Will support terminate for an 18-year-old child?

A common question with a “maybe” answer, leaving both payor and recipient wonder how long the support obligation will continue without their having to spend a small fortune on legal fees to find out. Unfortunately, the same fact scenario can have three different answers from three different lawyers because no two fact scenarios are exactly alike nor are the judges who make the decision.

Most support orders continue until “further order of the court”, there is no automatic termination because the child may be unable to “withdraw from parental control” because of their continuing education or because they are disabled.

When the child is continuing their education and the payor has been kept in the loop, the conflict sometimes arises because the payor parent would rather make payments to the child directly rather than the recipient parent, a practice generally frowned upon by the court. If, however, the payor parent has not been kept informed the issue often goes deeper, they want proof of the fact that the child is in school and are often concerned that the child isn’t doing enough to be self-sufficient.

The adult child often becomes drawn into their parent’s litigation because neither parent has control over the child’s records and because the child, ultimately, must justify why they are still dependent. If poorly handled this can create lasting damage in parent-child relationships.

If, between the parents and the child no agreement can be reached, the court will look at many factors, the child’s educational plan, what had been the family’s plan, resources available to the child, the parent’s resources, and so on. Interestingly, although children from a nuclear family have no right to demand that their parents support them through university, children of modular families do.

When the child is still dependent because of a disability, the issue is often the extent of the disability, can steps be taken to help the child become self-sufficient, are there government resources available that can contribute to the child’s expenses or provide them with accommodation and how much should those resources be taken into consideration.

The difficulty with disabled children is, for the payor, there is no end in sight for their responsibility to pay, and for the recipient there is no end in sight for their responsibility to provide support to the child. The difference between nuclear and modular families continues. In a nuclear family, once a disabled child turns 18 the parents have no further legal right to support the child, they can be cut loose to either sink or swim regardless of their capabilities hoping they will be caught by the social security net. Modular families however are governed by legislation and the Divorce Act, for example, expressly contemplates support continuing for a disabled child that is over 18.

So the answer is, it is not an easy answer, and may well be a costly one if it cannot be resolved out of court.