Many people who pay child support do not realize that their obligation to support their children may continue after the child has reached the age of majority, in some situations. One of those situations is where the child is still dependent on the parents because he or she is attending post-secondary education.
While parents in intact families can decide whether or not they will support their child through post-secondary education, separated or divorced parents only have that ability if they both agree. If they do not agree, then both parents, and the child, will likely be required to share the costs of the education. In order to request child support for the child in post-secondary education, the child must be attending a recognized institution full-time and earning passing marks. If the child meets these criteria, child support may continue to be ordered, even past the time when the child has completed one degree. Whether that support continues would be determined on a case by case basis.
Though the child support may continue, it may be different for a child going to college or university. If the child attends, for example, the Medicine Hat College and remains living with one of the parents, then, in addition to the regular child support based on the Federal (or Alberta) Child Support Guidelines Table, the parents and the child will be required to share the costs of the post-secondary education. Those costs will include things like tuition, books, student fees, a parking or bus pass and school supplies (such as a computer or special art supplies or equipment necessary for their program).
If the child is living away from home, then the child support could look very different. While it may not include the Guideline Table amount, it will include many things in addition to those items listed above. Typically, it will include an amount for rent, utilities, groceries, clothing, a phone and internet connection and sometimes even an allowance for trips home.
As mentioned above, the parents are not typically expected to pay the entire bill for the child’s education, as a general rule, the Court would require the child to make a contribution to their expenses as well. This is often based on the income the child is able to earn through the summer or, perhaps, from part time work during the school year (if the child is able to work and maintain his or her grades). In addition, the child will be expected to apply for any scholarships, grants or bursaries that would be available to her or him. It is also possible that the child might be required to obtain student loans, if he or she is eligible. Once the child’s contribution is determined, the remainder of the cost would be split between the parents based on their proportionate share of the joint income.
Keeping in mind that they may well be responsible for paying a portion of their child’s post-secondary education, separated or divorced parents would be well-advised to contribute to an RESP for their children, to assist with future costs. However, because it can be very difficult to determine each parent’s contribution to an RESP, it is easiest if the parents contribute to their own RESP instead of doing it jointly.