This month, thousands of students across the country will be either heading back to university, or matriculating for the very first time.
While it’s an important rite of passage for many youngsters, often parents can find the cost of higher or further education particularly daunting.
Even though students from Scotland don’t have to pay tuition fees to study at the country’s universities, there remains a considerable outlay associated with higher education, from paying for somewhere to live, as well as books, equipment and other general expenses.
And this amount can be overwhelming for many parents, but is perhaps even more so for those who are now separated or divorced.
Generally, following separation, one parent will have full time care of the children. They are what we legally refer to as ‘the resident parent.’
The other — the non-resident parent — will see their children at agreed times on a rotation, or by agreement, and will usually have an arrangement with the resident parent to pay maintenance each month.
The resident parent will most likely rely on that money to subsidise their own income and ensure the children have a roof over their heads and plenty to eat; however, there can be confusion as to when the maintenance obligation ends.
What happens, for example, if one of the children decides to go to university or college after secondary school?
Many parents are aware child maintenance (or support) is usually paid until the child reaches the age of 18, if they’re still at school.
There are some circumstances where support goes beyond that and up to the age of 20, but in Scotland most children have left school by then.
And the situation changes if and when a child decides to go to university: a move that ultimately may leave the resident parent significantly out of pocket.
If that’s you, it boils down to this: the maintenance money you previously received may now be paid directly to the child, the student, and is now called aliment.
And aliment is an obligation for both parents.
Specifically, both parents are liable to pay, according to their means, and the child’s needs, between the ages of 18 and 25 if they are ‘reasonably undertaking instruction at an educational establishment, or training for employment or for a trade, profession or vocation.’
As a parent, you’ll need to talk through aliment with your child, and agree a rate that subsidises their income to help them through university or college.
Your monthly payments may change from what they were before, but they won’t end until your child finishes their studies, or (if they’re enrolled on a long course) until they reach the age of 25.
Some parents may think they don’t need to pay any aliment at all, but that approach comes with a health warning.
A child who feels they’re not getting the appropriate financial support from their parents can instruct a solicitor to take one, or both, parents to court!
This is more likely to happen if parents are no longer together, and perhaps if only one parent is helping the student with the cost of their education.
For resident parents, things can be particularly difficult if the non-resident parent doesn’t pay.
You can imagine the scale of the impact on their income if maintenance payments stop shortly after their child’s 18th birthday, when they likely have to pay aliment themselves as well as subsidising the cost of, for example, halls of residence.
In short, it can be expensive if children decide to study at college or university, and where there is an obligation to pay aliment, it’s helpful to get the right legal advice at an early stage.
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