Child Support: Adult Children with Disabilities

Can I get child support for my disabled adult child?

The case of Coates v. Watson has been in the news frequently lately, and not just in family law circles.  You have likely read headlines about it, and the "constitutionality" of the child support laws in Ontario.  In this post, our summer intern, Xinya Wang, from the University of Ottawa, discusses what this case is about and what it means.

When a couple separates, marriage status can impact whether the children receive financial support. Never-married parents fall under provincial legislation (in Ontario, it is the Family Law Act), while married parents are under the federal Divorce Act. Sometimes, the type of legislation can produce different results. 

Until recently, in Ontario, disabled adult children of never-married parents could not receive child support, unless they attend school full time. According to subsection 31(1) of Ontario’s Family Law Act, parents are only obligated to provide support for “his or her unmarried child who is a minor or is enrolled in a full time program of education.”

By comparison, disabled adult children of once-married parents can claim child support, even if they do not attend school full-time. Under section 15 of the Divorce Act, child support may be granted for any or all “children of the marriage.” Section 2 defines “child of the marriage” to include adult children who cannot withdraw from the charge of their parents due to “illness, disability or other cause.”

Read more: Child Support and Adult Children

Coates v. Watson

In a precedent-setting case, an Ontario woman was successful in her claim for child support for her disabled adult child. Since the parents were never married, Robyn Coates was ineligible to receive child support for her disabled adult son, Joshua Coates. Joshua has DiGeorge Syndrome, which causes physical and psychiatric disabilities that require life-long care and supervision.

The father, Wayne Watson, had paid child support since Joshua was 4-years-old. Under the Family Law Act, Watson had hoped to terminate his payments once Joshua turned 18-years-old.

The Ontario Court of Justice found section 31 of Ontario’s Family Law Act to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. According to Justice William Sullivan, “[i]t is substantively discriminatory that children and residential parents have diminished access to financial resources as a result of the parents’ marriage status.”

In his decision, Justice Sullivan expanded the definition of “child” in section 31 of the Family Law Act to include disabled adult children by reading in the definition of “child of the marriage” from the Divorce Act.

What happens now?

The Ontario government is considering an amendment to the Family Law Act that would allow disabled adult children to claim child support, regardless of the parents’ marriage status. If Bill 113 passes, the revised section 31 would include adult children who are “unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause, to obtain the necessaries of life.”