Please note that the information provided herein is not legal advice and is provided for informational and educational purposes only. If you need legal advice with respect to getting, varying, or terminating child support in Ontario, you should seek professional assistance (e.g. make a post on Dynamic Legal Forms). We have Toronto, Ottawa, Brampton, Hamilton, and other Ontario family law lawyers registered on Dynamic Legal Forms who can offer information, advice, and assistance with respect to helping you get, vary, or terminate child support.
This is the first of a series of blog posts I’ll be writing about family law in Ontario. In this blog, I’ll be discussing something vary basic: child support obligations in Ontario.
A common question people sometimes ask: if I never get married but have a child with someone, do I still owe them child support? Well, the Ontario Family Law Act doesn’t care if you, as the child’s father or mother, is married. Nor does the Act care if you’re common law. All that matters is that the payor is the child’s parent.
Basic Obligation of Parent to Pay Child Support
O.k., so when does a parent have to pay child support in Ontario? Basically, there are two situations under s. 31(1) of the Act which require a parent to pay child support. Here’s what that section says:
Obligation of parent to support child
31. (1) Every parent has an obligation to provide support for his or her unmarried child who is a minor or is enrolled in a full time program of education, to the extent that the parent is capable of doing so.
So by reading this section, it becomes clear: every parent has an obligation to provide support for his or her unmarried child who is (1) a minor or (2) enrolled in a full time program of education. There is an exception to these two tests and that is set out in section 31(2), which states that the obligation under s. 31(1) does not extend to a child who is 16 years old (or older) and who has withdrawn from parental control. What exactly is meant by “parental control” will be discussed in the next blog.
First Branch: Minor
Under the first branch, the first question to ask is: who is considered a “minor” in Ontario? The Age of Majority and Accountability Act states that: “Every person attains the age of majority and ceases to be a minor on attaining the age of eighteen years” [s. 1]. Remember: this liability is limited by the parent’s capability of paying child support [s. 31(1)]. This liability is further restricted if child, assuming he or she is over 16 years old, has withdrawn from parental control [s. 31(2)].
Second Branch: Attending School Full Time
Even if a parent’s child is over the age of 16 (indeed, there doesn’t appear to be any upward limit here), a parent may still be liable to pay child support if the child is “an unmarried child who…is enrolled in a full time program of education”. This is the second branch. Once again: this liability is limited by the parent’s capability of paying child support [s. 31(1)]. This liability is further restricted if child, assuming he or she is over 16 years old, has withdrawn from parental control [s. 31(2)].
So how have Ontario courts interpreted these sections of the Act dealing with the obligation of a parent to support a child?
In Giess v. Upper (1996), 28 R.F.L. (4th) 46, Mendes da Costa J. of the Ontario Court of Justice – General Division wrote the following about the support obligation created by s. 31(1) of the Act in the context of that case:
16 The support obligation created by section 31(1) is two-fold. First, it applies to an “unmarried child who is a minor”. While the child, Elizabeth, is unmarried, she was born on October 22nd, 1977, and is now 19 years of age. As she is no longer a “minor”, she does not qualify for support under this limb of the subsection. Secondly, the support obligation extends to a child who is “enrolled in a full time program of education”. With regard to this extension of the support obligation, the word “child” is used as a term of relationship, and does not imply any limitation as to age.
In that case, the 19 year old child was found to be enrolled in a full time program of education. Mendes da Costa J. explained that the word “enrolled” meant that the child’s participation had to be meaningful: “it must be of such a nature and equality as to be consistent with the program’s purposes and objectives”. The father was found to have an obligation to provide child support under the second branch of s. 31(1) of the Act – subject to whether the child had “withdrawn from parental control”.
In McCann v McCann, the Ontario Court of Justice – General Division rejected the argument that if a child stopped being enrolled in a full-time program of education and ceased to be eligible for any child support, then their eligibility forever ceased and could not be resurrected by a subsequent enrollment in school in a full-time program of education. As per Aston J.:
24 Christopher McCann is now an “unmarried child” who is enrolled in a full-time program of education. I cannot conceive of any reason in logic or equity why it should matter that he has not been continuously enrolled in a full-time program of education since attaining the age of 18. The word “continuously” does not appear in the wording of subsection 31(1) of the Family Law Act.
25 There is a discretion in the court to deny support to an adult child who has left a full-time program of education and then resumed such a program but a gap in an ongoing program of education does not, in my view, automatically disqualify an applicant child from seeking support.
In McNulty v. McNulty,  W.D.F.L. 434, Howden J. of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice observed:
10 The obligation to pay support for a child has not been applied by the court on a standard of perfection (or near-perfection) in attendance or in achievement by marks. The requirement of section 31(1), for the child who has reached 18 years of age and is no longer a minor, is that that “child” be enrolled in a full-time program. That has been applied to mean participation in the educational program in which he/she is enrolled in a meaningful way. Giess v. Upper, (1996) 28 R.F.L. (4th) 460 (Ont. Gen Div). In Copeland v. Copeland, (Ont. Gen. Div. (unreported Dec. 9/92, noted in Ontario Family Law Practice 2006, by C. Perkins, D. Steinberg and E. Lonkingly (sp?), p. 696), it was determined that a court should not impose a standard of devotion, priority and effort on a child as a condition of continuing a claim for support. In another case, that of a daughter over 18 years of age who completed high school but did not attend school for a year, the court held that the parent’s support obligation had not ended. Huneault J. held:
11 The purpose of the obligation to provide support extending into a child’s adult years is to reinforce parental responsibility for the education of their children beyond the age of majority. Reading this section as a whole, the legislative intent of parental support is to provide and continue to provide support for a child who is pursuing an educational program and remains dependant on the parent while he/she has not completed their education…
13 …The requirement of enrolment in a full-time course of education does not contemplate mere enrolment of the student to operate as a continuing trigger for support payments without some participation by the “child” in the program. Barring special circumstances (such as Tiara’s pregnancy, giving birth and maternal duties in her newborn’s first year), the “child” of 18 years or more owes a duty of due diligence to participate meaningfully in the educational program (interpreted in a contextual understanding, and purposive way) under section 31 of the Act. Figueiredo v. Figueiredo (1991), 33 R.F.L. (3d) 72 (Ont. Gen. Div.), following Giess v. Upper.
Finally, in Simpson v. Hart, 1998 CarswellOnt 5163, Dunbar J. of the Ontario Court of Justice – General Division noted that: “The law is clear that a child who is independent may re-qualify for support from a parent by recommencing school and thus becoming dependent once more on the parents”.