An Italian court has ordered a middle-aged father to keep supporting his 28-year-old son through university, after he turned to the law to try and force his offspring to get a job.

The case underlines the country's problem with "bamboccioni" - spoilt "big babies" who refuse to leave home and instead sponge off their parents.

The father had gone to court to argue that he should no longer be obliged to support his son, challenging one of the conditions of his divorce settlement, which had ruled that he must pay for the young man's tertiary education.

The son completed a degree in literature, taking several years longer than expected to finish the course, and has now enrolled on a post-graduate course in experimental cinema in Bologna.

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His father, who makes a modest living through writing, argued that his son should get a part-time job and start paying his own way.

"He does not deserve any further financial support, having made no effort to find work to support himself," he told the court.

But the civil court in Modena, northern Italy, ruled that the cinema course is in keeping with the son's "personal aspirations" and must be paid for by his father.

Neither has been named because of confidentiality policies.

Italians are notorious for staying at home with their parents into their twenties, thirties and even forties, often until they marry.

The Modena case is just one of 8000 similar disputes that end up in court each year, with adult children demanding an allowance from their parents.

The phenomenon of "bamboccioni" - an augmentative of "bamboccio", meaning chubby child - has increased since the recession, as youth unemployment reached 40 per cent.

The number of cases has risen by 20 per cent in the past decade, coinciding with the start of the global economic crisis in 2008.

Around 65 per cent of Italians aged 18 to 34 still live with their parents, the highest percentage of young stay-at-homes anywhere in Europe, according to Istat, the national statistics agency.

That compares with 34 per cent in France and Britain and 42 per cent in Germany.

The problem of adult children taking their parents to court for money is so acute that the Italian Association of Matrimonial Lawyers has called for an age limit to be set by the Supreme Court in Rome, beyond which children could not sue their parents.