It is well established in law that the obligation to pay child support may extend beyond the date a child turns eighteen.  For example, it can continue if the child remains dependant on his or her parents because he or she is pursuing full-time post-secondary education.  However, if a child decides to take time off before attending university or college and uses this “gap” period to travel or volunteer, what are the child support obligations on a non-custodial parent? How does the parents’ income impact the obligation?

A recent courtroom victory by our Family Law Lawyer, Grace Sun, helps answer these questions.

Child Support Obligations to an Adult Child  

The child support obligations to a child pursuing full-time, post-secondary education does not end on his or her 18th birthday because the law assumes that full-time students are still dependents and are unable to support themselves. The Child Support Guidelines require both parents to share, in proportion to their incomes, the post-secondary expenses such as tuition, books, fees, residence or its equivalent and meal plans or its equivalent if a child lives away from home to study.  If a child lives with a parent, then Guideline child support may be payable instead of residence and meal plan. However, if a non-custodial parent is a high income earner (over $150,000 gross per year), the Court has the discretion to order child support in addition to the contribution towards post-secondary education expenses.

High Income Earners

A parent earning more than $150,000 gross per year may be required to pay child support based on just $150,000 or if the Court deems that the monthly amount is inappropriate, then a Judge has the discretion to order a different amount, either more or less than the amount payable at the imputed income of $150,000.  The Court must consider the needs of the child and whether or not the Guideline child support based on the parent’s income would in effect transfer wealth to the other spouse over and above what is considered appropriate.

Complexities of “Gap Year”

In this case, the child deferred her entry to University until September 2015 in order to travel for a few months.  She was not taking any courses to improve her grades nor was she required to work to save money in order to attend University.

In analyzing the facts, the Court found that while the daughter’s decision to take a gap year to travel would “undoubtedly be mind-expanding and culturally enhancing, it cannot be properly described as an activity in continuing of her formal undergraduate education”.

The Court distinguished the facts of this case from those cases where a parent had been ordered to pay child support during a “gap” period.  In such cases, the adult child used the gap period to earn money or to take extra courses to improve his or her grades or worked towards a certificate, thereby entitling the child to gain admission to a University.

End Result

On an interim basis, the Court found in favour of our client and did not order the father to pay any child support during the months when the child was travelling.  Child support was also not ordered based on the father’s actual income but rather, it was based on an imputed income of $150,000 and support resumed when the child returned home to live with the custodial parent.

The calculation of child support payments for an adult child or a high income earner is complicated and fact-driven. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.

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Article written by
Grace Sun and Abira Balendran, Law Student. Grace is a family law lawyer at SorbaraLaw, and has extensive experience in all aspects of family law, including separation, divorce, custody and support variation, and child protection hearings.

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