Recently a 41 year old unemployed Oxford graduate hit the headlines when he lost his English legal battle against his parents from whom he was claiming maintenance for life. The circumstances may appear outrageous to family lawyers in Scotland but are they so far-fetched? Could an adult child pursue such a claim through the Scottish Courts?

Many parents in Scotland or parents who have adult children living in Scotland are unsure about their legal duty to provide support. While the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) applies the same criteria across the UK to deal with child maintenance between separated parents for their growing children, there are stark differences north and south of the border when it comes to financial support for adult children.

Adult financial support in England

Before answering the question of whether an adult child could seek a court order for maintenance through the Scottish courts it is worth understanding what happened in this high profile and unusual case in England.

Faiz Siddiqui was the 41 year old who was pursuing his wealthy parents for lifelong financial support through the English courts. Having graduated from Oxford and qualified as a solicitor, he worked for various leading law firms and as a tax adviser before becoming unemployed in 2011. His parents had given him cash and allowed him to live in a luxury flat they owned in central London for 20 years. After a disagreement, however, Siddiqui's parents reduced their support. This prompted the court action by their son who claimed that he was completely financially dependent on his elderly parents.

The Court of Appeal judges dismissed Siddiqui's claim in a lengthy judgement, ruling that "whatever the moral position might be, parents should be under no legal duty to support their adult children, however grave their need".

Siddiqui's claim, however, was not dismissed because of his age, his status or because the claim was for lifelong support. The reason for the dismissal was ultimately because the legislation on which he sought to rely was not applicable given that his parents were married to each other and living together when he raised the court action.

In Scotland, although the majority of claims are likely to arise in broken families, there is nothing to prevent a claim by an adult child against his or her parents who remain together.

What is the position regarding financial support for an adult child in Scotland?

You may not be surprised to learn that Siddiqui's claim would not have succeeded in Scotland either but for very different reasons.

In Scotland there is a legal obligation on parents to provide support to their adult children whether or not those parents are separated from each other.

An adult child (who has left secondary education and is aged under 25) can make a claim for financial support against one or both of their parents if he or she is "reasonably and appropriately undergoing instruction at an educational establishment, or training for employment or for a trade, profession or vocation".

So, at 41 years of age Siddiqui would be too old to make a claim in Scotland. Even if he had been younger he would not have been entitled to seek lifelong support. Any claim would have fallen when he turned 25. He would also be ineligible to make a claim here on the basis that he was not studying or undertaking vocational training.

Maintenance for young students and apprentices

In my experience most young students or apprentices in Scotland who are not yet financially independent will resolve the matter of financial support with their parents directly before they commence their studies or training without the need for court intervention or even legal advice. . This is especially the case where the parents are still together and the family is close.

Where parents have separated

Where parents have separated it is relatively common for a child to have their main home with one parent while they are still at school. The parent with whom the child is living may have been receiving child maintenance from the other parent which is intended for the benefit of the child. In those circumstances the amount of child maintenance is often determined by reference to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), by using the online maintenance calculator or by agreement between the parents.

Where one parent has paid child maintenance to the other parent for their child the receiving parent may expect that they should continue to receive child maintenance for that child after leaving secondary school and beyond, particularly if that child is to continue living at home. The receiving parent has no entitlement to receive child maintenance, however, when the child commences tertiary education or vocational training regardless of whether they continue to live at home.

Child maintenance when the child leaves school

When the child leaves school if he or she is to enter tertiary education or commence vocational training the issue is no longer between the parents but rather between the parent or parents and the child. The CMS has no power to assess the amount payable or to collect payments on behalf of the child. There is no online calculator which can estimate the amount of support that would be payable.

Over the years I have often advised parents of such adult children in relation to financial support. There is no mathematical formula to establish how much, if anything, is payable. An adult child under 25 who is undertaking studies or vocational training may be able to demonstrate a "need" for financial support by collating documentation showing their actual or projected living expenses and details of their income. If there is a shortfall between those expenses and their income then that may tend to show a "need" for a particular amount. If the child can show a need for a particular level of support the question for the parent or parents is then whether that need is reasonable and whether they have the resources to meet that need.

If agreement cannot be reached between the parent or parents and the adult child then that child may seek an award of aliment (financial support) through the Scottish courts.

My advice to parents whose child is bound for college, university or vocational training in Scotland, especially if they are estranged from their child or have a difficult relationship with that child, is to consult early with an experienced family law solicitor with a view to resolving the issues outwith a court. There are a variety of options to deal with the issues including traditional negotiation and mediation. For bespoke advice to suit your particular circumstances, please get in touch.


Lydia McLachlan

Senior Associate