Post-Secondary Education Expense Obligations for Separated or Divorced Parents
Section 7 of the Alberta Child Support Guidelines and the Federal Child Support Guidelines sets out a number of expenses that are to be shared by the parents of a child. Such expenses are above and beyond any monthly child support amounts, and are shared by the parents’ in proportion to their incomes.
Though Section 7 Expenses can be high for children under the age of 18, especially if your child is involved in competitive sports or attends private school, it is important to consider the expenses that can extend into your child’s adult life. The most notable example of this is your child’s post-secondary expenses.
How to Determine the Parents' Share in Post-Secondary Fees
Of particular importance regarding post-secondary education expenses is Section 7(2) of the Child Support Guidelines, which states that the child’s contribution to the expenses should be deducted prior to determining the parents’ proportionate shares. A child’s contribution is usually through scholarships, summer employment, and part-time employment. Note that a child is not expected to spend all of their employment earnings on their post-secondary costs. Rather a reasonable contribution is determined based on the facts of the case.
When Does Support for a Child’s Post-Secondary Fees End?
A common question that clients have regarding post-secondary expenses relates to when a parents’ obligation to cover such expenses normally comes to an end. The answer to this depends on whether the parents were married or not:
- If the Child’s Parents Were Never Married
If the child’s parents were never married, then the Family Law Act applies to their case. In the Family Law Act an adult is considered a “child” for support purposes if they are not older than 22 years of age, and are “unable to withdraw from [their] parents’ charge because [they are] a full-time student”. As such, child support is not payable for children aged 23 or older.
- If the Child’s Parents Were Married
For married parents, the Divorce Act applies, and this act does not specify an age at which child support ceases. As such, we must look to case law to determine whether judges have commented on this topic.
Support Obligations Can Extend to Multiple University Degrees
Traditionally, child support was payable until the end of the first university degree, but recent decisions indicate that judges may be willing to extend child support throughout multiple university degrees. The reasoning behind this is that, in today’s economic climate, it may be necessary to pursue more than one degree in order to become self-supporting. If pursuing an additional degree is deemed to be a reasonable step towards financial independence, then support may continue. In these cases, the analysis is very fact dependent and evidence regarding the specific circumstances of the child and the family should be considered.
Plan For the Future
Even if your children are very young when you separate, and such expenses seem far away, it is critical to turn your mind to how their post-secondary costs will be covered. For example, if your child has a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), both parents should agree in advance regarding how the RESP funds will be taken into account when determining their annual obligation towards their child’s tuition, books and other educational expenses. This is especially true if one party is making regular RESP contributions and the other is not.