Alberta law to allow unwed parents to share financial burden of disabled adult children

The proposed legislation would allow parents to apply for financial support from ex-partners.

Christina Ryan reads to her daughter, Emily, who is 18 but still requires constant care due to her Down syndrome and several other medical issues. Robson Fletcher CBC

Helen Pike, CBC News Calgary November 21, 2018

Ex-common-law parents caring for their adult children with disabilities won’t have to face the financial burden alone anymore.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley told CBC News she’s heard from Albertans struggling with a limitation in the Family Law Act.

The law gave divorced parents the ability to continue getting financial support once the child turns 18, but didn’t extend the same rights to separated common-law parents.

It vindicated everything that we have been through. – Christina Ryan, a Calgary parent to an adult with Down syndrome

The rules left some strapped with the lifelong financial burden of supporting a disabled child through adulthood alone.

“That’s obviously unfair and inequitable and some of this legislation will remedy that,” said Ganley, who is set to table the proposed legislation Wednesday.

Last year, Calgarian Christina Ryan hired a lawyer to legally challenge Alberta’s Family Law Act. She also called on Ganley to amend legislation or instruct the Crown not to oppose her challenge to the existing law.

Her daughter Emily has Down syndrome and a number of medical conditions requiring constant care.

She used to pay for those treatments through child support, but when Emily turned 18 and entered adulthood, her father, an ex-common-law partner, was no longer required to help out financially.

It’s been a year and a half since she began speaking out about what she’s called an unfair system — and that’s also how long Ryan has been paying to support Emily’s needs on her own without the help of Emily’s father.

Christina Ryan battled to change a law that meant her former partner wasn’t obligated to financially support their 18-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, because the pair never married. Helen Pike CBC

Ryan said Ganley’s office reached out to her to thank her for taking on the battle. She’s emotional and overjoyed that the rules are final set to change after a gruelling year.

“It’s an amazing feeling, it vindicated everything that we have been through,” she said.

Ryan was living with Emily’s father for more than 10 years. They never married and split when their daughter was two-years-old.

She argued that if they had been married, there wouldn’t be an issue, saying the province’s current laws are unfair and unreasonable.

Current law violates rights
In B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba the law already treated divorced couples and separated common-law partners equally, giving both the right to continued financial support after their child reaches adulthood.

And last year, Ontario’s law was challenged by a single mother of a 22-year-old disabled man. Justice William Sullivan ruled in favour of the woman, stating that the Ontario law violated both the mother’s and son’s equality rights under section 15(1) of the charter.

Ryan’s case also went forward with a charter challenge in 2017, and her court case was heard in Alberta. A judge ruled, like in Ontario, that the current law was violating both Ryan’s and Emily’s charter rights.

“Yes it’s unconstitutional. And yes we should change it for those legal reasons, but I think there’s also an impetus on us to change it because it is unfair,” said Ganley.

Ryan’s lawyer Janet Russell said while this doesn’t guarantee that all disabled adults are eligible for continued financial support through their parents, it does bring common-law partners under the same rules that divorced parents face.

“This is wonderful because this means that there’s equality for everyone, regardless of your disability or if your parents were married or not married,” she said.

“This is a legacy that my daughter is leaving behind her.”

Ryan gets emotional when she talks about the difference her and her daughter’s stories have made in the province.

“It’s so important because my daughter is nonverbal — and for her to be able to leave to be able to change legislation is remarkable. Not many people get to do that.”

Source CBC News Calgary

Also see
Property division for common-law couples who split tackled in new bill in CBC News Edmonton
Child support ordered in precedent-setting case involving Brampton adult with disabilities in The Brampton Guardian
NDP bill would allow unmarried parents to seek support for disabled adult children in The Brampton Guardian

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