Kids, Post-secondary Costs & DivorceAs a child completes high school and is about to commence post-secondary studies a payor parent often begins to question what the financial consequences are for the parties with respect to post-secondary tuition. A recent case from the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, Lewis v. Correia, 2014 ABQB 314 detailed the general principles behind post-secondary costs for parents.

The extent to which a child will be expected to contribute to their postsecondary education costs will depend on the facts and dynamics of the situation. The child is expected to contribute, however, that does not mean they need to devote all earnings to their formal educational expenses. Children should be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labour. In situations where the means of the parents are limited, the contribution of the child may very well increase. Some cases have looked at the course load taken by the child. In Lewis, Justice Veit took into account the “…relatively light workload of the winter term in which the daughter has 2 days and 5 afternoons off each week, which days and afternoons can presumably be used for studying while still keeping her part-time employment…”

While there is a tendency by the courts to support children with respect to their choice of post-secondary program, the child may have to make a greater contribution to the costs when other, cheaper, alternative programs were available. Education program choices ought to be grounded in the reality of the family’s financial means.

Student loans and financing are another variable that courts will take into account in determining the contribution a child should make to his/her education. This factor is a discretionary one that may or may not be taken into account by the courts. Cases have held that courts will only turn to loans as a last resort as a means to fund an education. Given the high cost of education, I would expect that this factor is likely considered as a viable option by the courts more often than a last resort.

In terms of apportioning the cost of between the parents, courts have often implemented a proportionate share to income that is used when calculating section 7 expenses. However, the choice of approach on this issue also falls to the discretion of the trial judge, who may determine that, on the evidence, one party should bear a greater share of he expenses than the other.

The case law general principles allow for a great latitude to the trial judge in determining this issue. Every case is driven by its own facts and will be decided accordingly. Parties are best served by setting up an RESP account early on and continuing contribution to lessen the burden of post-secondary costs once they arise.