Jodi Armstrong, Associate
Generally speaking, every parent has an obligation to provide support for his or her unmarried child who is under the age of 18. There is, however, an exception for children aged 16 or 17 who have withdrawn from parental control.
A frequently referenced case with respect to the concept of the “withdrawal from parental control” is Haskell v. Letourneau. It confirms that the concept means a voluntary withdrawal or the free choice of the child to:
“cut the family bonds and strike out on a life of his own. On taking on this personal freedom the child assumes the responsibility of maintaining or supporting himself. It is his choice, freely made, to cut himself away from the family unit. Once this choice is freely made and the responsibility accepted by the child, the family unit has, in effect, been severed and the responsibility of the parents to support the child thus ceases.”
In other words, if the child was “kicked out” by the parents or if living conditions within the parents’ home were intolerable so the child was, essentially, forced to leave by circumstance, the withdrawal from parental control was not voluntary. In that situation, the parents continue to have an obligation to financially support the minor child.
It should be noted that the onus is on the parents to prove that the child has voluntarily withdrawn from parental control and that it is a difficult onus to satisfy. In another case called Dolabaille v. Carrington, the judge stated that the defence is available “in the limited class of case in which a young person between the ages of 16 and 18 freely and voluntarily chooses the personal liberty and independence of a life of his own, over one fettered by reasonable parental control”.
In addition to establishing that the withdrawal was voluntary, it is also necessary to establish that the child has withdrawn from the control of both parents. If a child decides to cut off ties with one of his parents, but remains financially dependent and within the control of the other parent, the obligation to pay child support apparently continues. There is case law that suggests it makes no difference whether the child’s decision to cut ties is reasonable or unreasonable as long as he has not withdrawn from the control of one parent.
Essentially, although extremely rare, it is possible for a rebellious teenager to forfeit his entitlement to support. These matters are always difficult, for everyone involved. Whether the obligation to pay support terminates will always turn on the particular facts of each individual case.