This week I had to research what, in legal terms, constitutes full time education and when does it come to an end.
Full time education is clearly defined as “more than 12 hours a week supervised study or course related work experience”. That can be secondary education (ie up to A level education in school) or tertiary education (education for those over school age but in college, university or vocational course). More information is available on the Government websites.
Many child maintenance orders are payable “until the child reaches the age of 18 years or ceases full time secondary education whichever is the later”. So when does such secondary education come to an end?
I have always interpreted this to mean that when a child finishes his/her A’ levels in May of the school year i.e. no longer attends at the school, that would be when the payment of child maintenance would end, unless that child had his/her 18th birthday after May. In that case child maintenance would end on that birthday.
It was being argued against me that the child maintenance should be paid until September as the child benefit is payable until 31 August of the school year in question. In cases where the payment for child maintenance is significant, the additional 3 months payments can result is a substantial amount of money and hence the need for clarity.
For those whose child maintenance orders which do not specify secondary education (i.e. it merely says full time education) or specifically include tertiary education the order can run until the child reaches the age of 20 years if in full time education.
Just to confuse matters further child tax credits end when the education ends i.e. if the exams are in May then that is the month when the child tax credits will end. And to confuse matters further, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) indicate on their website that the child maintenance should cease when the child stops being eligible for child benefit but they have a discretion to continue to seek the child maintenance payments until the child is 20 years old if the child remains in full time education as above.
I am not sure that I finally determined the “end date” but my advice has to be it depends which system your child maintenance is operating under;
If it is a court order then I believe my interpretation to end of A levels or age 18 years whichever is later is right.
If you pay as a result of a CMS assessment then their rules apply – essentially to the end of child benefit (31 August 2017) unless they apply a discretion to extend if the child is still in full time education.
If you pay by way of a voluntary agreement with the parent who has care of the child, then it is a matter for you both to agree when the payment comes to an end. There is however no court or CMS to enforce payment if it is stopped without agreement when the child comes to the end of A’s levels/reaches 18 years whichever is later.
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