When does child support end?

Parents who are separated or divorced must financially support their children, even, in some circumstances, after those children become adults.

Parents' child support obligations are set out in both the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act. Each of these acts sets them out slightly differently, but basically, children are entitled to be supported by their parents if:

  • they're under 19; or
  • they're 19 or over, but can't take care of themselves because of of illness, disability, or another reason.

What about children who are 19 or over and still in school?

Parents of children attending university, college, or another type of post-secondary institution must often continue to pay child support. Even though their children are 19 or over, they often still depend on their parent(s) for room, board, and the "necessaries of life." To qualify, the institution they attend could be a university, college, technical college, or any other accredited post-secondary school that offers a degree, diploma, or certificate.

When trying to decide whether you must continue to pay child support while your child is going to school, consider:

  • the age of your child,
  • whether your child's educational goals are realistic in the sense that they will lead to employment soon after graduation,
  • whether your child is studying full-time or part-time,
  • whether your child can help pay for post-secondary education through student loans or other financial assistance,
  • whether your child can work part time to help pay for his or her own support,
  • your child's past academic performance and likelihood of success in reaching post-secondary educational goals, and
  • your own and the other parent's views about post-secondary education for your children that you discussed or agreed upon when you were married or living together.

What about children who still live at home after they turn 19 but aren't in school?

A child who's 19, unemployed, and still living at home may no longer be considered eligible by the court for ongoing child support. If the child is purposely underemployed or making little or no effort to find work, it would be reasonable to conclude that child support would end.

On the other hand, if, through no fault of his or her own, the child is unemployed because, for example, he or she lives in an area that has chronically high unemployment, child support may continue for longer.

If the child has some sort of disability, like depression, that affects his or her ability to look for work or attend post-secondary education, child support may still be payable. However, a child with a permanent prolonged disability may be eligible for some sort of government disability support benefit.

In many cases, the parents of a child who's 19 or over may be able to agree that support no longer needs to be paid. If the parents can't agree whether child support should continue past age 19, they can try to work it out with the help of a mediator or ask a court to decide for them.

Sometimes the question of whether child support should continue after age 19 can be complicated. In those cases, consult a lawyer to review your specific situation and advise you how to proceed. See Who can help for more information about how to find a lawyer.

Can child support end before my child turns 19?

Yes, child support can end before your child turns 19 if the child gets married or if he or she voluntarily leaves home. However, if a child leaves home because of family violence or intolerable living conditions, child support obligations would not end.

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