A Dependent or Not a Dependent – That is the Question

Family Law

April 2021

In a recent decision from the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, a 25-year old (almost 26 year-old) adult child returning to school was found to be a dependent child. In Dove v MacIntyre, 2021 NSCC 1, the Applicant applied for retroactive variation of child support and adjustment of child support and section 7 expenses for her daughter, MMD.

MMD ceased to be a child of the marriage when she completed her undergraduate degree in 2015. However, from 2016 to 2018 she was not qualified in a field where she could earn income above full-time minimum wage. In 2018, MMD was accepted into an accelerated 18-month dental hygiene program and was enrolled on a full-time basis between September 2018 and February 2020. She sought financial assistance from her parents as she did not qualify for a loan on her own. The Respondent father declined to co-sign the loan with MMD. The Applicant mother worked two jobs until she was forced to resign from one due to the stress. The Applicant’s only means to fund MMD’s program expenses was through credit, which was maxed out at the time. The Respondent also claimed he was “broke”, however the Applicant tendered evidence to show that he owned a new F-150 truck, a new ATV, and a motorbike. She also presented evidence that he and his new spouse own a matrimonial home, as well as a rental property.

Two of the issues the Court considered was (1) whether there had been a material change of circumstances and (2) whether MMD was a dependent child for the purposes of child support. The Court found the evidence to support a material change in the case “because of the hiatus in MMD’s educational pursuits, and her resumption of studies in 2018”. Since MMD is over the age of majority and does not suffer from illness or disability, the test employed by the Court was “whether she’s unable, by reason of “other cause”, to withdraw from the charge of her parents”. The Court went on to clarify that “[b]ona fide educational pursuits can be considered “other cause” for purposes of this definition”. Among other factors, MMD was found to be a child eligible for support while pursuing a post-secondary education because her education plan was reasonable, she secured employment as a result and the Respondent was in a stronger financial position than he claimed.

Ultimately, MMD “regained her dependent status because she returned to college to pursue a career that would allow her to generate a living wage” and the Respondent was responsible for paying his share of her education expenses ($21,565.58). Although the Court engaged in a fact-dependent analysis to decide whether or not a child is considered a dependent child, this case may still have implications for other parents. To read more about child support for children over the age of majority.

We recognize that each situation is unique and provide a tailored approach for our clients. If you have questions about child support children over the age of majority, including obligations to pay educational expenses, contact our Family Law Group today.

Fanda Wu
Associate, Family Law Group
Lindsay Kenney LLP – Vancouver Office
Jasmin Chohan
Articling Student
Lindsay Kenney LLP – Vancouver Office

This article is intended to be an overview of the law and is for informational purposes only. Readers are cautioned that this article does not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied on as such. Rather, readers should obtain specific legal advice in relation to the issues they are facing.