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Do Parents Have to Financially Provide for their Adult Children?

View profile for Rhian Parsons
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A 41 year old man recently lost his legal claim to force his parents to continue to financially support him in a ‘most unusual’ and ‘unprecedented’ case.

The man claimed that his wealthy parents had ‘nurtured his dependency’ on them by letting him live in a flat they own in Central London and (until very recently) paying all his bills. After the relationship broke down, they withdrew most of their financial support, causing their son to launch his legal claim.

The man made his claim under laws which allow the courts to order parents to financially provide for their children and make decisions to protect vulnerable adults.

The facts

The claimant, a 41 year old man, was a university graduate and qualified solicitor. However, due to mental health disabilities, he had not worked since 2011. His wealthy, Dubai-based parents had provided financial support for many years. However, after their relationship began to breakdown, the parents started to withdraw their support, although the judge noted that they did not withdraw it completely.

The claimant stated that his parents had ‘nurtured his dependency’ on him for the last 20 years and now wanted to ‘cast that dependency onto the State’. He therefore brought a claim for ‘financial relief’ under:

  1. Section 27 of The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 – which allows the court to order financial provision where a married spouse fails to maintain their partner or any child of the marriage (within divorce or dissolution proceedings)
  2. Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 – which is about financial support for children
  3. The court’s powers to protect vulnerable adults who have mental capacity to make their own decisions (inherent jurisdiction)

The claimant argued that where a person is over the age of 18, under both section 27 of the Matrimonial Causes Act (MCA) and Schedule 1 of the Children Act, the court has some powers to order financial provision in various circumstances if there are ‘special circumstances’. The special circumstances here were his disabilities and vulnerability.

The claimant also claimed that his parents had breached his human rights.

The decision

The judge stated that the court could not order financial relief for the claimant and that he did not have a human rights claim.

Family law

The court can make orders to compel parents to support their children into adulthood where they are in education or there are special circumstances (such as a disability). However, the judge held that those provisions usually only applied where there was a court order made while the child was under 18 and where the parents were separated. Neither situation applied in this case.

While the claimant also tried to claim that the law on financial provision for adults in education could apply (as he was studying for legal and tax qualifications), the judge said that, “conventional wisdom and practice would suggest that these provisions were never intended to be used and cannot be used to fund the education of a perpetual student”.

Inherent Jurisdiction

The claimant also tried to rely on the court’s powers of “inherent jurisdiction” to provide for vulnerable adults where they have the mental capacity to make their own decisions but are not fully in control for other reasons, such as constraint, coercion or undue influence.

The judge noted that these powers are a “safety net” rather than a “springboard” and are only intended to fill gaps in the law for the benefit of society as a whole. For example, inherent jurisdiction has previously been used to protect adults from forced marriage, female genital mutilation and radicalisation – serious or “novel” cases that demand the courts step in.

So, was the claimant’s claim of nurtured dependency and allegations that he would suffer “squalor” and “abuse” if financial support was withdrawn enough to justify invoking inherent jurisdiction? The judge decided no for several reasons:

  • When it comes to financial maintenance, there is no remedy outside of the written law for a financially dependent adult child to claim support from their parents
  • This case was far outside the boundaries of inherent jurisdiction – namely, where an adult is autonomous and has the mental capacity to make their own decisions, inherent jurisdiction should only be used to “facilitate their exercise of that autonomy” 
  • Inherent jurisdiction should not be used to force an unwilling third party to provide money or services
  • Applying inherent jurisdiction would override Parliament’s wishes for financial maintenance as set out in written laws

The claimant’s claim for inherent jurisdiction was therefore dismissed along with all his other claims.

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