A primary concern of a parent is their child’s education and training. Another of equal importance is financial provision for that child. But what happens when the two concerns collide? The government scheme known as “apprenticeships” are an example of how these two concerns compete and demonstrate an area where perhaps the law in relation to child maintenance should be changed.
What is an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship appears to be a well-intended training scheme for those individuals who do not wish to continue their post-16 studies at a school or a college. It allows the individual or “apprentice” to experience a real job and to undertake further training (usually by way of attending a college for one day per week for the duration of the apprenticeship).
A quick glance at the website which advertises apprenticeships in the UK shows the slogan “Great Investment. Great Opportunities. Great Prospects.” Sounds “Great!” But I cannot help but think “For Employers, Great Savings” would be an appropriate addition to the website.
My somewhat negative view stems from how these schemes are paid. The National Apprentice Minimum Wage is a mere £2.65 per hour. Compare this to the National Minimum Wage for an under 18-year-old, which is £3.68 and employers are already making a saving. OK granted, it’s not much of a saving however when you also compare this to the National Minimum Wages for 18-21-year-old’s and over 21 year old’s, which are £4.98 and £6.19 respectively, employers are beginning to save more by recruiting apprentices.
For an employer to recruit an apprentice to do largely the same work as an over 21 year old would be given (less a day for the apprentice to attend college), they make a minimum saving of £3.54 per hour on staffing costs. All these figures do become relevant when this is considered in the context of child maintenance payments between divorced parents.
The Divorce Process/Division of Assets
In order to obtain a divorce within the UK, couples must show that the marital relationship between them has irretrievably broken down. After applying to the court for a decree nisi, which is the first stage in the divorce process, the division of the matrimonial assets must then be decided. Although the “yardstick of equality” rule was laid down in the case of White v White , there can often be a range of situations from easily negotiated settlements between couples to long trials over who receives what from the matrimonial pot. The decisions and negotiations always highly feature the needs of any relevant child.
Even though a couple may be divorcing, both parents have a duty to ensure that any relevant child has a place to live and is financially provided for. This naturally will result in the payment of money from one parent to another depending upon whom the child will reside with. This payment is often known as child maintenance and can be agreed in a number of ways:
- Family-based agreement – whereby the couple decide themselves who pays what and how much is to be paid to whom.
- Court order – the payments can be negotiated or decided by a court and contained within what is known as a consent order to divide the matrimonial assets.
- Through either the Child Support Agency or the Child Maintenance Service, depending upon when you file(d) for divorce.
The Child Support Agency/Child Maintenance Service
These organisations exist to facilitate the payment of child maintenance from one parent to another. The organisation usually determines how much should be paid, how it is paid and by whom it is to be paid. They can be a useful support when the relationship between the parents still remains hostile after a divorce.
The issue surrounding apprenticeships arises when the general rule is considered. The general rule for child maintenance through these types of organisation is that the paying parent must pay the sums owed to the receiving parent (i.e. the parent with whom the children reside) if the child is under 16 or under 20 but still in full-time education.
Due to the nature of apprenticeships, they are not classed as full-time education. So what does a divorced parent do if their child reaches 16 and decides to undertake an apprenticeship? The answer is they can do nothing.
The paying parents duty to pay child maintenance terminates at 16 if the child leaves full-time education. The problem arises here. The level of pay an apprentice receives is likely to be worth less than the amount the receiving parent receives in child maintenance from his/her former spouse. Although the apprentice is earning their own money, it is not enough for them to move out and support themselves on, so the costs of keeping the child still remain with the parent who has care for them.
The duty on the paying parent has been terminated, so financially the receiving parent has to meet this extra cost, unless they retrieve it from the child’s payment for the apprenticeship. Some parents may agree with their children that they have to make some form of payment to the family home if they are to remain there whilst working. However, this any agreed payment will not equate to the amount paid under child maintenance through the Child Support Agency or the Child Maintenance Service.
There therefore is a gap whereby the paying parent’s duty to support their child extends to a child in full-time education over the age of 16, who may have a lucrative part-time job, but it does not extend to a child undertaking an apprenticeship for minimal remuneration.
There is no easy solution. The dilemma faced by a receiving parent is whether to allow their child to pursue their educational/work ambitions and be considerably financially worse off, or whether they force their child to continue in full-time education.
A romantic view of divorced couples may hope that the parents are able to negotiate and the former spouse/paying parent recognises the need for continued support for the child. Unfortunately this is not the reality and no doubt many paying parents exploit this gap in order to remove the duty to support their children.
Unfortunately this gap is only likely to affect those using the above organisations. A family-based agreement usually covers child maintenance until the child is 18, and sometimes beyond; and there is scope for a court based order to do the same, although it is not always agreed.
In order for post-16 education to be as easily accessible by children of divorced couples, there has to be a change in the law regarding child maintenance for those wishing to undertake apprenticeships. Ideally this would concern the re-classification of an apprenticeship as equating to full-time education for these purposes. Certainly if the couple had remained married, a child wishing to undertake an apprenticeship would still be supported by both of its parents’ salaries contributing to the matrimonial home in which it lives.