Can a child apply for financial support in their own right?

Do the family courts have jurisdiction to grant a financial order on the application of a child against their parents? The short answer is yes, but only in limited circumstances. Here Aaron Williams explains how in one particular case, a child was able to make such an application.

In the novel case of FS v RS and JS [2020] EWFC  63, ‘children’ were able to make such an application. The circumstances in that case concerned an adult ‘child’. The applicant (aged 41) was a university graduate and qualified solicitor, however, due to his mental health hadn’t worked since 2011. The applicant was at the time of his application in further education in London. The applicant’s parents historically provided him with financial assistance by letting him reside in their London property with all outgoings paid for; these circumstances changed however when the applicant’s relationship with his parents deteriorated, and their financial assistance was reduced.

The applicant applied to the court claiming that his parents had ‘nurtured his dependency’ on them financially, and that their removal of financial aid would leave him poor and destitute. His application to the court was threefold, namely under; a) Section 27 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, b) Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, and c) the Court’s power to protect vulnerable adults who have the mental capacity ‘to make their own decision (under its inherent jurisdiction).

The court ultimately determined that it did not have jurisdiction to make an order for financial support in the circumstances of this case; but in its determination considered the circumstances such an application could be brought by a child.

Section 27 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973

Section 27 of the Matrimonial Causes Act enables the court to make financial provisions where one spouse has been neglecting to maintain the other spouse or a ‘child’ of the family. In this circumstance a child of 16 or older may make an application to the court, but only where one of their parents has previously applied (against the other parent) for a periodical payments order in the child’s favour.

Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989

Under Schedule 1 children who are over the age of 18 can make an application against their parent, provided: –

  1. The child is, or will be going on to higher education, undergoing training for a trade, profession or vocation; or
  2. There are special circumstances that justify the order.

The court found against the applicant on the issue of higher education, as the judge found that ‘conventional wisdom and practice would suggest that these provisions were never intended to be used and cannot be used to fund the education of a perpetual student’.

Special circumstances’ are not defined and are ultimately the discretion of the court but there are several cases which provide examples of what may consider ‘special’.

  • T v S [1994]: a physical or cognitive disability.
  • C v F [1998]: where a child was severely disabled and would be dependent on another person for their whole life.

In short, the courts generally consider that a parent’s financial obligation to their child ceases at 18 years of age, and that the child will usually no longer be dependant when they finish their education. It is only in one of the limited circumstances detailed above that an adult child can make an application against their parent for financial provision.

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