Now don't all rush at once: Student's court victory won't help those whose parents are still together

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The Independent Online
A STUDENT has obtained a court order forcing her father to pay maintenance of pounds 140 a month so that she can continue her education.

But, before parents hastily tear up this article for fear that their student offspring will rush round to the nearest solicitor to try to wheedle more money out of them, there is a crumb of comfort.

If you stay married your offspring cannot get their hands on your money. Students cannot take advantage of this decision while their parents are living together in the same household.

Eighteen-year-old Fiona Gordon applied to the court last year under the provisions of the Children Act. Her parents are divorced and there was already a maintenance order for payments to be made to her by her father. It was due to expire when she reached the age of 18. She applied to get the order varied so that she could continue her studies.

Beverley Ryall, a solicitor in Chichester, West Sussex, acts for Fiona. She says: 'For the first time children over 16 can apply for maintenance in their own right.'

Fiona won the case. Her father has to pay her pounds 140 a month until she completes full-time education.

Many students in one-parent familes might benefit by trying to bring parallel cases as long as they are studying or training - even if they have a job at the same time.

If there has never been a maintenance order, the over-18s can make an application in their own right under the Children Act without it being a part of divorce or matrimonial proceedings between the parents. While they are under 18 there is nothing they can do themselves, but a parent can apply on their behalf.

The new Child Support Agency has jurisdiction to pursue applications for children's maintenance. But it is not likely to get its act together until 1997, except in cases where the parent who cares for the child is on income support.

Meanwhile, Mrs Ryall says there is plenty of scope for students to pursue their own cases. The court will look at the needs and resources of all the parties concerned.

A parent's contribution to the cost of education is more important than ever. Student grants are frozen. Many parents are meant to contribute to the grant but a growing number do not. Students have to resort to the government loan scheme or bank overdrafts.

Meanwhile, Pauline Walker, a matrimonial solicitor with the legal firm Manches, has some timely advice for all young people whose parents' marriages might not be as rock-solid as they would hope.

She says: 'Maintenance orders for children should be drafted so that money is paid until they reach the age of 17 or finish in full-time education, whichever is the later. Then this type of problem should not arise.'

(Photograph omitted)

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