Child support is frequently a contentious point in divorce cases in Ontario. Where children are involved, emotions run high and this may lead to disputes.

When the family court orders child support payments to be made, they are enforceable by the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) until such time as they are ended.

When Does Child Support End in Ontario?

But what happens when a child reaches the age of majority, which is 18 in Ontario? Does that bring an automatic end to support payments?

What happens if the child’s education continues to post-secondary level?

And does a change of circumstances warrant bringing an end to support before the age of 18?

Not surprisingly, strict rules govern this matter because the welfare of the child is the prime consideration for the Ontario family court in divorce cases.

Is there an automatic end to child support at 18?

To fully understand the approach to child support, we first need to refer to the Family Law Act of 1990.

This states that that:

“every parent has an obligation – to the extent he or she is capable – of providing support for his or her unmarried child who is a minor or enrolled in a program of full-time education or is unable by reason of illness, disability or other cause to withdraw from the charge of his or her parents.”

The federal Divorce Act (1985) also includes similar obligations for parents to support their children, stating that:

“a court of competent jurisdiction may, on application by either or both spouses, make an order requiring a spouse to pay for the support of any or all children of the marriage.”

Note that a specific age is not mentioned in either of the above.

From that, you may infer (correctly) that there is no automatic end to child support once a child reaches the age of 18. It largely depends on the health and educational requirements of the child.

“Child of the marriage”

In Ontario, a “child of the marriage” is defined as:

“a person whom a parent has demonstrated a settled intention to treat as a child of his or her family, except where a child is placed in a foster home.”

The federal Divorce Act defines a “child of the marriage” as:

“a child of two spouses or former spouses who, at the material time, 

    1. is under the age of majority and who has not withdrawn from their charge, or 
    2. is the age of majority or over and under their charge but unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause, to withdraw from their charge or to obtain the necessaries of life.”

Even though a child legally becomes an adult in Ontario at the age of 18, child support payments may need to continue well beyond that age if he or she remains dependent on the parents or under their control.

A child is not considered dependent if:

  • They marry, or
  • They are at least 16 years old and leave home 

An example where a child will remain “under parental control” after the age of 18 is in the case of a mentally handicapped child. 

The most common example of children remaining dependent on the parents is when they enter full-time post-secondary education at a college, university, or other institution.

Where a child from a marriage decides to pursue education beyond degree level (for instance a Master’s or Ph.D.) and the support agreement is questioned by the paying parent, the court will decide whether the expenses of the adult child must continue to be met and, if so, for how long.

Very little is “automatic” with child support. The court will treat each case individually based on the evidence provided and the factors involved.

What is termination by agreement?

Besides a child reaching 18 and no longer being deemed “dependent”, another way to end child support in Ontario is for the parents to sign a legally binding agreement that the support ends on a certain date.

This would need to be included as a provision in one of the following types of domestic agreements drawn up by a lawyer and approved by the court:

  • A marriage contract
  • A separation agreement
  • A cohabitation agreement
  • A paternity agreement
  • A family arbitration agreement

Note that, even if there is such a provision in one of these documents, the court has the authority to override it, if it deems that it is in the best interests of the child to do so.

Termination by court order

The end of child support can also be initiated by court order. 

Once the court decides, the order will be forwarded to the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) and enforcement of child support payments will end. 

Can a change of circumstances end child support?

At the time of separation, each spouse’s financial circumstances are taken into account as well as the needs of the child when decisions are made about child support.

The payment schedule ordered by the court or included in an agreement considers a variety of factors.

Circumstances frequently change over time. A parent’s financial position when the child is aged two years could be very different from the position when the child is 17. 

For instance, adverse health or changes in employment circumstances can seriously impact the ability to pay support.

In these situations, the numbers used at the time of the original child support agreement no longer apply and this may trigger modification or even termination of the agreement.

With so many factors to consider, it is not surprising that misunderstandings are common with child support agreements.

If you’re based in the Mississauga area and you have questions about child support or any other aspect of your divorce or separation, contact Amiri Family Law for a free initial consultation.