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Can an adult child seek maintenance from their parents?

Date:28 JAN 2021

There have recently been two cases in which adult children have begun court proceedings seeking a formal court order to force their parents into providing ongoing financial support to them.

The first was reported from Italy in August and involved a 35 year old man applying for a top up to his wages earned as a part time music teacher from his parents. Amazingly a lower court had found that his parents should provide him with a monthly stipend as his wages were not enough for him to live on. The Supreme Court in Italy reversed the decision and ruled that parents are not financially responsible for their children for life.

Now in a similar case in FS v RS and JS [2020] EWFC 63, the English courts have been asked to consider the same issue. This time the Applicant was 41 years old. He is a qualified solicitor, holding a degree in modern history, a master’s degree in taxation and presently studying for Chartered Tax Advisory exams. He has however been unemployed since 2011 and suffers from various mental health difficulties, although the extent of these was unclear.

He was living in a flat in London which was paid for by his parents who lived in Dubai. The application apparently arose following a falling out between son and parents which led to the parents limiting the financial assistance paid.

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The application was for maintenance and the court considered the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the Children Act 1989, Human Rights Act 1999 and the court’s inherent jurisdiction. The decision was given by Sir James Munby who described the application as “most unusual” and “unprecedented”.

It was noted that when statutory language is clear, there is a limit as to how far statutory interpretation can go. If the objective of the statute is clear any proposed “read down” under human rights law which would be inconsistent should not accordingly be undertaken. As such there was nothing within the noted listed statutes which would allow for any such order to be made.

The inherent jurisdiction is also subject to limitations. If there is no statutory ability to grant relief, then the court’s inherent jurisdiction will not necessarily provide an alternative. It certainly cannot be used to reverse the outcome under a statutory scheme.

The application was summarily dismissed and the Applicant ordered to pay his parents’ legal costs. The Applicant sought permission to appeal but this was refused.

Whilst perhaps both of these cases have been referred to quite frivolously with the outcome being considered obvious, they do of course involve real families, real disputes and no doubt real heartache. I wonder what the future will hold for these families following these applications. Hopefully some form of reconciliation will prove possible.