July 2010-A question that many parents ask me is, "How long do I have to pay child support?" Of course, being a lawyer, the obvious answer is, "that depends".
In Ontario, the obligation to pay child support is found in the Family Law Act or under the Federal Divorce Act. Generally speaking, every parent has an obligation to provide support for his or her unmarried child who is a minor or is enrolled in a full time program of education. However, this obligation does not extend to a child who is sixteen years of age or older and has withdrawn from parental control.
As such, both parents have an absolute obligation to pay support for all of their children who are under sixteen years of age. If, after reaching 16 years of age, the child decides to voluntarily leave home, then the obligation to pay child support will end. However, if a child is driven from the home, either directly or indirectly, then the support obligation will continue until the child is no longer a dependant.
Assuming a child remains "at home", then the obligation to pay support will continue until the child is no longer a "dependant". A child will be considered to be "dependant" as long as they are in school "full time". Currently, a parent will have to pay support until the child either obtains their first college diploma or first university degree. As such, a "professional student" will not be entitled to support indefinitely. However, it seems recently that the obligation may extend even further than one degree/diploma. Other considerations also include how the "child" is doing in school. If, for example, a college aged child is taking a full course load, but is missing class and failing miserably, then the support obligation may stop. "Adult children" also have an obligation to contribute to their own support as well to the best of their ability.
There are other factors, such as illness, disability, or other reasons which may continue the obligation to pay child support for a much longer period of time.
Recent cases dealing with the issue suggests that the conduct of the child is also relevant in determining how long support will be paid. For example, a 22 year old child who refused to have any contact or entertain any relationship with her father was not entitled to any further support. In another case, a 20 year old, who went to college about 9 months of the year and lived with her boyfriend while at school and lived with her mother during the summer (for economic reasons), no longer qualified for support.
Another interesting aspect of child support is the fact that a child may lose the right for child support and then later regain that right. For example, if a 16 year old quits school to go and work and then later returns to school, the obligation to pay support will be reinstated.
Of course, each case depends on the facts.