Decision to postpone school ‘not a choice that the respondent should be required to pay for:’ court
The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario has ruled that a mother is not obliged to keep paying financial support for adult children who decide to indefinitely delay pursuing post-secondary education but invited the father to reapply for support once the children commence schooling.
In Edwards v. Edwards, 2021 ONSC 1550, the parents were married on July 29, 2000 and separated on June 6, 2017. They have two children, who were minors at the time of separation. Following the separation, the parties continued to live together in the matrimonial home until the mother was granted exclusive possession of the home in May 2018. The children had been living with the father since.
It was also during this time that the mother was ordered pay to $2,241 in monthly child support for the children who were both still under 18 years old. She was also ordered to pay $2,100 in monthly spousal support to the father. The court stated that the order was temporary and would ultimately be resolved at a trial.
At present, the children are both over 18-years old. The eldest graduated from high school in June 2018 and took a year off. He attended Georgian College in the fall of 2019 but did not return for the following term. He has since held seasonal and part-time jobs. The youngest child, meanwhile, completed high school a year after his brother but did not pursue further studies. He has worked on a part-time basis after turning 18 but is currently not working.
The situation prompted the mother to file a motion to terminate her child support obligations. However, 12 days after she served her notice of motion, the youngest child applied to attend post-secondary education. His brother applied a week later. Both have been admitted to their respective programs, which will commence in September 2021. The court document said that the children decided not to enrol in the 2020-2021 academic year because they did not want to participate in online classes.
In addition, the mother’s financial situation was dealt a blow when she lost her job at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She has not been able to work since and fell in arrears with her child support obligations. The mother stated, however, that she should not have been making payments in the first place since the children were not attending school. She wanted the court of terminate its child support order and reinstate an order if the children resume schooling.
The father argued that the children remain his dependants notwithstanding their age and educational status. He added that he will not be able to support the children without the mother’s child support payments.
The court stated that the temporary order was set up on the premise that both children attended school, adding that their age and school status qualify as “a material change in circumstances.”
The court also noted that while it was not unusual for children to take a “gap year” before pursuing higher education, “adult children cannot indefinitely postpone the commencement of post-secondary education and expect to remain a dependant, entitled to parental financial support.”
“While virtual learning may not be ideal, [the children’s] decision not to enrol in any educational programs for the 2020-2021 academic year was their choice,” wrote Justice Robert E. Charney. “It was a choice that, as adults, they had every right to make, but it is not a choice that the respondent should be required to pay for.”
As a result, the court halted the mother’s child support obligations but told the father that he can apply again if either of the children attended school in the future.