Globe and Mail

Judge refuses to set aside support ruling

Father appealing decision that requires him to pay daughter's university expenses

Wednesday, September 5, 2001
The Globe and Mail

CALGARY -- An Alberta judge dismissed an application to suspend his own judgment yesterday while a father, who was told he must financially support his grown daughter through university, appeals the original ruling.

The Edmonton father hasn't decided whether he will appeal the most recent decision of Mr. Justice Jack Watson of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, a representative of his legal team said, but he has 30 days to decide. But the man, who cannot be named because his daughter was a minor when the lawsuit began, plans to press the case in the province's Court of Appeal.

The case, which has captured the attention of custodial and non-custodial parents across the country, involves the financial obligations of parents to their adult children who pursue postsecondary studies.

Citing an Alberta statute that terminates support for children of unmarried parents when they reach 18, the Edmonton man asked the court last year to declare he was no longer obliged to pay child support to his daughter, who is now 19.

Meanwhile, the teenager's mother, whom he never married, applied to the court seeking continued support from him. She argued that the statute was unconstitutional on the grounds of age and marital status.

That claim was dismissed last month, but Judge Watson offered a new interpretation of the province's Maintenance Order Act.

He found that children over the age of 18 who are attending a postsecondary institution full-time may be considered destitute and could apply for financial support under the provincial statute.

Formal postsecondary education extends beyond the age of majority for most people, he wrote, adding that it "consumes money, energy, intellect and time to the degree of making the simultaneous pursuit of full-time 'work' . . . at least highly difficult."

"I conclude that even talented young Albertans cannot readily perform two or more full-time, burdensome and difficult tasks simultaneously," Judge Watson wrote.

The teenager has not made an application for additional support.

But in documents filed with the Court of Appeal, her mother alleges that her daughter's father has failed to make previously ordered child-support payments of $500 a month.

"Our daughter is desperately in need of funds or she will not be able to continue her education," the mother said in an affidavit. ". . . [Her] father is doing all he can to prevent his daughter from succeeding."

In appealing Judge Watson's decision, the teenager's father said he is on a disability pension, is paying $400 a month to support another daughter and cannot afford to pay additional child support to the daughter in university.

He also argues that Judge Watson's definition of "destitute" to include those who are "needy" and "poor" is not based on any legal precedent.

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.