Alberta Expands Child Support Rules for Children Who Have Reached the Age of Majority

On December 11, 2018, the Family Statutes Amendment Act came into force in Alberta, amending several pieces of legislation. This post focuses on one important change arising from the Family Statutes Amendment Act: it amends the Family Law Act to close a legislative gap respecting the child support obligations of never-married parents after their child reaches the age of majority.

Previously, adult child support was restricted to children who were under the age of 22, and engaged as full–time students. This left disabled adult children dependent on their caregiving parent without the legal right to child support. Just prior to these legislative changes, the Honourable Madam Justice C.S. Phillips delivered an oral judgment declaring that this gap in the right to support was unconstitutional.

In her subsequent written reasons,[1] Justice Phillips held that the distinction was discriminatory for the purposes ofsection 15 Charter[2] analysisin two ways:

  1. The “definition of child in the Act created a distinction between adult children whose dependency arose from continuing full-time education and adult children whose dependency arose from disability,” thereby restricting a lawful benefit on the enumerated ground of disability.
  • Considering the availability of this disabled adult child support in the provisions of the Divorce Act, available only to previously-married parents, then the “Act created a further distinction between disabled adult children of never-married parents and disabled adult children of previously-married parents; a distinction based on the analogous ground of marital status of the parents.”[3]

The Family Law Act now provides for support to children over the age of majority who are unable to withdraw from their parent’s charge or obtain the necessaries of life due to illness, disability, being a full-time student, or other causes.[4] Alberta’s law regarding child support for adult children now aligns with the federal Divorce Act and the legislation in all other provinces.

What we must not miss in this conversation is that if Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (“AISH”) benefits were more comprehensive, there would be no need to require parents to financially support their adult children with disabilities. The fact that the financial burden of disabled adult children is now lifted from the shoulders of never-married sole caregiving parents and shared with non-caregiving parents does not remove the risk of low-income families falling into poverty because they must care for their disabled children.

[1] Ryan v Pitchers, 2019 ABQB 19.

[2] Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11, s 15. Section 15 ensures that all individuals are equal before and under the law, which includes the right to equal benefit from the law without discrimination.

[3] Ryan v Pitchers at paras 18-19.

[4] Family Law Act, SA 2003, c F-4.5, s 46(b)(ii).

About Megan Charron

Megan Charron is a second year law student at the University of Alberta Law School. She also recently completed the Low Income and the Law placement at the Edmonton Community Legal Centre, assisting clients who cannot afford Family Law legal help. Megan has also volunteered with Student Legal Services, an organization which provides free legal information to Edmontonians.
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