The Covid Cohort and Spousal Support Payments

Students opting to skip year of pandemic-restricted campus life, presenting challenges for divorced parents

The acronym B.C. can now be repurposed to mean “Before Covid,” especially for a growing trend that sees post secondary students taking a gap-year.

In life B.C. (Before Covid), young people would announce to their parents a life-changing decision to “take a year off university” in order to backpack through Europe or trek through Asia.

Today, more and more students are making the same announcement, but for a very different reason.

There is little appeal among some students or students-to-be, to spending a year living and studying at home instead of in dorms, receiving online classes and assignments instead of sitting beside friends in crowded lecture halls, and watching repeats on Netflix instead of heading to the campus pub or their favourite local watering hole.

It’s understandable.

But it’s also posing a challenge to divorced parents who are legally bound to make support payments based on education expenses.

I’m fielding call after call from parents who insist they should not have to pay for tuition, residence fees, meal plans and books for children who have decided to opt out of the year of COVID-19 socially distant instruction.

Do parents still have to pay for those expenses?  Let’s expand the sphere of questions to activities like hockey school, dance classes and summer camps.

What happens to that money?  Does it still need to be paid even if the kid skips a year or cannot attend hockey camp?

These questions are creating emotional hardship, anxiety and concern among parents.

With the courts slowly re-opening and only hearing priority cases, it could be a long wait before taking the questions to a judge.

So let’s tackle the education fees first.  If the gap year is temporary, and if the child is enrolled in school but defers for a short period, it’s likely support continues to be payable.

In fact, there could be a request for increases in child support for recipient parents who now have a child living at home instead of in residence.

A break in school does not necessarily terminate child support and the courts tend to take a more nuanced analysis in determining whether the child will resume schooling.

As for things like sports camps, if the activity is cancelled because of COVID-19 you may not have to continue paying the expense.  This presents a dilemma for parents who’ve already paid in full up-front.

The courts may not be hearing these matters right now, but when they do they could impose retroactive repayments.

In my Collaborative Family Law practice, we already have a protocol and lines of communication established to be able to make these changes without expensive court costs or pricey back-and-forth between adversarial parties.

I’ve already negotiated adjustments to (Section 7) payment schedules and amounts in order to adjust quickly to changing realities such as children taking a year off university or cancelled hockey and sports camps.

This also applies to a parent who loses income due to COVID-19 shut-downs and is unable to make previously mandated support payments.

Collaborative Family Law provides flexibility that is often required to spare parents and children the emotional trauma caused by revisiting support payment battles of the past.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust us into a challenging and rapidly changing new existence.   We are changing the way people divorce.  And those changes provide a robust foundation from which ex-spouses and families can transition smoothly, instead of engaging in one more destructive disagreement.

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