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Family Law

A separated parents guide – Who pays for my child’s university education?

Friday, September 23, 2022

The beginning of a new University year brings with it a financial burden for many separated parents – particularly so this year with the cost of living crisis.  A question I am frequently asked is who pays for my child’s university education?

Does child maintenance stop once a child finishes their A-Levels?

A typical end point for the payment of child maintenance is when a child attains the age of 18 or when a child completes their secondary education i.e. A-levels.

For the purposes of the Child Maintenance Service (formally Child Support Agency) child maintenance, paid to one parent by the other for the benefit of the child, will cease when a child reaches the age of 16.

If the child remains in secondary education i.e A-levels or equivalent, then maintenance will be payable until the child completes its secondary education or reaches the age of 20, whichever is sooner.

So if a child is at University they will not qualify for child maintenance via the Child Maintenance Service.

Do Parents have to provide financial support to their child when they are at University?

If a child is at university a parent will not be required to pay maintenance to the other parent via the Child Maintenance Service.

It is, however, a common misconception that financial support for a child ends, without exception, following the completion of A-levels. See below.

What if the other parent refuses to contribute to the costs of University?

In certain circumstances a parent can make an application to the court for the other parent to provide financial support for the child whilst at University.

Any application MUST be made before the child reaches the age of 18.

Can a child force its parents to financially support them whilst at University?

It is possible, in certain circumstances, for a child to make an application for financial support from their parents. This may be necessary if they are not eligible for student loan funding or for those facing a shortfall, despite funding.

  • The child must have reached the age of 18 years
  • The child must be in education or intend to be in education
  • The child’s parents, whilst they do not need to be divorced, must not be living together
  • The application can be made against both parents or either parent including step-parents
  • It is possible to apply for a lump sum or maintenance to cover tuition fees, accommodation costs and living expenses.

What if there is an existing Order in force?

An adult child is prohibited from bringing an application, if immediately before their 16th birthday, there was an existing Court Order in place for the payment of maintenance.

If the Order provides that maintenance shall cease upon the child completing its secondary education i.e. A-levels but the child intends to progress to University the child is banned from bringing an application for financial support against a parent.

Although the child cannot apply, the child’s parent can apply BUT any application by the parent crucially MUST be made before the child reaches the age of 18.

What does the Court take into account in making an Order?

The Court must have regard to “all the circumstances of the case” including:

(a) the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each person has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;

(b) the financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each person has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;

(c) the financial needs of the child;

(d) the income, earning capacity (if any), property and other financial resources of the child;

(e) any physical or mental disability of the child;

(f) the manner in which the child was being, or was expected to be, educated or trained.

Careful consideration needs to be given as to whether to make an application, the timing of the application and whether the parent or the child should make the application. It is vital that you and or your child take early legal advice before making any application to better understand the chances of success and proportionality.

There is sometimes a reluctance to pursue such applications where resources are limited, because of the risk of costs; you could be ordered to pay the other party’s costs in particular circumstances. This is at least one reason why specialist advice should always be sought at the outset of your separation.

To speak to one of our specialist solicitors about your own circumstances, please contact us today by calling 0191 2328451 or if you prefer, you can email in the strictest of confidence.

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