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August 25, 2001

Get a job

National Post

Tens of thousands of Canadian university students attend class while holding down full-time jobs. A recent ruling by an Alberta Court of Queen's Bench judge, however, treated this fact as a myth and ruled that a father must financially support his adult college-age daughter because "even talented young Albertans cannot readily perform two or more full-time burdensome and difficult tasks simultaneously."

The father had offered to provide his daughter with $400 per month to help her with school expenses, but this was deemed inadequate. According to the judge, anything less than full support would leave the daughter "destitute." Thus, she is not required even to get a part-time job, a lifestyle staple of many university students. (The mother, incidentally, is not required to provide any financial support.)

The judgment ignores reality. University students often work full-time during their summer break and part-time during their studies. A substantial share of Canadian university students provides for their living, tuition and book expenses with no parental support -- paying their way with job earnings, grants and loans. And it is far from unheard of for Canadian students to take the odd semester off in order to earn the money they need to continue their education. Yet Judge Watson's use of the word "destitute" suggests that if a student's parents are divorced, a college education is a necessity on par with food, shelter and clothing. Adult students cannot compel their fathers to pay for a college education if those fathers remain married. It is only when fathers are divorced that this responsibility is forced upon them.

Parliament amended the Divorce Act in 1997. Before approving changes to the Act, the Senate, anticipating the likes of the present case presumably, had a provision removed -- the one that said an individual who had reached the age of majority could still qualify for child support due to "pursuit of reasonable education." But the Senators were not cautious enough. They allowed another proviso to pass, one that said an adult child could qualify for child support due to "other cause[s]." Judges have been applying the resulting ambiguity in federal law and similarly vague provincial legislation to single out divorced or never married parents for special costs. Counsel for Alberta's Attorney General says the government is looking "closely at reconfiguring the balances and languages" of the relevant legislation. It is time the federal government did the same.

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