Should Alienated Parents Have to Pay Adult-Child Support?

The term 'adult-child' alone might make you scratch your head, but a debate over this issue is heating up in the family law community. The question is whether payor parents who are estranged from their children should be obliged to continue paying support once the children turn eighteen.

On the one hand, it is argued that parents in this situation shouldn't be responsible for paying school expenses, for example, if they no longer have a relationship with the child. The lawyers in this camp maintain that children have a responsibility to their parents too and if the parent has tried in good faith to keep in contact with the child only to be rejected then the parent shouldn't be required to contribute to their expenses. They argue that parents shouldn't be treated as 'wallets.' Furthermore, they contend that courts should penalize children financially if they reject the payor parent without justification. Such penalties would range from termination of the table amount of support and the payments for special expenses like post-secondary education to a reduction of support. The latter would apply if the rejection is not one-sided but when the child still bears substantial responsibility for the estrangement. Such penalties would not apply when abuse was a factor in the parent's rejection. Supporters of this position believe that such a policy would give parents and children incentive to assess their roles and responsibilities in their relationships and prevent such parent-child alienation.

On the other hand, lawyers argue that attributing fault in such cases is extremely difficult. A trial to determine who is to blame for the fall-out of the relationship would be problematic. They believe that financial penalties would cause the even more tension between parent and child and that to expect a child, suddenly, when he/she turns eighteen is ready and responsible to re-establish a relationship is unreasonable. Underscoring blame in these situations could make matters worse for a child who has already been hurt by the breakdown of his/her parents' marriage. They also warn that payor parents in this scenario might make a superficial effort at repairing the relationship and then claim they've been rejected unilaterally in an attempt to get out of paying support. A policy of financial penalty would mean more litigation. It would inhibit adult children's ability to receive a good education, and it would increase the cost of settling support disputes. They argue that courts are meant to resolve legal issues not emotional ones.

As always, the best policy is for parents to understand that the child is their shared responsibility. The parents' marriage and its breakdown are separate from their obligations to their children.

Revised March 2015