Funding your child’s further education

As many adult children are starting or returning to university, many parents are considering their financial obligations towards their adult…

As the new academic year starts and many adult children are starting or returning to university, many parents are considering their financial obligations towards their adult children.

For both married and unmarried parents who have separated, and disagree on financial matters, the court has residual powers to make financial orders for the benefit of children. Such orders usually provide for this financial provision to end at the later of the child reaching 18 years of age or leaving school.

However, there is still a continuing obligation to support a child who goes into further education.

The law provides for an entitlement to ongoing maintenance provided that the adult child is in further education or vocational training, or would be if financially supported. It also provides for those cases where a child is, for example, disabled and will remain dependent, potentially for life. As with all maintenance orders, the solution often boils down to the needs of one party and the ability to pay of the other. The premise seems to be if a parent can afford to contribute ordinarily they should.

Under Schedule 1 Children Act 1989 an adult child (ie a child who has reached the age of 18, and is in education, or will be), can apply to the court for financial support in his/her own right from one or both parents (provided the parents are not living together), but only if there was no child maintenance order in force with respect to him/her immediately before their 16th birthday.

If there was a previous order, the adult child could apply to the court which made the child maintenance order, for an order for its revival but this remedy will only be available during the lifetime of the other parent with whom the child lived. 

Accordingly, if a child maintenance order had been made in favour of the child immediately before their 16th birthday but the other parent has died, the adult child would find himself in the unenviable position of having no redress for financial assistance.

On the other hand, had no child maintenance order existed with respect to him/her previously, in that situation, even if a parent had passed away, the adult child would have redress for financial provision by way of an application under Schedule 1.

Careful consideration must be given to the consequences of including a periodical payments order for the benefit of a child if one is to ensure a child’s future recourse to financial provision is to be protected. Independent legal advice will provide a separating parent with the pros and cons of the different ways to approach this issue.

Weightmans LLP is a top 45 national law firm.

Tania Derrett-Smith is an Associate Solicitor in the family law team

Tania.Derrett-Smith@weightmans.com

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