Landmark child support case prompts coming amendment to the Ontario Family Law Act
Earlier this year, this blog covered a Brampton child support case with potential implications for single parents of adult children with disabilities and the family lawyers who represent them. A recent article in the Toronto Star reports that the case of Coates v. Watson has prompted the Government of Ontario to draft an amendment to the provincial Family Law Act. This amendment will allow adult children with disabilities to access child support, and will be tabled in the Legislative Assembly this fall.
Twenty-two-year-old Joshua Coates was born with a genetic abnormality causing lifelong medical and psychiatric issues. He lives with his mother, Robyn, who, with the help of child support payments from Joshua’s biological father, enrolled him in various schools and programs for individuals with special needs. However, when Joshua turned 18, his father, Wayne Watson, declared that his financial obligation had expired.
Watson and Coates’s relationship – or lack thereof – was central to this case. The couple never married, never dated, and never lived together; Joshua was born after a one-night romantic encounter. Had Watson and Coates been married and divorced, Joshua would have been eligible to receive child support well into adulthood, pursuant to the federal Divorce Act.
When she launched the Charter case in November 2015, Coates argued that the province’s Family Law Act was unconstitutional and discriminated against adult children with disabilities who are raised by single parents, most of whom tend to be women.
Ruling and Potential Impact
This July, an Ontario provincial court ruled in Coates’ favour, agreeing that the Family Law Act is unconstitutional. Now, Queen’s Park is ready to take action.
“The Ontario government will be moving forward with an amendment to include adult children with disabilities in the Family Law Act, to essentially mirror the federal Divorce Act,” a government source told the Star. “As soon as the house is sitting again, we will be able to table an amendment to the bill.”
“I’m extremely happy,” Robyn said. “I feel like (Joshua) is being treated like children of married couples. I feel we are equal. I don’t feel like we are being discriminated against, like we have been. It’s been so exciting to be a part of this. To make it fair for myself and others. I’m extremely hopeful that we will be successful in changing the law.”
The court’s decision has been met with praise by various family lawyers and advocates of Charter rights and freedoms, who believe that these changes to the Family Law Act will improve lives across Ontario.
“The court recognizes that it is discriminatory to limit access to the family law court for adult children with disabilities and their parents,” said Joanna Radbord, intervener counsel in the case on behalf of Family Alliance Ontario. “Hopefully we are finally going to get the government to make a change so that children and their parents will be free to access child support on a non-discriminatory basis. It’s going to advance equality in Ontario.”
Contact Nanda & Associates Family Lawyers today
If you have questions about the ruling in Coates v. Watson, or are involved in a child support dispute of your own, contact the family lawyers at Nanda & Associates today to learn how we can help. Our dedicated team has expertise in all areas of family law.