Halls have become home, Freshers Week has come to an end and now it's time for the hard work to start. Another cohort of young people has started its university journey.

No one is escaping the current cost of living crisis, including the student population. A staggering number of students are expressing concern about making ends meet. Attending university is an expensive business – accommodation, groceries, books, memberships of gyms, clubs and societies and socialising. It all adds up.

While most students will pick up some part-time work to bolster their finances, that income, together with any student loans, can still fall short of meeting their necessary living costs. Some will then turn to the trusty 'Bank of Parents', but do parents have an obligation to help out or is it just based on goodwill?

In Scotland, there is a statutory obligation on parents to support their child financially between the ages of 18 and 25 if they are "reasonably and appropriately undergoing instruction at an educational establishment, or training for employment or for a trade, profession or vocation". This is known as aliment.

How is aliment calculated?

The amount payable depends on a number of factors, including:

- the needs and resources of the young person;

- the needs and resources of their parents;

- attempts made by the young person to obtain part-time work;

- whether the young person will remain living at home with one or both parents;

- generally, all circumstances of the case as every family is different.

How is aliment paid?

Whereas child maintenance is paid by the 'paying parent' (the 'contact' parent) to the 'receiving parent' (the 'resident' parent), maintenance for children over the age of 18 is paid to them directly. There is a shift in the paying relationship and instead of it being payable between parents, it goes from parent to young person.

How is aliment regulated?

Financial support for children under the age of 18 is regulated by the Child Maintenance Service. They have a helpful calculator which can be found here. The court, however, retains jurisdiction for resolving disputes about maintenance for young adults aged 18-25.

Can amounts be varied?

In the event a figure is agreed – whether by way of private negotiation or by order of the court – it can be varied if either the young person or either parent suffer a "material change in circumstances". This could include:

- loss of job;

- ill health; or

- a substantial increase in monthly outgoings.

Any such change would require to be vouched (proven with documentation, bank statements etc) and a new figure agreed.

It would be sensible to document any such arrangement in writing, by way of a Minute of Agreement. Once signed by the parties, the Agreement would be legally binding. It can include additional clauses such as confirmation of the date on which the payment is made each month, yearly increases to match CPI (consumer price index) and that interest will accrue on any late payments.

It can be a tricky point to navigate, bearing in mind the excitement of starting university balanced with the desire to keep family relations sweet. It is hoped that the majority of families will agree any financial support in advance but in a small number of cases, that isn't possible. For those families, the matter can be put before a Sheriff for determination but that should be a last resort.

If agreement cannot be reached round the kitchen table, consideration should be given to attending mediation. Mediation provides a confidential forum in which discussions can take place in front of a neutral third party, being an accredited lawyer mediator or a non-lawyer mediator. Further info about CALM, Comprehensive Accredited Lawyer Mediators can be found here.

Should you – as a parent or young person – find yourself needing advice about this particular matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team.


Kate Bradbury