Will Covid Result in Longer Child Maintenance Orders?
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 there was an increase in students deferring their places at university due to start in the autumn of 2020. The number of deferrals was increased from 5.6% in 2019 to 6.3% in 2020. A question that has been posed by separated parents over the last year, has been whether they will need to pay maintenance for their children for longer due to the unexpected gap year their child has decided to take.
The child maintenance service (CMS) only has the power to assess child maintenance when a child is under 16 or between 16 and 20 and meets certain criteria which includes between in full time, non-advanced education at school or college. The CMS would therefore not be able to assess child maintenance for a child during a gap year.
The court can make child maintenance orders (also known as periodical payments orders) in limited circumstances. However, the order cannot extend beyond a child’s 17th birthday, unless the court thinks it is right in the circumstances. If so, the order cannot extend beyond a child’s 18th birthday unless the child is, or will be, in training or education or there are special circumstances (for example, the child has a disability). Although a gap year is unlikely to come within the education exception, it could fall within the special circumstance category, but it would be dependent on the facts of each case. If an order is already in place, legal advice should be sought on the interpretation of the drafting of the order to determine whether it captures a gap year or not.
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