I often get questions from parents who want to understand their child support obligations after their children turn eighteen. Many believe that child support ends when the child is eighteen years old and they no longer have to pay child support for that child. In some circumstances, child support does end once a child turns eighteen. In many other circumstances, child support continues to be paid beyond that point. We sometimes refer to this as support for an adult child.
An “adult child” is not an adult who refuses to grow up and get a job (for some reason, when I picture an adult child, I picture a very large adult-sized baby). The term “adult child” refers to a child over the age of eighteen who is unable to become self-sufficient or self-supporting due to any number of factors, including disability, illness or education. Most of the questions that I get asked have to do with an adult child who is unable to become self-supporting due to continuing education, or post-secondary education.
The parent who is seeking continued support for an “adult child” is the one who needs to prove that the child continues to be in need of support.
Some common questions I am asked about adult children and child support:
My child is eighteen years old and is graduating from high school in January. She told me that she intends on travelling in Europe until September when she starts University. Do I still have to pay child support?
It is likely that this parent will have to continue paying child support for this child through her “gap semester” until this child finishes her first post-secondary degree or diploma. The time off from school is relatively short, and there appears to be a clear intention to return to full-time post-secondary education in the foreseeable future. It is unlikely that, in this short period of time, this child will be able to earn a sufficient income to be considered “self-sufficient”.
My son is 22 years old and is graduating with his first post-secondary degree in June. He was accepted into a Master’s program/Law School/Medical School in the Fall. Since he is finished his first post-secondary degree, I no longer have to pay child support, right?
It is possible that this parent will continue to pay child support while his son continues on to further post-secondary education. Factors that are considered include whether the child would be enrolled in the program on a full-time basis (and therefore less likely to be able to support him or herself), whether the child was successful in their chosen field, or whether the child was eligible for loans, bursaries or other financial assistance.
A court would also consider what the parents would have done if they had not been separated at the time that their child decided to continue with his or her education past the first post-secondary program. If the parents themselves have a background of higher education, or if they were financially able to continue to support the child through further post-secondary education, it was more likely that the parents would be ordered to continue to pay support for their child to attain a similar level of education as they had been able to do.
My daughter took three years off after high school to work full-time. She is now going to return to school to pursue post-secondary education. Does this mean that I have to start paying child support again?
In this case, it is not likely that the parent will have to pay full child support for his daughter while she is in post-secondary education. As this parent’s daughter was able to become self-sufficient during the three years that she was working, she should have been saving towards the cost of her own care and education. The parents should first decide on a reasonable financial contribution by their daughter before determining how much, if any, they would be contributing towards their daughter’s expenses.
Do you have a question about your child support obligations once your child reaches the age of eighteen? Feel free to contact us at SNC LLP.