An Ontario court recently contemplated whether or not an 18-year-old child who refused to have a relationship with her father should continue receiving child support.

 

Background Information

The parties were married and lived together from 1992 to 2007. They had two children: a 23-year-old son, and an 18-year-old daughter, D.

After the parties separated, they entered into a separation agreement. The agreement provided, among other things, that the parties would make important decisions about the children together, the children’s primary residence would be with the mother, the father would have access to the children, and the parties would each contribute to the children’s approved special or extraordinary expenses on an equal basis.

According to the father, he had fairly regular access to D until approximately October 2012, when D was 13 years old. The father explained that, at that point, D began to ignore his attempts to communicate with her. D even went to the police on at least two occasions to complain about the text messages that he had sent asking to see her.

The father claimed that the mother consistently alienated D from him. The mother maintained that the father was a “difficult man” who pressured D to adopt his “fundamentalist views”.

The father brought a motion to terminate child support on the basis that D rejected any relationship with him.

 

The Law on Child Support for Adult Children

The court began by outlining that section 15.1 of the Divorce Act obligates parents to pay support for the children of their marriage. A “child of the marriage” includes:

  • a child who is under the age of majority and who has not withdrawn from the spouses’ or former spouses’ charge; or
  • a child who is the age of majority or over but unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause, to withdraw from the spouses’ or former spouses’ charge or to obtain the necessaries of life.

The court pointed out that the Divorce Act did not include language indicating whether a child’s rejection of a parent should or should not be considered when determining whether child support should be ordered for an adult child.

The court explained, however, that previous case law established a number of factors must be considered when determining whether an adult child’s attendance at school is enough for that child to be a “child of the marriage”, including whether the child has unilaterally and without justification terminated their relationship with a parent.

 

The Court’s Decision

In deciding to dismiss the father’s motion, the court recognized that this was a complicated and “rather extreme” case. It remarked that:

D always stated that her father was too rigid, that he was trying to impose his religious and cultural views, and that he belittled her. In addition, there is independent evidence from the OCL [Office of the Children’s Lawyer] that D’s strong views were not independently formed, implying that she was alienated by the applicant.

The court also noted that D had brought complaints to the police about the father, had changed her family name, and no longer related to her father, among other things.

The court then went on to review a number of factors, including that:

  • D was enrolled in full-time studies at university, was not eligible for student loans and had limited ability to contribute to her own support while going to school
  • Both parties were highly educated
  • There was no reason to doubt that D would succeed at university
  • In their separation agreement, the parties expressly provided for the children’s ongoing education

The court concluded that there was a long and complicated history between D and her father, and that D’s decision to terminate their relationship was not reached without justification or apparent reason. The court explained that:

The parties’ actions before and since their separation, as well as the facts relating to the many unresolved allegations made by each of the parties, have no doubt played a significant part in the current situation (including the mother’s alienation and the father’s rigid positions). As such, this case is an unfortunate illustration of how badly parents can behave and how this can impact their children. It is obvious from the materials filed on this motion that both parties and the children have been hurt by the actions of the parties, and this is particularly evident in the recent exchange of text messages between the respondent and D.

This case is also a good example of how difficult it can be to assess conduct when deciding entitlement to child support. The conduct of a child and now of a young adult such as D is particularly difficult to assess when the parents separated over 10 years ago; in such instances the child’s conduct invariably incorporates much past parental unpleasantness, the impact of which varies depending on how each unpleasantness was then perceived by the child and how it was managed by the parents.

The court found that, in the circumstances, D was still a “child of the marriage” and therefore entitled to child support.

 

Lessons Learned

There are a number of factors the court will consider when determining whether an adult child is entitled to child support, including whether the child has terminated their relationship with a parent. However, most court decisions have held that an adult child rejecting their relationship with a parent, standing alone, is rarely sufficient to terminate a support obligation – unless the decision was clearly unilateral and made without any apparent reason.

If you have questions about your separation or divorce, contact Gelman & Associates. Our lawyers – who are knowledgeable and compassionate, but also tough when necessary – provide exceptional legal representation in all family law matters. Our goal is to always empower clients to make informed decisions about their future. We give all prospective clients a comprehensive family law kit during their initial consultation, as well as a copy of our firm’s handbook on separation and divorce. This information is full of resources that will help you understand and navigate the difficult and often complicated separation and divorce process.

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