Do I still have to pay child maintenance when my child attends university?

Lots of parents don’t know what level of financial contribution they are required to make (if any) when their children start university, and it’s something that isn’t talked about often. What if one parent wants to continue financial support and the other doesn’t? Here, Frances Bentley explains the requirements for separated parents to pay maintenance throughout their child’s academic career.

Child maintenance (as dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service), is payable until a child is age 16 or up to age 20 if they are in full time secondary education (college education). So, if a child finishes their A-levels/college education at age 18, the paying parent only needs to pay child maintenance until they finish, because university education does not fall under the umbrella of secondary education. So, there is no requirement to continue paying child maintenance beyond that time and when a child goes to university.

Lots of parents will decide to provide their children with a level of voluntary financial support whilst at university, but if one parents states they simply are not going to, the other parent may query whether there is a legal route for them to force contributions to their child’s ongoing educational costs.

If you are in this situation what should you do?

This is something that should be thought about by parents early on because the court’s powers are more limited once the age of 18 is reached.  Before considering any potential legal route, parents should keep lines of communication open, to discuss their concerns and the level of financial contribution that might be required.

There will need to be an exercise whereby you calculate what the child’s income vs expenditure will be. For example, are they going to receive grants, loans, or have any income from employment? What will their expenses be, so accommodation costs, bills, books, living expenses? The reason this is important is so that you can calculate what level of shortfall there is and what you need the other parent to pay. This is also what the court would do if a legal route was later pursued.

If there is no progress, then mediation could be a good option to talk through the issues with the other parent – a mediator is a trained professional who will allow you both to have your say and the aim would be to reach a financial agreement that way.

If an agreement cannot be reached, is there a legal remedy that a parent can pursue, once child maintenance has ceased and if the child needs ongoing financial support?

It is possible for a parent to make a court application under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 for periodical payments (financial support) or for a lump sum for a child. However, the court only has powers to make orders until the child is 18, and if the children is over 18, they are required to make the application themselves.

For an application to be pursued, the child must be in “full time” education, or undergoing training, or there would need to be special circumstances (for example the child involved has a disability or vulnerability which means they cannot be financially independent).

When determining a schedule 1 application, the court would look at “all of the circumstances of the case” including:

  • the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each person has or is likely to have in the future;
  • the financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each person has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
  • The financial needs of the child;
  • The income, earning capacity (if any), property and other financial resources of the child;
  • Any physical or mental disability of the child;
  • The manner in which the child was being, or was expected to be educated or trained.

It is always important to seek early advice if you are wanting to know your options about making a court application. Our specialist team of family lawyers can advise you in respect of your options, prospects of success, whether an application should be made my you or your child directly (taking into account the court’s powers and the children’s age) and undertake a costs v benefits analysis of making any court application on your behalf.

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