As university terms start, many parents are thinking about financial support for children heading into higher education. Although the statutory child maintenance scheme stops when children finish A-Levels or equivalent, many separated parents will continue to provide financial support for children beyond this point. 

When parents separate, often the focus of discussions is immediate financial concerns, such as housing and living expenses. Particularly when children are young at the point of separation, financial provision during university may be overlooked. 

But it is advisable for separating parents to discuss financial support for children aged 18 and over as part of overall discussions about finances. Some issues to consider are: 

  • should financial support still be paid to a parent or direct to a child?
  • one parent may have higher costs for housing a child during the university holidays. Will that parent continue to receive some maintenance (sometimes referred to as a ‘roofing allowance’)? 
  • would setting aside a capital sum for university costs and living expenses now, or even setting up a trust fund, be affordable and preferable, rather than paying child maintenance for longer? 
  • what about housing needs for children aged 18 or over? If a property will be sold once it is no longer required for the children, should that be after university? 

If separated parents cannot agree about financial support for children aged 18 or over, a court can decide about paying ongoing maintenance and/or capital provision. A court can make an order dealing with financial support for a child aged 18 or over who is continuing in education or training, or if there are special circumstances such as a disability, which justify ongoing financial support from a parent. When considering an application, a court will take into account relevant factors, including: 

  • financial resources and needs of the child and parents
  • any physical or mental disability of the child
  • the manner in which the child was being, or was expected to be, educated or trained

A parent can make an application for financial support until the child turns 18. The child can make an application themselves after this point.  

However, it is important to be aware that if there is a court order for child maintenance in place when a child turns 16, then that child will not be able to make an application to court for financial support at a later stage. So for example, if child maintenance is payable until the end of secondary education, a parent must make an application for financial provision to continue while a child is at university before that child reaches the age of 18. 

So as children get older, it is important to consider whether the right financial support is in place for when university starts, before it is too late to make an application to court if necessary.