Child Support – Attending an American University

Today, we'll be discussing the issue pertaining to a parent's obligations towards the contribution of a post-secondary education at an American University.

Hello again and thank you for joining me for another topic in the sphere of Family Law. My name is Anna Troitschanski and I am an associate with Feldstein Family Law Group. Today I wish to discuss the issue pertaining to a parent’s obligations towards the contribution of a post-secondary education at an American University.

Pursuant to the Divorce Act, a parent is obligated to pay child support as long as the child remains a “child of the marriage.” To meet this definition, a child must either be under the age of majority (which is 18 years of age) or over the age of majority but “unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause,” to withdraw from their parents’ control. It seems that the “other cause” most commonly recognized by the courts that disable the child from withdrawing from their parents’ control is if they become enrolled in a post-secondary education.

Some courts have said a parent is only responsible for supporting a child through one degree or diploma program. In some cases parents may also be obligated to contribute towards a second degree. Generally, courts make a decision based on the family’s specific circumstances, and factors such the parents’ and the child’s financial circumstances, the child’s past academic performance, and how likely the program in question is to lead to full time employment.

An interesting question, however, arises as to whether a parent will be obligated to contribute towards a child’s post-secondary expenses in the event that the child enrolls in an American University which may be significantly more expensive than post-secondary education in Canada. The Court deals with this exact issue in a recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision of Penn v. Penn.

There, the Court seems to indicate that there is no clear-cut rule that can be generalized for all cases and it appears that each case would have to be evaluated on its own unique circumstances. The court considers the very unique circumstances of the parties in this case, and attempts to evaluate what would have been the outcome had the parents remained together, and their means and abilities to afford this type of education. The court also questions whether there is an equivalent program in Canada or whether the post-secondary program is one that is highly specialized and not available in Canada.

The Court decided that the father was obliged to contribute towards the American University in this case, since this was a very specialized program that was not readily available in Canada and the father did have sufficient means to afford such a contribution.

Again, had the circumstances been different, a different decision may have been rendered. As such, it is important to review the circumstances of each individual case to render a proper opinion as to the possible outcomes.

If you would like more information about your obligations or entitlements with respect to child support or have any other questions pertaining to your matrimonial matter, please contact us in order to book a consultation with one of our lawyers at (905) 581-7222 or you can visit our website.

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