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Funding Freshers – who pays for an older child’s university tuition fees on divorce?

Last Thursday, thousands of people up and down the country found out whether they had done enough to get into their university of choice. After a long, hard slog involving many sacrificed weekends and evenings, Freshers’ Week will no doubt provide some much needed light relief before it’s time to do it all over again over the next three to four years.

English universities can charge a maximum of £9,250 per year for an undergraduate degree, and many people will worry about the extent to which they will be saddled with student debt well into adulthood. For parents going through a divorce, who are all of a sudden having to split the household finances into two, many may be asking whose responsibility it is to pay for an older child’s further education (sometimes referred to as tertiary education).

Under the CMS rules, child maintenance usually stops when the child reaches 16 (or 20 if they’re in full-time education up to A-level or equivalent). Payments made in accordance with the CMS rules therefore will not cover the period when an older child is in tertiary education.

Many parents are able to compromise on provision for their child’s tuition fees as part of the overall financial negotiation within divorce proceedings. When determining how long one parent should pay maintenance provision for older children, the most common “trigger” point for payments to end is once a child has turned 18 or finished secondary school. It is possible to specify that the payments shall end on whichever is the later, but this still would not cover the period when an older child is in tertiary education.

Parents can and do sometimes agree for maintenance provision to be made for tertiary education, but this is less common and not always an affordable option for the paying parent. Any agreement made on this basis tends to specify that payments shall end after the first degree course (i.e. payments will not extent to post-graduate degrees, such as Masters) and shall be made directly to the older child to go towards payment of tuition fees and/or living expenses while they are living away from home.

Parents and their adult children should consider all of the options available to them in terms of financial assistance, such as student loans, bursaries or scholarships. Parents should also consider the extent to which their adult child should be expected to contribute towards their tertiary education. For example, many students choose to live at home or juggle their studies with part-time work to ease the financial burden of tertiary education.

Negotiations for financial settlement on divorce and issues relating to maintenance can be complex and you should seek the advice of a specialist family law solicitor. We at Rayden Solicitors recognise that no two families are the same and will guide you through the process to help you reach a financial settlement that is right for you and your family. If you would like to speak to me or one of our other family law specialists, please contact us.

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