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Peter J. Bruckshaw - Helping Families Transition through Separation and Divorce

Foresight can prevent trouble in ending child support

Art was thinking a lot about June 30th.   A big red circle marked the spot on his calendar.   Art's daughter, Cynthia, was going to graduate from high school at the end of June.   When Art looked at that big red circle on the calendar, he got a warm sunny feeling inside.   He felt good because his little girl was graduating from high school.   But even more pleasing was the thought that on June 30th he could stop paying child support.

Now Art is a good and proud father.   He was always supportive of his daughter during her high school years.   He had been regularly paying his child support to Cynthia's mother for 12 years.   Never missed a payment.   Always paid on time.   But in June - one hundred and forty-one child support payments later - he planned to stop.

There are many hundreds of people like Art here in Manitoba and across the country who look forward to the end of June for the same reason.   If a child is 18 years of age and is no longer attending high school or University on a full time basis, then the general rule is that child support stops.   In this case, Cynthia, had plans to work and then travel to Europe.

But Art made a mistake.   He tried to terminate child support too early.   He approached a lawyer in June, the month of his daughter's graduation, and asked for an application to Court to terminate the Child Support Order.   He assured his lawyer that his daughter would not be going back to school and that in fact she had plans to work and travel.

But teenagers are sometimes fickle.   Plans can change.   A passion for travel can abruptly change into a passion for "Intro to Art History" at the local University.   And there was something else that Art had not counted on.   Art's former wife, Helen, wanted her daughter to get a good education.   So when Helen received Court papers from Art's lawyer requesting a termination of the Child Support Order, she resolved to have a talk with her daughter.   

Helen told her daughter about the Court application.   She told Cynthia that the child support came in quite handy for covering expenses.   Finally Helen told Cynthia that if she genuinely did not want to attend University, that was fine.   But that, if she was just taking a year off to travel and "find herself", she did not in fact have that luxury.   Cynthia was told, in short, to either register for University or else get a job and start paying room and board.   

This kind of conversation is not unique to Cynthia and her mother.   In fact these conversations happen all the time, when there is an application to Court to stop child support.   In this case, Cynthia elected to go back to University, starting in September.      

So when Art applied to Court to terminate child support in June, fully expecting the matter to breeze through the Courts unopposed, he was surprised to hear that Cynthia was now registered at the University of Winnipeg, with classes to commence in September.   Child support was definitely going to continue on a while longer.

Where did Art go wrong?   He had been a good supportive parent for many years.   He had been told by his daughter that she had no plans for University.   He thought he had a straightforward case for the termination of child support.   But what Alf did not consider was that a Court application to stop child support almost always causes a lot of soul searching in the other household.   Often that soul searching results in an abrupt change in plans.   

Art might have consulted with Cynthia's mother to discuss their daughter's educational plans, before going to Court.   Art and Helen might have agreed to suspend child support for a year, while Cynthia travelled, and then resumed the support when Cynthia returned to school.  

At the very least Art might have waited until the commencement of the new school year in September, before making his Court application.   If his daughter was not registered for school by September, then obviously she was not going to school that year and Art's Court application would likely have succeeded.   

Art and Helen and their situation are real.   Names, details, and dates have been changed to protect the confidentiality of this family.

Peter J. Bruckshaw is a Winnipeg lawyer with St. Mary's Law LLP.  Contact him at 942-1799 or [email protected]

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