Do parents have to provide financial support for their children through University?

Do parents have to provide financial support for their children through University? 

Has your son or daughter just secured a place at University? You should know your financial obligations to maintain them.

For the majority of parents, it is a proud moment when your child gets accepted into college or university. Understandably, many parents worry about how they can financially support that child into adulthood but most will willingly contribute what they can.

However, in some circumstances, a parent will refuse to financially support their child during adulthood. This is perhaps more common when the parents have separated.

What many parents in Scotland may not realise is that the parental obligation to financially maintain a child (known as aliment) continues until the child reaches the age of 25, if that child is “reasonably and appropriately undergoing instruction at an educational establishment, or training for employment or a trade, profession or vocation”.

In addition to the biological mother and father of the child being obliged to financially support the child, a person who has accepted the child as a “child of his or her family” is also obliged.

This does mean that a step-parent or partner of the biological parent could have to maintain a child who is not biologically theirs.  In considering whether or not a child has been accepted as a child of the family a Court would look at the individual circumstances of that particular case and evidence will often have to be given by the parties involved.

If a parent refuses to maintain their child, where he or she has left home to pursue their education, trade, profession or vocation, that child can under the Family Law (Scotland) Act 1985 raise a Court action asking for financial support. The Court will then look at the needs of all of the parties.  If the child’s existing income is already sufficient to meet all of their needs, then a claim is unlikely to be successful. However, in our experience it would be unusual for such an action to be considered by a child if there was not a real economic need.

In considering what a reasonable financial need is, it would be normal for a Court to examine the child’s current income and outgoings and whether or not the educational course, training, trade, profession or vocation would allow them to seek an additional income through work, for example a part time job. A Court would not expect a child to live on the breadline, but instead be provided for to a reasonable standard of living.

The parents’ resources are also usually taken into consideration in such cases. If the child’s reasonable financial needs can be met by the parent, without depriving that parent, or others that parent is obliged to support, a claim is likely to be successful.

One of the few defences to a claim for financial support is by offering to allow that child to live with you in your household and be maintained as part of your family; however this would not be appropriate in many cases, particularly if the child is required to move away from home to attend college or university. The offer made by the parent would also have to be considered by the Court reasonable for child to accept.    If the child and parent were estranged, then it is unlikely that could ever be considered reasonable.

If you would like further advice in relation to your obligation to maintain a child or your parents’ obligation to financially support you, you can contact a member of our award-winning Family Law Team on 01463 239393 or by email at

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