Child Support: You know how much, but how long?

Associated Areas of law

In the area of family law, child support is almost always an issue for discussion.   If you have children and have been through a divorce or separation, you are most likely either in receipt of, or paying child support. 

For the most part, it is common knowledge that the primary care parent is entitled to receive a basic amount of monthly child support.  The primary care parent is the parent with whom the children generally reside.  There may be situations where children spend close to equal time with each parent, and in that instance the calculation of child support may be different than a primary care situation. 

There may also be additional financial obligations regarding a child that are beyond the basic table amount.  These expenses are often referred to as extraordinary expenses and can include such things as after-tax childcare costs, extracurricular activities and/or medical expenses not covered by a health plan. 

The basic monthly amount of child support payable is generally accessible via the Federal Child Support Tables applicable to the province where the paying parent resides. 

Most people tend to have a basic understanding of the table amount of child support payable.  Parents, however, tend to be less clear with respect to the duration they are obligated to pay or entitled to receive child support. 

The amount of time associated with child support payments depends on a number of factors related to a child’s age and circumstances.  For married parents, support is payable for a “child of the marriage” as defined in the Divorce Act. For unmarried parents, support is payable for a “dependent child” as defined in the Maintenance and Custody Act.  A “child of the marriage” or “dependent child” is generally described in the legislation as a child who is either under the age of majority or is the age of majority, but unable to withdraw from their parents’ care or obtain the necessities of life for reasons of illness, disability or other cause.

There seems to be a common misconception that when a child reaches eighteen, support obligations disappear. To determine whether support remains payable, it is first important to determine whether the child is under the age of majority.  The age of majority in the Province of Nova Scotia is nineteen pursuant to the Age of Majority Act.  What this means is that any child support obligations or entitlements will likely continue until the child reaches the age of nineteen.

If a child is nineteen, child support does not necessarily cease, rather, further inquiry is necessary.   It must be determined if that child is able to discharge from their parents’ care and if not, why?  If a child suffers an illness or disability, there is most likely a continuing obligation and entitlement to child support.  If a matter is contested, it may be necessary to consider the extent of a child’s illness or disability.  Ultimately though, if it is determined that either instance apply, child support will most likely be ordered.

The legislation also refers to “other cause.”  It is important to be aware that Courts have consistently found pursuit of post-secondary education as an acceptable “other cause.”  This seems to be the most common reason for continuation of child support beyond the age of nineteen.  To clarify, if a child is enrolled in a university, community college or other educational program related to future employment, child support remains a live issue. 

The amount of support payable for a child aged nineteen or over is generally determined by applying the Federal Child Support Guidelines as though the child were under the age of majority.   If, however, it is determined the amount pursuant to the Federal Child Support Guidelines is not appropriate based on the circumstances, the Court may consider another amount and/or payment formula.

To summarize, parents paying support should be careful not to prematurely cease child support payments without consulting legal counsel.  Parents in receipt of support should also understand the considerations regarding legal entitlement to support.  If you have a child who is over the age of majority, it would be prudent to consult with legal counsel with any questions.  

Disclaimer: This publication is sent as an information circular only and is not intended to confer legal advice or opinion. If you have any further questions please consult a lawyer. Please note as well that many of the statements herein are general principles which may vary on a case by case basis.