. After the separation, the father paid child support and spousal support to the mother. Each party applied to the court for changes in these support payments. The father sought to terminate child support paid for his 25-year-old daughter, with whom he has no contact.
The most recent court order provided child support of $5,000 per month for the nine months of the year that she was studying towards her Bachelor of Science degree in aviation (earned in the United States) and a lower amount during the summer break.
However, the daughter had recently completed these studies and written equivalency examinations required by the Canadian regulator in February 2022.
The daughter explained to the Court that she required ongoing financial support to be able to progress with her career plan of working as a commercial airline pilot. She needed to complete additional coursework and undertake hundreds of flying hours.
The daughter determined that the most economical way to do the latter is to become a flight instructor, which involves taking a course once she has received paperwork from Transport Canada. This would allow her to both earn money and increase her flying hours.
However, at the time of the hearing, the daughter was not enrolled in any course of study. As a result, the father argued that she was no longer a child of the marriage, having already completed her degree and equivalency exams.
Justice McDonald decided that the mother had not proven that her daughter was still a child of the marriage for child support purposes under the Divorce Act.
Her Honour considered the following factors:
- the daughter had completed her degree and equivalency examinations;
- she had not been enrolled in a program of study for many months following these steps (that is, since February 2022); and
- she had not sought employment or financial assistance to assist with her career plans.
As a result, the Court held that the daughter ceased to be a child of the marriage as of February 2022. The Supreme Court terminated the father’s obligation to pay child support to the mother at the end of that month.
Unfortunately, separations and divorces can create a range of legal issues, often in a complicated, emotional or confrontational setting. The experienced family lawyers at Meridian Law Group can help you so that you do not have to navigate this difficult process on your own. The firm will assist you with all of the family law aspects arising from your separation, including parenting issues, property division and support payments. Our team thoroughly understands federal and provincial family law regimes and can effectively manage disputes and advance your interests.
We are located across from the courthouse in downtown Vancouver and represent clients located in the lower Mainland and throughout British Columbia. To arrange a confidential consultation with a member of our team, please call (604) 687-2277 or reach out online.