are post secondary costs for divorced parents fair?

So here’s a question I’ve thought about for awhile: Why are Canadian divorced parents obligated to pay for their children’s post secondary education, and Canadian non-divorced parents aren’t?

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.


24 thoughts on “are post secondary costs for divorced parents fair?

  1. What is very disconcerting is that there are no comments in support of the above statements by the thousands of divorced parents forced to make these unreasonably arbitrated orders.

  2. I agree, Kevin. This post is one of the most viewed pages on my site. I seem to have hit a nerve, but for some reason people don’t feel comfortable speaking to it.
    Perhaps they fear that if they express their opinion their motives will be skewed. Such is the norm in family law scenarios, unfortunately.

  3. While I support supporting my child’s continuing education, I do not support the fact that as legal adults we have to foot that bill. I cannot quote the exact stats but remember being shocked by how low the percentage was of students who schooled in a particular field and actually sought and achieved employment in it. Perhaps, it wasn’t so much about what they were being educated in as it was about not taking responsibility for their own futures as none of it was being paid for by them? When my generation went on to further their education, it was only achieved by knowing it would include their savings, a part time job, and repaying the student loan that needed to be taken out in order to pay for that education. We made SURE it was what we wanted to do and made the best of that education because we worked/are working/ and will be working for years to come to pay it off. Now throw in the double standard of the children of divorced parents getting a “free ride” as the law states those parents are to take proportionate shares of the expenses of each child’s post secondary education??!!! When does it stop? If 18 years of age is when a child is a legal adult…..then that is it, everything after that age should be the responsibility of the child now adult and any contributions from parents regardless of marital status is completely at their discression

  4. I agree, Chris.

    I think there is great value in paying for your own education. It brings a strength of character that gives you confidence inside. Self-esteem is the result of living with courage and integrity, and taking care of yourself even though it is very difficult is a part of self-esteem.

    That said, I know that the cost of post secondary education is a heavy burden for students, and if a parent can help, that help may be a resource that will allow the student to achieve even more. Where this breaks down is when students develop a sense of entitlement, and they no longer take personal responsibility for their own achievement in life. Then the parent’s contribution is no longer a gift to the student, but rather a payment of debt.

    The divorce issue messes up an already complicated scenario. It takes strong, considerate and conscientious parents to work through this labyrinth in a way that Dad, Mom and child all maintain their dignity. I hope that my actions will be such.

    Thanks again,


  5. I’m not sure why different rules apply to children of divorce. If the parents were together, likely the child would still have to save some of their own money and or get a loan to get themselves through school. Why should these children be more entitled then others? At 18 we are calling these kids adults, but treating them as children.
    This doesn’t even mention that CS is often continued to be paid while the kids are in school. Not sure who this benefits and I wish there was a way to make the system more fair.

  6. True, Rachel.
    I think what drives it is twofold.
    It is not easy for custodial parents to give up CS when their child turns 18, particularly when their son or daughter can’t make up his or her mind about what they want to do. Parents don’t want to kick them out, but there is still a cost involved in keeping them at home. The lines blur at this point between who should be taking care of whom.
    The other contributing factor I’ve observed is that lawyers sometimes lead the process, and they may tend to assume that everyone should pay for their children’s education.
    As you said, if the parents were still together, the child would potentially work/borrow their way through school. But for divorced parents, the terms change.

  7. im living this scenario as I read this
    in my case im more then willing to help out
    and to meet the government requirements as stated in the parental
    calculator that you mentioned earlier.
    yet my ex has it setin her head that I should still foot the bill to the sum of 75% of the cost my daughter cant carry.
    my problem is she is remarried living mortgage free and has
    recently recieved a large inheritance from her deceased father.
    supported by a new husband travels extensively on vacations and chooses
    to work only enough to generate minimal income.
    I work 50 hours a week just to survive pay the mortgage , and a car payment so I can get to work.
    I get that it should be about the kids but it should also be an equal role
    for both parents and not soly based on a t4 statement at the end of the year.
    so here I am going back to court spending money I dont have to pay a lawyer money that could and should be going towards my daughters education.
    the system dosnt work fair for divorced parents.
    the one with the highest income becomes the target even if their standard of living is a lot less.
    its the childs education.. they definatly need to contribute.. but so should both parents if its proved they have the means.
    retirement is no longer an option for me thanks to my ex.
    nobody payed my way and i never expected it


  8. Thanks, Aron.

    It is really unfortunate that the system creates such animosity. I wrote this blog two years ago, and now I myself am facing this in my own situation.

    I wish I could give you some advice, but I’m plum dumbfounded. It’s aggravating to have to pay a lawyer to keep your head above water, and it’s frustrating to know that your money is probably going to some cushy new deck furniture or an upgrade in their new car.

    My parents never paid my way either. It is more common now for parents to pay for their children’s education, however I know many students who continue to do it on their own. Some of these students have parents who could easily pay for them.

