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Support for the Adult Child

Today, I will be discussing what happens to your child support order if your adult child is unable to find a job, and instead returns to school or remains unemployed.

Hello. My name is Bo Luan and I am an associate with the Feldstein Family Law Group.

Today, I will be discussing what happens to your child support order if your adult child is unable to find a job, and instead returns to school or remains unemployed.

Many parents see their children struggling to land that first job after graduation. Graduates might have to retrain or switch career paths repeatedly before finding long-term stability. In the meantime, they might continue to live at home, often for long periods of time.

This trend affects separated and divorced spouses with adult children.

For the purposes of today’s discussion, I will be referring to adult children under the Divorce Act only – the rules are different for separated common-law couples.

Under the Divorce Act, a parent is obligated to pay child support as long as the child remains a “child of the marriage”. To meet that definition, a child must be either:

  • 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 parental care and control.

Judges have established that the most common “other cause” that prevents a child from withdrawing from parental care and control is enrollment in post-secondary education. A child who is enrolled in full-time school will naturally struggle to become fully independent, and some will not be able to do this at all.

Still, courts will not automatically order support to continue during numerous different degrees or training programs.

Some courts have said a parent is only responsible for supporting a child through a course of study which aligns with their chosen career path. For example, a student pursuing medicine might be supported through both pre-med and medical school, since both are required to compete in that industry. Other industries require only a bachelor’s degree or college diploma and completing that requirement would be seen as enough to attain independence.

Other courts have ruled that child support should end at age 25 regardless of the factors above, even if the child is still enrolled in (for example) a doctoral program with a view to becoming a professional scholar.

But most often, courts make a case-by-case decision based on the family’s specific circumstances, including factors such as…

  • 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.

So far, I have spoken only about cases where a child is enrolled in post-secondary education. But the courts are less clear on what happens when a child remains at home and unemployed after graduation. These cases are rare, but courts have occasionally found that poor economic conditions can be a sufficient "other cause" preventing an adult child from withdrawing from parental control.

That means that if your child graduates, can’t find a job, and is still living at home, you may still have to pay support depending on the reasons for this arrangement.

Still, even in a poor economy, the unemployed child must make serious and diligent attempts to find a job. Otherwise, they will not be seen as truly “unable” to withdraw from parental control – only “unwilling”, which does not qualify for ongoing support.

A child can also withdraw from parental control, but then return and resume status as a child of the marriage. For example, if your child has been living on their own and supporting themselves through scholarships, employment, or other means, that child may be seen as having withdrawn from parental control. But if the child then finds themselves unemployed and moves back home to go to school or look for a new job, that child may qualify as a child of the marriage again and be entitled to support.

In other words, even if you have validly stopped paying child support for the time being, you may find yourself paying again if circumstances change. Whether or not that will happen depends entirely on your individual case.

If you would like to learn more about how this discussion of child support might apply to your own situation, please visit our website at www.separation.ca or contact us for a free initial consultation at 905-415-1636. Thank you for watching.

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