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Brampton mom says Family Law Act discriminates against disabled adult son

Last Updated Mar 23, 2017 at 7:13 pm EDT

A Brampton mother is fighting to change Ontario’s Family Law Act, claiming it discriminates against adult children with disabilities.

Robyn Coates said the current system in this province has failed to help her get the child support she needs to look after her 22-year-old son.

Joshua was born with DiGeorge syndrome, a disorder which causes heart defects, poor immune system function, delayed development, and behavioural and emotional problems.

Coates said Joshua will require care for the rest of his life and she needs the money to continue to pay for his programs and activities. Day programs can run anywhere from $300 to over $1,400 a month.

“(The Ontario Disability Support Program) is designed to pay for shelter and clothing — the necessities — but it doesn’t pay for things like day programs,” she explained.

“From a young age, I’ve wanted to have him included in society. I’ve wanted him to participate in programs … to have a good, decent quality of life.”

In November, Coates began a legal battle against her son’s biological father, Wayne Watson, to have him continue paying child support.

Coates and Watson were never married and according to the Family Law Act and his child support obligations ended when Joshua turned 21, since his son is not in school full-time.

Coates said Joshua’s inability to pursue higher learning shouldn’t disqualify him from receiving the support.

It’s a fight she’s taking all the way to the province.

“The way Section 31 of the Family Law Act (reads) … as a child of unmarried parents, he’s required to be enrolled in a full-time program of education, but because of Joshua’s disabilities, it’s impossible for him to comply with that requirement,” the family’s lawyer Andrew Sudano explained.

“While it doesn’t appear on its face to be discriminatory, the effect to Joshua is discriminatory.”

Currently, adult children with disabilities are eligible for child support in every province except Ontario and Alberta, regardless of their parents’ marital status.

“If you went to other provinces, their support legislation, provincially, is the same as the federal law,” explained Robert Shawyer, the Coates’s other lawyer. “So, in fact, the only two provinces left that discriminate against people with disabilities … is Ontario and Alberta.”

In November, Watson told the Toronto Star that Joshua had been receiving disability support since turning 18, as well as provincial developmental services funding, and he felt that showed the province was taking over support.

Watson, who is married and has two other children, claims he simply can’t afford to keep paying child support for Joshua. He hasn’t his son — the result of a one-night stand — since the boy was six.

Coates heads to court on Friday.

Her legal counsel said a win in the case won’t just be a win for Coates and Joshua, but also for thousands of other families dealing with this legal issue.

“The impact we’re hoping it will have, is that it’s going to convince the government — specifically the Ministry of the Attorney General — to go ahead and change the law,” Shawyer explained.

The proceedings are scheduled for one day but counsel doesn’t expect a decision for some time.