    It’s simply a very difficult time for families. At what point does the parent say, “I need to keep some of this for myself.”? For parents who are financially strapped, how long should they forgo retirement security in the interest of accelerating their children’s financial security? And when the parents are divorced, the frustration and misunderstandings and accusations become huge.

    Hang in there. Love your children. Do your best. Protect yourself and your rights. And the only other advice I can give you is to forgive and live with integrity. It’s a high order, but it’s better than allowing the world out there to kill what’s on the inside. If you live in a way that you’re able to look at yourself with pride in the mirror each morning, then the crap that goes on out there will harm you less.

    I sincerely hope things work out for you.


  9. I have seen so many cases where the father is treated so unfairly that when it came to sending our boys to university (twins) I only asked the father to pay for 1/3 of the tuition,I would pay a 1/3 and each son would do the same. I believe children have to contribute to their education for all the reasons mentioned. The boys have good part time jobs and can afford to pay their own out of pocket expenses. But here it is the 2nd year and I have to take the father back to court. Tuition alone is $9000 a year (engineering in Ottawa) each! He complained about paying $1000 to each son and feels they should use their osap loans. But this man is a builder, owns a cottage, 500K home all mortgage free and just bought a new 10k skidoo and boat. All I asked is he commit $3000 a year to each son. He says I’m greedy..It’s not for me. Do I seem unfair?

  10. when a child is in university… and one parent ahs child support? what are the rules? do i have to contribute to my son’s education too…so the father will pay…but i will too?
    what about me paying for my son’s living expenses?
    i put food on the table, clothes on him and a shelter?
    is that not good enough?
    a measly 330.00 dollars
    is not good enough
    so how dare they want me to contribute to his university education?

  11. I am a mother who is on the receiving end of the unfairness of this law and I can tell you that situations involving adult children need to be considered case by case.

  12. I totally agree! My husband has tee legal aged daughters the youngest being 20 and we pay for 100% of her college and books. We had to buy her a car Plus a very hefty sum to her mother)and the daughter does not work. We cannot even access her grades because it is an invasion of privacy. My husband and I have three children together and are not required to pay for university or college. I believe this is discrimination at it’s finest.

  13. We are a blended family with 7 almost adult children, yours, mine and someone else’s,(17, 19, 19, 20, 21, 22,26) and have been going through for the past 10 months. My husband has two of his own children plus a step child the oldest who is his ex’s. He has always paid child support for all three. 26 yr old came to live with us when he was 17 ex refused to pay support for him. We were still paying support for both the 21 and 19, when his youngest was about to turn 19 we got served papers, she wants him and his sister declared still children. The 19 yr old does not go to school. Both work 30 hr week earning $15000 yr not including tips. The 21 yr old goes to school two days a week, lives half time with boyfriend. We have been giving her 1/3 for education fees for the past 3 years in addition to child support and purchased a car for her. Went to court got a split decision 19yr old removed, 21yr got old full support, 60% education cost. She does not have to contribute to her own education or living costs. She is a server and makes around $10000 in undeclared tips in addition to her wage. 19 yr old said he had to find any school to register in as he does not want to pay room & board at his mothers if she looses support for him, Guess what, he is now registered and we are headed back to court. Found out 21yr old took out student loans and kept our contributions. So to make a long story short, 2 out of 7 kids get an education paid for. As there is no way for us to financially to pay the kind of money for every one of our children. My children father has never paid the correct amount of child support and sits at $140,000 in arrears, no hope of getting any thing for education from him.

  14. Stats show that children of divorced parents are way less likely to complete high school, never mind post secondary. Single mothers are also way more likely to live in poverty than fathers. To me, it seems fair what the government is doing here in regards to forcing support payments. My parents never divorced but my husband’s parents did. He was never aware of this requirement that his parents were supposed to be helping him and we never received funding from his parents. He finally completed his first degree at age 37–and that after never even completing high school. We sure could have benefited from some parents who cared.

  15. Cindy, I think we need to clarify. This is not about simple child support – these are not deadbeat parents who don’t care or are unwilling to support their children’s education. Far from it.

    In my own case, we live 10 minutes from an excellent university. My daughter has decided to attend another university far away for no other reason than that she wants to “get away”. If my ex and I were still married we would have no legal obligation to fund this adventure and could simply say “We’ll pay for you to attend university here.” However – because we’re separated – the courts can enforce that each parent pay half of the costs if one parent supports the adventure. And let’s say the agreeing parent is spiteful and bitter … you can see where this could be unfairly abused to “get back” at the other parent.

    I disagree with parents footing the bill for university anyway. My parents didn’t pay for any of my degrees and I’m GLAD – I learned about responsibility, budgeting, etc. We need to stop doing everything for our kids and let them learn to be responsible adults.

