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August 24, 2001

Father ordered to support daughter in university

Students can't work, study at same time, judge rules

Charles Rusnell
The Edmonton Journal
National Post

EDMONTON - An Alberta judge has ruled a father must financially support his adult daughter through university because students are "unable to work" and go to school at the same time.

"I conclude that even talented young Albertans cannot readily perform two or more full-time burdensome and difficult tasks simultaneously," Mr. Justice Jack Watson wrote in an Aug. 8 judgment. The woman, now 19, can't be named because she was a minor when the case began.

Judge Watson's ruling stems from a case in which the young woman's mother launched a lawsuit on her behalf against the biological father. The lawsuit sought support for the young woman during her university education.

The young woman was born out of wedlock. The couple never married but the father paid child support until she turned 18, at which time he was no longer legally obliged to do so.

Judge Watson, however, found that because the woman could not work while attending university, she was therefore "destitute."

"There are a plethora of words given as having the same meaning as 'destitute,' some characterizing acute desperation, others not," Judge Watson wrote. "It has also been defined as equivalent to 'needy' and 'poor' and 'impoverished.' I cannot see as involving a profound conceptual difference from the situation of a child unable to withdraw and obtain necessaries for herself."

Under the federal Divorce Act, estranged parents -- mostly men -- have for years been required to financially support children pursuing post-secondary education. Support groups for divorced men have long complained this is discriminatory. Parents who are not divorced have no legal obligation to help pay for the post-secondary education of their adult children.

The father said the ruling will be appealed to the Alberta Court of Appeal.

He said his daughter left her mother's home in Vancouver at age 17. She lived with him in Edmonton for one month but now lives with her boyfriend. He said he offered to give her $400 a month to help her through university.

"I have never said I wouldn't help her go to university. What I said to her was, 'I will chip in $400 a month, your mother will help out and you will have to get a part-time job.'

"But she said she wanted more or nothing. So she got nothing. Then she sued me."

The father said that if the ruling stands, it will set a disturbing precedent.

"I guess if she wins, every kid in university will be able to say, 'I'm not serving tables or flipping hamburgers any more because my parents have to pay.' "

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