Father not obliged to pay for son's overseas uni fees, says judge

Amir Hussain
Senior Reporter
(Photo: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A High Court judge on Tuesday (24 March) overturned a Family Court ruling for a 60-year-old retiree to pay 60 per cent of his 24-year-old son’s university education in Canada.

The son had applied to the Family Court for an order that his father pay for the overseas university education when he was 22. The court ruled in favour of the son in February last year and the father appealed against it.

Justice Choo Han Teck, in his written judgement on Tuesday, said that the father was instead not obliged to pay any contribution for his adult child’s further education at all.

“The (son) graduated from the Republic Polytechnic in 2018. He is now an independent adult and not receiving education at the moment,” the judge said.

“If he desires to study in Canada or anywhere else, he has to find his own means. He could, of course, ask his parents, but their obligations, if any, to him are now limited.”

Neither party was named in the judgement, as is typical with Family Court cases.

Son wanted to pursue degree in journalism

The son’s parents had divorced in 2004, when he was eight years old. His mother, a 56-year-old housewife, had custody, care and control of him. The father did not have to pay any maintenance for the son.

The father later remarried, and is a stepfather to his second wife’s two sons. He is now retired and supported by his second family.

The son completed his GCE O-Levels in 2014 and got a diploma in IT service management from Republic Polytechnic in 2018. He said he wanted to pursue a degree in journalism, claiming he had a passion for it.

However, with a grade point average of 1.82 out of 4, he felt that his poly grades were neither good enough to gain employment, nor enrol for degree courses at the National University of Singapore or Nanyang Technological University.

While other local institutions may accept the son, he did not apply to any of them. Instead, he wanted to study for a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta, which requires him to first complete a two-year preparatory course at Columbia College in Vancouver.

The course fees for each year at Columbia College is about C$12,580 (S$12,630). The son’s lawyer submitted that the total cost of studying at the college and then the University of Alberta, would amount to S$155,716 for four years (or S$38,929 a year), while the father’s lawyer argued that it would come up to S$400,000 (or S$100,000 a year).

No specific obligation to pay for tertiary education

The son’s suit relied on a provision in the Women’s Charter requiring for parents to provide reasonable maintenance for their children.

However, Justice Choo said there is no specific obligation on the parent to pay for the tertiary education of the child under the law.

“Maintenance, as we know, does not mean maintaining fully or of an unreasonable amount. To say that a parent has a duty to maintain a child is not the same as saying he must pay for all the expenses of the child’s education,” he said.

“When the education is basic such as that required for the GCE A-Levels, the courts would be more generous to the child, but in those cases... the child is usually a minor. In the present case, the respondent is an adult. He made this application after he had attained the age of 21.”

Justice Choo also noted that the mother had divorced the father when the son was only eight. She had custody, care and control of him, and both parents had agreed that the father would not pay any maintenance for the son.

He added, “This case is an example for everyone concerned in family disputes, to encourage both parents to have access and bonding with their children. If the respondent, at eight years old, had maintained a strong bond with the appellant, this matter would probably not have reached this court.

“I am not here apportioning blame but stating what I believed to be a truism that a parent who has a bond with his or her child would very unlikely appear in court in opposition to each other.”

Due to the earlier Family Court ruling, the father had made partial payment of $3,000 to the son. Justice Choo said he would not order the money to be repaid, “so that both father and son can henceforth go their own ways without further ado”.

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Son gets court order for father to pay 60% of overseas tertiary education