The recent furore over student fees reminds me that it is important to ensure that any agreement for child maintenance should be clear as to when payments cease.
I recently acted in a case where an order had been made back in 1992 which provided for the children’s maintenance to cease when the youngest child “finished full-time education”. This led to a dispute as the youngest daughter of the family not only went from school to college, she then went on to university, dropped out of one course after two years and took up another course which was set to last four years.
Not surprisingly, her father was somewhat aggrieved when his ex-wife expected him to continue paying her substantial maintenance when the daughter was 23 years old and living away from home at university with her boyfriend, especially as the ex-wife had re-married and was being supported by her new husband. He had no problem with supporting his daughter but objected to paying child support payments to his ex-wife.
The difficulty in that case was how to define “full-time education”. At the time that order was made neither parent foresaw the explosion in university education and the father fully expected maintenance payments to his ex-wife to cease when his youngest child left school. Unfortunately the order did not make that clear and a very expensive legal battle ensued.
If the recommendations are adopted that will lead to hugely increased costs of going to university, many students will be leaving university with debts of over £30,000. Most parents will want to help their children as far as possible and the more they can support their children financially at university, the more they will be able to mitigate that debt.
It is essential therefore that divorcing parents should make sure that any provision for child support in their financial settlement is crystal clear to avoid disputes when the children leave school and have to take decisions about whether to go to university. Consideration should be given to when the paying parent should cease giving child support to the payee parent and start supporting the student offspring directly.
The parent receiving the child support has to bear in mind that her income may go down at that point although she may well feel obliged to continue offering a base home for the student during the vacations. The student offspring might be legally independent but not all of them find well-paid jobs as soon as they leave university.