Bishop & Sewell

Sending your child on to a Further Education College or university is a significant financial commitment, writes David Hodgson, a Partner in our Family & Divorce team.

The cost of living rises year on year and as well as tuition fees, students need to budget for rent, books and study materials, food, socialising and travel amongst many other things. Some of this may be covered by a student loan that your child repays in the future. However, it is rare that the loan will be enough, and parents may be concerned about their child taking on a large debt at age 18 and want to consider other funding options.

Statutory child maintenance scheme stops when children finish A-Levels or equivalent, but often separated parents will continue to provide financial support for children beyond this point.

When parents do separate, the focus of discussions is often on expenditure such as such as accommodation and living expenses.

If you are a single parent, these worries can be overwhelming if you feel that you are expected to foot your child’s entire university bill yourself. If you are in this situation, you should consider whether your former spouse or partner could contribute.

Problems arise if he or she does not agree to this. Most issues of child maintenance are dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service. But if you approach the CMS, you will be told that they can only help you up until your child’s 19th birthday (provided he or she is in full-time education, otherwise it is 16). The assumption therefore is that the non-resident parent’s obligation to financially support his child ends at that point.

What many people do not realise is that the court can make orders for child maintenance in instances where the CMS cannot do so. An example of this is the power to order periodical maintenance payments for the benefit of a child who is undergoing education or training. These payments can continue beyond the child’s 18th birthday to provide maintenance during a higher education course.

It is also possible for a court to order the payment of a lump sum for the benefit of a child. Each case will turn on its own facts and the issues that the court will consider include the child’s financial needs, the non-resident parent’s ability to make payments and the manner in which the child is expected to be educated or trained.

Issues to consider are should financial support still be paid to a parent or direct to the child? One parent may have higher costs for housing a child during the university holidays. Will that parent continue to receive some maintenance – also known as a ‘roofing allowance?’

A parent with whom a child resides can make an application for a financial order, regardless of whether they were married to the other parent. Even though the court can order the maintenance to last until the end of tertiary education, the application must be made before the child turns 18.

These issues often raise their head when parents are getting divorced and future financial needs and obligations are considered. It may be that if you are getting divorced and your children are young that the issue of university education seems a long way off and it seems more relevant to focus on immediate needs. However, to avoid the need to make another application to court in the future, you should raise the issue so that suitable provision can be made.

It is also possible in limited circumstances for a child to bring an application themselves for maintenance from a parent, even if they have reached the age of 18. This only applies in cases where the child’s parents are separated and only where there was not a maintenance order in force immediately prior to their 16th birthday. However, some maintenance orders which have ceased to have an effect before the child reaches the age of 18, can be revived by a child.

Therefore, if you have a Maintenance Order that has expired, your adult child can only bring an application for revival in limited circumstances. The correct approach would have been to apply for an extension during the life of the order or to have made an application before the child reached the age of majority.

A parent can make an application for financial support until the child turns 18.  If child maintenance is payable until the end of secondary education, a parent must make an application for financial provision to continue whilst a child is at university before that child reaches the age of 18. The child can make an application themselves after this point, providing certain conditions are met.

If you are a separated or divorced parent, whatever the ages of your children, you should review current maintenance arrangements and potentially seek legal advice if you are unsure about things. Maintenance in tertiary education is a complex area, there are several pitfalls and specialist advice is essential. Given the costs involved, it really does pay to plan ahead.

Our Family lawyers have the knowledge and experience to guide you through these challenging times and have rankings in the Legal 500 for their expertise.

If you are affected by similar issues or would like to have a related discussion in confidence, please call me on 020 7091 2869 or email

The above is accurate as at 15 October 2021. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times

Category: Blog, News | Date: 15th Oct 2021

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