Surely I do not need to keep paying for you now you are an adult?

18/02/2019

Children are being encouraged to go on to further education with the fear that, if they don’t, they will be unemployable.  There’s a huge choice of courses to appeal to a huge variety of applicants, some of which many parents may not consider to be good value for money.  Students leaving high school can choose where to study and what to study, even in the face of disapproval from parents.  Further education costs a lot, whatever the course and whatever the prospects of good future employment.  The House of Lords have just approved plans to expand the availability of two year degrees at universities across England which is estimated to save students around £5000 compared to the equivalent three-year degree course. 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-47056120

Who pays?

So, whether two years, three years, four years or even more for some courses, who pays for those studies and everything that accompanies that such as a flat, food and pocket money?  You may well think that your obligations to house, feed and support your young adult comes to an end when they finish high school and can find employment themselves.  That is not correct.  The Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which is the successor of the Child Support Agency, generally stops dealing with child maintenance when the child reaches the age of 16 or leaves high school, whichever is later.  However, both parents retain an obligation to support children financially in terms of Section 1 of the Family Law (Scotland) Act 1985 until the age of 25 if the child is “reasonably and appropriately undergoing instruction at an educational establishment, or training for employment or for a trade, profession or vocation”.  This includes university or college.  Given the obligation extends to the age of 25, you could well find you are being asked to support your child through two degrees!

How can a child force a parent to contribute to their costs? 

Of course, for the majority of families, parents and children discuss the costs of further education and how that can be managed, agreeing a payment plan together. However, in separated or divorced families, these discussions become more difficult to be had and it is sometimes the parent with whom the child has not been living who is asked to bear the brunt of the costs.  Up until the child leaves secondary education and is under the jurisdiction of the Child Maintenance Service, only the parent with whom the child does not live requires to make any payment towards the child’s upbringing.  The parent with whom the child lives provides bed and board, generally.  However, both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially and once the child goes on to tertiary education, it may be the first time that both parents are asked to pay.  

If a parent refuses to meet the demands of their children, their children could raise a Court action seeking payment from them.  This is highly unusual, however, since most families are supportive of their children’s further education and will see the need for financial support. 

How much?

Unlike with the Child Maintenance Service, the amount payable isn’t calculated by some set formula.  The amount is based on the needs of the child, the resources of the parent(s), the earning capacities of all the parties and generally all the circumstances of the case. If a student’s loan, grant and income from a part-time job is sufficient to meet their reasonable needs then the parents will not be ordered to make further payment.   

Whether a child’s course is a reasonable course to be undertaken could surely be argued too, especially if it is the second, or even third, course the child is enrolled on.  This could raise some interesting questions. 

The factors the Court will take into account include the parent’s ability to pay, whether there is any other parent with an obligation to support the child, what the child’s reasonable needs are and what resources are available to them to meet those needs already such as grants, student loans or even part time employment.  It is fair to say that a student studying for a degree in medicine will have less time to pick up a part time job than a student who is studying a degree with fewer demands on their time.  So, a Court will have regard to how reasonable it is to expect a student to seek employment.  Similarly, a student whose “needs” include an allowance for partying or eating out in restaurants, may be found to have unreasonable needs.   

Where a child has two parents who could contribute to their university costs, the Court will look at the parents’ resources individually and the costs can be ordered to be split in unequal shares where that is reasonable and where the resources or earning capacity of the parents are different. 

What if a child refuses to live at home during their studies?

A parent offering their child a place to stay during their studies could have a defence to a claim but this will depend on the family circumstances (does the child require to share a room with younger siblings, or does the child not get on with the parents?) and the proximity of the home to the university.  Given a child can enrol at any university of their choice, on whatever course they choose, the family home could well be found to be entirely unsuitable for their needs. However, it is likely that a child going to university in their home town, or a nearby city, could not insist their parents pay for accommodation. 

Who is the money payable to?

The obligation is to the child themselves so parents are obliged pay the money directly to the child rather than the other parent.  If a child remains living at home during their tertiary education, then it is up to the parent with whom the child lives to ask the child for “digs” money or a contribution to the household where that is seen as fair. 

Does a two year degree help?

For the vast majority of families children go off to university with their parents’ blessings and sometimes their credit cards!  It is often in families where the parents are divorced, or separated, that problems arise.  Whether a two-year degree makes things any easier for families trying to manage the costs of several children all wanting to fly the nest and mature in their own ways, in their own flats and on their own terms, remains to be seen but certainly any attempt at reducing the extortionate amount of debt students are often coming out of university with can only be welcomed.