What happens to child support when the child goes to university?

It doesn’t end, but it may change

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It may be the beginning of July, but if you’re the parent of a child who’s just graduated from high school and going off to post-secondary school in the fall, it’s probably going to feel like a short summer.  The next few months are going to be a time of transition – for everyone – and including child support.

It’s often assumed that child support payments end when a child leaves home to attend some kind of post-secondary institution, but that’s not (usually) the case.  Typically, child support is continued in some form when the parent receiving support is maintaining a home for the child in school, whether the child is living there full-time while attending school or only returning during the summer term.

The Family Law Act, Section 31(1), specifies that “Every parent has an obligation to provide child support for his or her unmarried child who is a minor or enrolled in a full-time program of education, to the extent that the parent is capable of doing so.”  The amount of that support is generally set by the Child Support Guidelines, according to their child support table.

However, when a child is living at home for only part of the school year – i.e. attending university away from home during September-April, and living with the residential parent from May to August – the Ontario Court of Appeal has found that the table guidelines may be “inappropriate”, and that an appropriate amount should be determined based on the “condition, means, needs and other circumstances of the child and the financial ability of each spouse to contribute to the support of the child.”

In some cases, a reduced amount of child support is paid over 12 months, reflecting the fact that the custodial parent is maintaining a home base for the child (who may be coming home on weekends, holiday breaks, etc.) throughout the year. In other cases, full child support is paid during the months the child is in full-time residence, but no support during the months the child is away at school.  The courts have recognized that this period will look a little different for every family, depending on individual circumstances, and have responded appropriately.

Of course, in many cases, families work out their own arrangements without involving the courts.  It’s a transitional time for everyone – parents, the child going to post-secondary school, and siblings still living at home – so before making any big decisions, it can be helpful to get together to discuss needs, expectations, and long-term plans. You may need to consult a lawyer to formalize any new arrangements.

Questions? Don’t hesitate to get in touch.