There is no question that raising a child is expensive, a cost that is more of a strain on the finances of a single parent. Whilst the Child Maintenance Service can enforce payments towards the support of minor children, its remit and the liability of a non-resident parent to provide financial assistance does not extend past a child’s 18th birthday.
Whether or not they have kids, the majority of people accept that children do not become financially independent upon reaching 18. The effect of this can be even more pronounced where the child or children have a disability. This can impair the path to independence whilst also requiring more demands on the parent’s time, in turn impacting on their ability to work.
What power does the court have to order that a parent provide ongoing financial support to a child over the age of 18 owing to disability.
Schedule 1 Children Act 1989 (‘Schedule 1’) provides the court with limited powers to make financial orders against a parent, or both parents, to pay a lump sum or ongoing periodical payments for the benefit of a child aged over 18. There are two grounds under which an application can be made, to include ‘special circumstances’ as a result of a child’s disability.
This ground, although lacking definition or clarity, provides a much needed route for a parent to seek financial assistance from their child’s non-resident parent in circumstances where they are likely to continuing being responsible for their full-time care for the rest of their life. The child can also bring the application themselves, however a disability of the degree necessary for a successful claim is likely to mean their parent will act in this capacity in their place. Think of cases where a child has Asperger’s Syndrome and needs assistance to run their day from start to finish, or a child who has a heart or respiratory condition and struggles to breathe without the support of a machine. In these cases a parent will often need additional paid-for specialist support; to pay for the maintenance and servicing of machinery; and to provide their child with constant care. These tasks are not only expensive, but are likely to substantially or permanently restrict that parent’s ability to find employment themselves.
It is in these cases where a claim under Schedule 1 is likely to have merit.
The court will want to understand the extent of the disparity between the outgoings relating to the child’s care as against the income of the parent caring for them – this would include any disability benefits or other income of the child themselves. Both parents will need to disclose details of their finances (assets and income) so the court has the information necessary to assist in the assessment of the claim and what it may be reasonable to order.
A claim under Schedule 1 is not simple and an unmeritorious application is likely to result in the court making a costs order against you. It is therefore vital to seek independent legal advice at an early stage so the merits of an application under Schedule 1 can be considered.
Whilst the Act itself provides little guidance to a party wishing to make a claim, it opens a door for parents who are struggling to financially care for and support their disabled adult children. Schedule 1 goes someway towards imposing on ongoing duty on parents to support adult children in circumstances where they are unable to move independently into adulthood.