In most of the instances in which we have blogged about issues between divorced or separated parents revolving around child support or spousal support, the topic has usually involved a parent who is asking to pay less in support, terminate support, or has unilaterally made the decision to do so themselves. The decision we are looking at today concerns a mother who says she has overpaid support for one of her children attending university. The decision, which comes from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, allows us to discuss this rarer type of issue.
Mother overpays for university expenses
The applicant in the matter was the father of the child, and the respondent was the mother. The term “child” should be considered in the context of “child of the marriage” in this case because, at the time of the hearing, he was over 18-years-old, but attending university, meaning he still qualifies for child support payments, including special expenses (Section 7 expenses) related to his education.
The court noted that the child is a gifted student enrolled at the University of Waterloo’s co-op engineering program. He has completed four years of his program, and the court heard he was third in his class.
The parents had originally been at odds over whether the child should enrol in that program, with the mother suggesting he enrol in one with a less associated cost. However, the father was successful in having the court endorse his request to allow the child to attend the University of Waterloo. The costs for the program are not insignificant. In 2018-19 his fees were fixed at $45,000. He paid $23,388 of that, and each of his parents was to pay $11,800. The father paid his half, and the mother did, though there was some dispute about $2,000. She said she paid in cash but that the child said he did not receive it.
In his second year of school, his fees were much less than the first year, coming in at $32,972. The child contributed $28,481 towards them, and each parent was to pay $2,245. The mother told the court that in the August preceding that school year (August 2019), she provided the child with $10,000, anticipating his fees would be similar to the first year. This resulted in a significant overpayment by the mother.
The mother did not know she had overpaid at the time, though upon learning she had, she accused the father of deceiving her by not telling her about the mistake. Nevertheless, the father told the court that he advised the child to “hang on” to the overpayment out of concern that the mother would not pay her share in the future.
This accounting mixup led to the parties losing trust in one another, with the mother not trusting the amount requested in year three.
Mother and father disagree over how much was overpaid
The father told the court that the mother only overpaid by $751. He said that by applying the overpayment to the $2,000 that went missing in the child’s first year and the $4,796 the mother was responsible for in the third year (where expenses were listed at $44,533.88), she would have been left with $751.
The mother, however, told the court she suspected the budget for the child’s third year of university was inflated and that the budget she was given is different than the one the child attached with his affidavit. She argued that her overpayment, once all three years of school are paid for, is much higher, coming in at $3,779.00.
This came to a head when dues for the fourth year of school had to be paid. The father says the fees for that year are $44,869.79, requiring $10,958 from each parent. The child was about to start his fifth year at university at the time of the trial, and the parents had different perspectives on what each owed.
How much does the mother owe towards university, and has she overpaid?
The father asked for the court to order the mother to pay $10,959 for the child’s fifth year of school as well as $10,208 for the fourth year. The mother says that she believes the child likely qualified for scholarships and bursaries and that his fees should not be as high as he has listed them. She alleged that the father and child had conspired against her to defraud her by inflating their budgets and failing to disclose income such as scholarships and bursaries.
The decision did not state what she thought she should be responsible for paying during the child’s fifth year of school, but she did ask that 1/3 of the tuition tax credits be allocated to her. She also stated that she feels the child has withdrawn from her parental control and has unilaterally terminated his relationship with her.
Ultimately, the court could not determine what would be just in the circumstances and stated that a proper accounting of the child’s university costs should be provided to the courts and scheduled another trial date. At that time, these details would be discussed. In the meantime, the court also said it did not agree that the child had withdrawn from the mother’s care.
Let Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors help you through child support issues
The family law team at Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors regularly helps our clients work through all matters related to family law, including those involving child support or spousal support. We understand the stress that comes with working through disputes about support as well as the emotional difficulty that may come with it. We try to help our clients reach a resolution that meets their needs while bringing minimal disruption to their lives. To find out how we can help you, please call us at 519-973-1500 or reach us online. We look forward to talking with you.