Who Pays School Expenses When You Separate or Divorce

Ping is studying civil engineering. Cheng wants to take trombone and march in the high school band. Paying for schooling and extracurricular activities after you separate or divorce can make a big dent in your budget.

School and Postsecondary Fees an Enduring Expense

School and college tuition and fees add up at the best of times. Think what they will do to your budget when you are living on a single income or receive spousal and child support. Federal Child Support Guidelines in Canada require divorcing or divorced couples to support their children until they are 18 or up to 22 (and sometimes longer) while they are in college or university, You could be paying until they complete their first degree or credential. 

Supporting Adults with Special Needs

If your child has a physical or developmental disability, you will be liable as long as they rely on you for financial support or care. (You won’t be asked to support a teenager 16 or up who chooses to leave your home or get married.)

It Matters if You Separate or Divorce

The federal Divorce Act and child support guidelines apply to divorced or divorcing couples only. Unmarried or common-law parents who separate and married couples who separate but haven’t decided whether to divorce are subject to Ontario Child Support Guidelines. Child support is also affected by child custody arrangements — you can choose split, sole or joint custody. 

Paying for Education Based on Income

Generally, unless it causes undue hardship, separating couples share responsibility for financially supporting offspring. That includes schooling plus special or extraordinary after school activities in your children’s best interests. If your kids are old enough to work or have a student loan, they can also be expected to contribute. Calculating school, postsecondary and extracurricular expenses in your child support agreement gets this elephant in the room out of the way early. 

What is Included in Special or Extraordinary Expenses

The federal support guidelines recognize some expenses for education or extracurricular activities may  exceed your ability to reasonably pay. Your job, child support, investments and other sources of income are included in deciding if you can afford the expense. Add in any benefits you might be eligible for like the Canada child benefit, scholarships from a union, employer or government, college or university bursaries and income tax deductions or credits when sizing up your budget. The court will. In fact, you’ll be asked for financial statements and income tax returns for the past three years, along with notices of assessment.

Are Extracurricular Expenses Reasonable?

Sometimes you can afford to pay for basic schooling and some activities, but the expenses are special or extraordinary because of the quality of life you and your children enjoyed up to now. Guilty though you feel, those little luxuries may not be affordable just now. Give some thought to whether an activity is in your child’s best interests and if you can pay for it and still live within your means. Since family courts require separating or divorcing partners to decide if a cost is reasonable before requesting special or extraordinary expenses, things to consider are:

  • your combined incomes
  • the basic child support amount 
  • your family’s spending pattern before you separated 
  • whether expenses are new, such as attending private school
  • the nature and number of educational programs
  • how many extracurricular activities your children are involved in
  • their total cost
  • special needs your kids may have
  • any exceptional talents you want to nurture
  • and anything else that is relevant.

How to Calculate Education Expenses 

Before using the federal child support tool, add up your share of special or extraordinary expenses such as:

  • school tuition and fees
  • books and supplies
  • fees for lessons like ballet, band or soccer
  • transportation to and from school or activities
  • expenses to attend out of town activities, like competitions or concerts
  • buying or renting musical instruments or uniforms
  • purchasing track and field shoes or hockey equipment
  • your share and your partner’s of the total cost
  • how much, if anything, your children will contribute
  • payment due dates.

How Many Children You Support Counts

Ontario family court judges understand that while you may have some economies of scale (passing down football uniforms or skates), how many children you have and their ages affects your child support expenses. They take into account that raising children is expensive and you may not be able to juggle all of the costs 50/50. The partner who makes the most is required to contribute more. That may change if your own income increases or your partner loses their job, but you can go back to court as many times as necessary to vary the amount.

Expenses Courts Typically Approve

Family court judges see all kinds of families, but somes special or extraordinary educational expenses that are typical are after school care, computer camp, dance or music lessons, sport teams or swimming classes, tutors, private school and even glasses or hearing aids. Regardless, the partner asking for the costs will have to convince the judge the expense is reasonable and in the best interests of the child.

Enforcing School Expenses in Ontario Family Court

Attaching an amount to each item in your budget makes it possible to enforce payment by going to court. Child support expenses have to be specified in your support agreement or court order for a family court judge to make sure you get what you and your children are owed.

Will Child Support Costs Ever End?

Like everything, child support usually comes to an end. Your child support agreement or court order typically includes a termination date. The date could be when your children reach a certain age, become financially independent or complete college or university (usually a first degree, diploma or certificate). You can leave out a termination date if you prefer to negotiate that later. You can always go to court if it seems like your child support obligations are never ending.

Legal Advice on Spousal Support After Separation

Axess Law Ontario family lawyers can review your family finances to figure out who pays for what in a separation agreement. Virtual family lawyers can connect with you by video call 7 days a week, as your schedule permits. Call toll-free to 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto at 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form to make appointments. In person legal consultations are available at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s family law services.