THE BLOG

Matriculation, Mothers and Maintenance

15/08/2013 12:51 BST | Updated 14/10/2013 10:12 BST

The publication of the 'A'-level results is a significant moment for many young people. For some, it marks the transition between ending their secondary school careers and going on to university.

More than the prospect of securing results which enable them to embark on courses with the potential to shape the rest of their working lives, there is a deeper symbolism too.

For those fortunate enough to enter higher education, university is regarded as the start of adulthood and sees many teenagers having relatively independent lives away from home for the first time.

In the last 15 years, that degree of independence has come not only with a price attached but some parental apron strings remaining in place too.

Since the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, students have no longer been able to rely on local authority or Government grants to pay their way through term-time. Most, it seems have needed to rely on loans or support from the Bank of Mum and Dad.

The cost of helping children to achieve their educational ambitions is arguably most acutely felt by single mothers, especially those who were not married when their relationships ended and so are not entitled to receive spousal maintenance.

The decision by more than half of Britain's universities to implement increases in the tuition fees which they charge from the start of the next scholastic year, coupled with figures from the Department for Education showing that 48 per cent of pupils go to university, may arguably mean that the burden is more onerous this year than ever before.

Having to assist sons and daughters meet the costs of courses, books, accommodation, clothing and food is behind the rise in enquiries seen by myself and my colleagues in Pannone's Family department made by mothers eager to find out if they can secure an extension in child maintenance from their former partners.

Under normal circumstances, maintenance finishes when a child leaves secondary education. Courts do, though, have powers to extend it to the end of his or her university degree or vocational training course.

Regardless of whether student loans are available, if it can be shown that a child has genuine financial needs and the non-resident parent can afford to pay, courts can order that maintenance continues.

Of course, obtaining the additional support also has a price attached. It requires a formal application to a court, something which has so far been relatively uncommon. The costs of applying seem to have proved something of a deterrent.

The pressure on cash and the desire to help their children is nevertheless compelling more mothers to actively consider such action.

In some cases, children can themselves apply to court for an order that a parent pays them directly for the costs incurred in attending university although, again, such a course of action is somewhat unusual.

In my experience, both parents want the best for their children and will do what they can to contribute to the escalating costs of life and learning away from home, regardless of the state of their own relationship.

As students prepare to pack their cases and head off to campus, it will be interesting to observe whether the pattern which we have seen in recent months - of using the law to generate support - continues to increase as mothers seek more maintenance to help their children by degrees.