Receiving Child Maintenance after 21 in Singapore
Even as the child has seemingly progressed into adulthood when he/she turns 21, an adult will always be some parent's child.
However, the law is not as sentimental as the loving parent when it comes to defining what a child is. When the child turns 21 years old, there is a celebration, then quite suddenly, any child maintenance that has been received for the child up to date, could instantaneously just stop.
That said, the law does have a soft spot for such persons after the age of 21 years, and the courts have been inclined to enforce such laws where applicable. However, where there is a lack of straightforward cases concerning maintenance after the age of 21, our divorce lawyers' experience with family law can prove to be fundamentally crucial in identifying and persuading of the exceptional circumstances for such maintenance to be ordered.
Generally, the court will either (1)(a) order maintenance, and set the expiration of such maintenance, for a person age 21 years or above, or (1)(b) vary an order for a person becoming 21 years old, where he/she can show that he cannot work and maintain himself/herself.
Such circumstances include:
- The child is, will, or probably will be attending an educational institution, e.g., a university, or a preparatory college. However, there is no guarantee that maintenance can be ordered or varied, especially, where the child already either has tertiary qualifications, or polytechnic diplomas sufficient to independently secure employment for himself/herself.
- The child is, will or probably will be pursuing education for the distinct purpose of employment for a specified trade, vocation, or profession, e.g., ACCA qualifications to qualify as an accountant. This is regardless of whether he/she is presently employed. This second point can be used to bolster the above point, where the pursuit of tertiary education is for the purpose of enhancing potential employability.
- The child suffers from some significant physical or mental deficit that prevents him/her from earning a living or maintaining himself/herself. In the case of mental deficit, the child must prove that the mental deficit is a recognized medical condition and is of a severity that must affect his/her ability to work and maintain himself/herself. Of “work and maintain”, it is possible to read them as separate standards, i.e., where the child works, but can show that he/she cannot adequately maintain himself with earnings from the work.
- The child is or will be serving National Service full-time. Any quantum of maintenance ordered or varied by the courts will likely only account for this fact where a definitive date of enlistment has been set. This is to prevent the 21-year-old child from relying on impending National Service that can potentially be years away, because, for example, of an indeterminable number of deferments, to receive any maintenance during the years before National Service, when he is already of age and ability to work and maintain himself.
- The child suffers from special circumstances that must, first, prevent himself/herself from working and maintaining himself/herself, and second, such circumstances must be distinct from the above. This permits the courts to be convinced that he/she suffers from a plight unique from the close-ended circumstances above that prevents working or maintaining himself such as to deem it necessary to order maintenance. However, the courts will not be easily convinced.
- In addition to the above points, the child must prove that the parent(s) had neglected or refused to dispense reasonable maintenance when the child does suffer from some limitation to his/her ability to work and maintain himself/herself. For instance, where a parent has shown to have the means to finance tertiary education and has communicated an intention to finance such studies to the child, the parent in refusing to satisfy his promise, may have such a promise enforced by the court by way of a maintenance order to finance the child's studies as promised.
It should be appreciated that this article can apply to children of divorced parents, and the children of still-married parents. For a 21-year-old child to successfully apply for maintenance, divorced parents is not a requirement. Furthermore, where the child is already 21 years old, he/she may apply to the courts, of his/her own accord, in seeking maintenance from parents.
In the case of divorced parents, such maintenance cannot be the responsibility of just 1 parent. Where both parents have the financial means, even if 1 parent is financially superior to the other, they must contribute to the maintenance. The statutory duty of parents is that both parents must be equally responsible for their child's well-being and best interests.
In addition, there are others things you can do to ensure that your child is secure in his/her finances after the age of 21. In the case of a divorce, the parents may agree outside of the court then seek a consent order to formalize their respective obligations to the child.
Here, the terms and conditions of a consent order for child maintenance would be largely based on what was privately negotiated and agreed to, by you and your ex-spouse. The court will not interfere with such private arrangements, especially those aided by legal counsel unless there is fraud or mistake in making the agreement.
As such, in providing for a child after 21, or a child who will be turning 21, you and your ex-spouse will only need to communicate and agree. A legally enforceable consent order can be especially useful where there is little trust and confidence between you and the ex-spouse to uphold a privately negotiated agreement.
Any such agreements can be made before the divorce or even after the divorce has been finalized. Then, at your discretion, if deemed necessary, any such agreements can be subsequently reduced into legally enforceable consent orders upon application(s) to the courts.