According to the Canadian family law process, divorced parents (both custodial and non-custodial) are often ordered to share in the cost of their children’s post secondary education until the first (and sometimes second!) degree is attained. The cost is calculated on a relative scale between incomes of the two parents, but the additional financial pressures of either of them is sometimes not recognized nor considered.
I am fully in support of access to post secondary education for every Canadian student. Further, I am absolutely in support of divorced parents contributing fair share towards the costs of raising children, and that includes preparing them for their futures. But why is a university degree considered absolutely necessary? And why is there less regard given for divorced parents’ complicated lives?
In the “regular world,” recent Canadian Stats indicate that of the 2 million Canadian children aged 13-18, 90% were expected by parents to contribute to their own post-secondary. The report does not mention families who are divorced. This may skew the stats. In situations of divorce, if one divorced parent were to indicate a willingness to pay for education, then the other may be pressured to. This could place an unreasonable amount of strain on a parent if he or she has other extenuating circumstances in their life.
Did you assume that your parents would pay for your college or university? For most people, university education was achieved by personal sacrifice, including working and saving personally for the opportunity. Parents are assumed to contribute within reasonable consideration of their financial ability to do so. The Canadian Government offers a Parent Contribution Calculator for parents who are trying to consider a fair balance of paying for their children’s post secondary education. A tool such as this would be helpful for divorced families as well, particularly because these families are often complex and have various degrees of financial challenges.
Guidelines and expectations change when parents are divorced. Sometimes, a divorced parent is ordered to pay for education, but this would not have necessarily been the expectation if the parents had not divorced. Family law in Canada often takes a black-white approach to making decisions, and the gray areas of personal or familial circumstances is sometimes ignored.
For some families, the boardrooms of their lawyers’ offices can sometimes change the discussion from “How do we reasonably achieve funding for education by contributions from Mom, Dad AND child?” to “How can I wring every last possible dollar out of the ex’s pocket?” Lawyers are not known for win-win discussions, but adversarial positioning. This puts people at odds with each other, and places the child in a constant state of tension. It also eliminates a reasonable discussion about motivating a child to tackle their own portion of this financial challenge.
Part of adulthood is working for yourself through adversity, achieving your goals on your own merit, and not assuming that life is to be handed to you. When a child of divorced parents chooses university, the financial backing for their education is most likely minimal. There should be a way for families to figure out how to navigate through how much dad pays, how much mom pays, and how much the child pays, without the child carrying the emotional baggage of animosity between their parents, and without the parents carrying the economic baggage of a child’s goals.