Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Separation and Your Children's Education


With school now back in session, what better time is there to consider how best to co-parent with
your former spouse regarding your child(ren)’s education:

What are best practices when co-parenting and communicating about school for young children?

Your child's school can actually facilitate the process of ensuring both parents are involved in their child's education.

We would strongly recommend speaking with your child's teacher, main office or principal to inform them of your child's living arrangements and the terms of your separation. It is particularly important to ensure that the school is informed of any communication requirements, so that both parents are kept in the loop where appropriate. As well, educators benefit from knowing at least the general terms of your child's residential schedule as it relates to school pickups and drop-offs.

School officials are accustomed to single-parent and blended families. They will quite often have specific procedures available to assist you with communications.

For instance, where informed, school officials can often help to ensure that school newsletters and picture order forms are sent out to both parents, and may further accommodate separate parent-teacher meetings if necessary.

Moreover, teachers and educators can be wonderful at issue spotting, where a child is struggling to come to terms with a separation or divorce, so long as they are made aware of the family background.

Can I attend at school events on non-access days?

Generally speaking, parents are both welcome to attend at special events hosted at the school, even if they may fall on non-access days. You should consult with your lawyer, however, as to any restrictions that may be applicable in your specific circumstances, to school event attendance.

If you are not on good terms with the other parent, particularly where you are or have been involved in highly contentious divorce or separation proceedings, it is always a good idea to maintain a respectful distance from one another at such school events. Sometimes it may even be well worth considering whether the attendance of both parents may cause your child to experience unnecessary stress, and anxiety.

Other than for special school events, it is not typically recommended that parents attend at the child's school on non-access days, unless specifically authorized to do so, as this can cause conflict unnecessarily and possibly be seen as interfering with the access schedule you've established.

How Do I Share Back to School Expenses?

Many schools will provide a child(ren) with a checklist within the first few weeks of the school supplies required during the year.

To the extent that some of these expenses may be considered "special and extraordinary", it may be appropriate that some of these costs be apportioned between the parents based on their relative income.

Many of the more typical back-to-school items, however, are generally paid by the parent with whom the child has primary residence, with the non-residential parent contributing by paying child support.

You should consult with your lawyer if greater clarity is required about the respective obligations of you and the child's other parent to contribute to these expenses.

I want my child(ren) to attend at College or University one day, how can we ensure that we have enough savings between us?

An RESP is an excellent way to start financially planning for your child’s future education.

Spouses can be joint subscribers on an RESP, and can continue such arrangements in the event of a separation and/or divorce.

Individuals who are already divorced cannot jointly open an RESP together. In such circumstances, each parent may set up his or her own RESP. It should be noted that the total contributions made by each parent to their respective plans for the child(ren) are still subject to the same aggregate contribution limits.

While the plan is being set up for the benefit of your child(ren)’s education, only the subscriber has authority to request withdrawals from the account. What this means in practice is that while your former spouse may set up an RESP for your child(ren), he/she will direct if and when withdrawals are to be made from his/her account.

Many separating spouses specifically outline their intentions regarding RESP's in a Separation Agreement, which will also typically address when and how payments by parents for education expenses are to be made.

What are issues to consider for older children attending at University?

Firstly, its important to note that child support may continue to be payable for an adult child who has not withdrawn from the charge of his or her parents, which is typically the case for a child is enrolled in a full-time post-secondary program.

Factors considered by the court in determining whether child support is payable, and the quantum of support include: whether the child is eligible for student loans and financial assistance; the reasonableness of the child’s career plans; the child’s ability to contribute to his or her education him/herself; educational plans made by the parent’s during their relationship; and the nature of the relationship between the child and his or her parents.

Expenses associated with post-secondary education, such as tuition, books and boarding will be considered to be “special and extraordinary”, and subject to contribution by both parents’ in proportion to their relative income capacity. Your child may also be required to contribute to the cost of his or her post secondary education.

It is important that you and your former spouse start by communicating with your child(ren) about what their plans for post-secondary education may be.

Do they intend to live at home, on campus or off campus? What are their transportation needs? What budgets are available? Will they be applying for OSAP student loans or other student financing?

Will they be pursuing part time employment? How much do they budget for books and daily living expenses? Where do they plan to stay during school breaks and the summer?

Once you are aware of your child(ren)’s educational goals, and have some idea of costs, you can then determine how these costs are to be divided between you, your former spouse, and potentially your child(ren).

It is recommended that you consult with a lawyer over such matters to get a better idea of your respective legal obligations for your child(ren) post-secondary education.

- Rachel Spence and Simran Bakshi

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