  16. The only way I can summon all of this is with prejudice. United families against broken families. You are judged and condemned as soon as you are labelled a divorced parent therefore you will pay in every way possible. You cannot discriminate at work but the judges do it every day in court by ruling that divorced couples have to pay for their children’s University and non-divorced couples are exempt of it. That’s discrimination at it’s finest. Who can afford that these days. No wonder people are depressed and angry. Wake up and stop this ego trip judges. Were only humans and can handle so much stupidity….

  17. I’m surprised that this issue has not been pursued as a class action suit under the Charter of Rights.

    The policy of legally requiring separated parents to pay university while no such onus is placed on married couples is quite obviously discriminatory and one would assume that this would be a cut and dry case under the Charter.

    Either both married and separated couples should have a legal requirement to pay for a child’s university or neither group should be legally obligated. Applying the law to only one group is unethical, unfair and most likely violates the separated parents Charter Rights.

  18. just curious, after my divorce, my 2 daughters 12 and 14 (with their mother behind them of course) completely disowned me, and i ve had no relationship or contact now since 2008, now they are adults 19 and 21, I’m paying for the 21 yr old to attend university, which she’s on her last year, but now the second is join too, and the ex wants me to pay pay pay, but theses adults wants absolutely nothing to do with me, can i argue that? i want to pay for mu daughter to go, but she wants me to pay 3/4 of it, what can i do? its so unfair, fighting it costs money, and the ex has a 25 yr bookkeeping business, no mortgage, etc she can complete afford to pay 1/3! D i have a chance? they are adults not children

  19. just curious, after my divorce, my 2 daughters 12 and 14 (with their mother behind them of course) completely disowned me, and i ve had no relationship or contact now since 2008, now they are adults 19 and 21, I’m paying for the 21 yr old to attend university, which she’s on her last year, but now the second is join too, and the ex wants me to pay pay pay, but theses adults wants absolutely nothing to do with me, can i argue that? i want to pay for mu daughter to go, but she wants me to pay 3/4 of it, what can i do? its so unfair, fighting it costs money, and the ex has a 25 yr bookkeeping business, no mortgage, etc she can complete afford to pay 1/3! D i have a chance? they are adults not children

  20. I hear you! I am in the same boat. I have no contact with my sons, reportedly as per their choice and I am expected to continue to pay both for tuition and child support. I am willing to pay tuition, but both tuition and child support for a 22 year old who is over 4 years out of high school? I only wish I had had as much support when I was looking to go to school! This is simply unreasonable!

  21. What’s interesting is, Foster care provided by the government ends at 19, because the government feels that at 19 years of age, a person should be able to care for themselves..

  22. My husband is going through this now.
    He had a son at the age of 19 and has always paid CS, never ever missed a payment.
    We met and married 15 yrs now. We have are own 2 young daughters too. The older son is 20 and lives with bio mom . My husband pays almost $900 a month in support and she wants another $45,000 in tuition on top!!!
    He makes $58,000 a year, how can we manage this!
    The court agreed, we have to pay. Im saying we because the combo of tuition and Cs is 50% of his after tax income :(.
    Even with me full time at $40,000 , I will have to cancel all our childrens sports and hope to make our mortgage, food and bill payments.
    The older son had everything. Sports , braces, school trips, car, car insurance, cell phone, laptops…all included in addition to basic CS.

    The kicker….my hubby is still paying his school loans. He busted his butt and ate ramen for a year to pay his CS obligation and go to school himself.
    This is madness, I hope people realize what is happening here.

  23. I’m just getting into this. First I was never married, but we agreed to put money aside for his education. Now there is $35,000 X2 = $70,000 put away for his education. Ex is arguing that I should pay 80% due based on our differences on income. I am arguing that we should each pay 1/3 of the cost. She says that money we put away in Canada Scholarship is her money.
    Second issue my son has avoided visiting me for nearly 4 years now. Will go with me for lunch or dinner 4 times a year but won’t come to my house for a weekend or even a visit. He says he’s too busy as he goes to Whistler with his mom every weekend. Issues between us were considered normal parenting issues by the judge, that is after my son had a session talking directly to the judge.
    Finally, I am in agreement with helping my son if he makes an effort to be part of my life, even if that takes a few years, what i am upset about and find absolutely appalling is the court orders are usually you pay support to your ex., not the child after he turns 19. The problem with paying the ex partner is my son isn’t getting any of the money. She isn’t poor, she has a condo in Vancouver and another in Whistler. Also her common-law also owns a condo in Whistler.
    Please tell me this is fair? Please explain why we still support the ex as well as pay for post secondary education and how this is in the best interest for the child. I was expected to help with my education, but it was not forced upon my parents. I had to get a certain grade level for them to help and I had to act appropriate and treat my parents with respect.
    When I mention how the court is ordering divorced parents to pay for their kids education and continue to pay child support to your ex. to my UN-divorced friends they are very surprised and shocked.

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