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New Legal Developments Anticipated For Child Support In Ontario

Canada's Divorce Act provides that disabled children are eligible for child support payments even after the age of majority and despite not attending full-time schooling. But in Ontario, such adult children are often out of luck - and for the basic fact that their parents were never married.

Feeling that the provisions in Ontario's Family Law Act are discriminatory, one woman took her case to court. The recently-issued judgment is a precedent-setting case that could spawn new developments on the legal horizon.

Charter Challenge

Wayne Watson had been paying child support since son, Joshua Coates, was four years old. Now that Joshua is an adult, the father wanted to pull the plug on payments. But Joshua has Di George Syndrome, which leaves him with a Grade-2 reading level and the inability to live independently.

Ontario and Alberta are the only two provinces in which unmarried parents are not obligated to provide financial support to adult children who are not enrolled in a full-time academic program. Outside of payments from the Ontario Disability Support Program and the goodwill of the other parent, a lone parent taking care of a disabled adult child has few options for supplementary financial support.

In mother Robyn Coates' view, this violates the constitutional rights of herself and those of her disabled son.

The Judgment And A Possible Future

On July 7, Justice William Sullivan agreed with Coates. He found that the province's treatment of child support is out of line with section 15 (1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects against discrimination based on such factors as age and mental or physical disability.

Earlier this year, NDP MPP Peggy Sattler put forward a private member's bill to update the Family Law Act. The Coates v. Watson judgment may be the catalyst to expanded definitions on "child" and "disability" and clarified guidelines on when and why child support may be ordered for children of unmarried parents.

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