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Mother fails in disguised claim for maintenance

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March 28, 2024

The mother of a twelve year-old girl has failed in an attempt to apply for financial relief (maintenance), after a judge ruled that the father no longer had any responsibilities to her.

N v C concerned an unmarried couple who had a relationship in the 1990s, going their separate ways in 2001. Initially the father had no legal parental responsibility but allowed the mother and his daughter, called ‘P’ in case reports, to stay in a home he owned in London.

Later the father applied for the parental responsibility, and during negotiations related to this, he and the mother signed a manuscript (written) agreement confirming that the mother would be P’s principal carer. They agreed that mother and daughter would be entitled to live in the home until the latter reached the age of 18 or finished full time education, whichever occurred latest. The father also agreed to pay the girl’s school fees and maintenance for the daughter, subject to review when she finished a college course in 2005.

The agreement also raised the possibility of a trust deed to govern the woman’s occupation of the home but the former couple never actually created one.

Later, the parents began a lengthy dispute over repairs to the property and at that point the father raised the issue of a trust again.

Later still, P left the home to live with her father and the following month, the father applied for a residence order (which would formalise his daughter’s decision to live with him) and a ‘prohibited steps order’, which would prevent the mother from making decisions regarding the daughter’s upbringing.

During proceedings, the court noted that P was now in the principal care of her father.

The mother applied for the property to be formally placed in trust until P reached the age of 18 or finished full time education. She also applied, under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, for a large lump sum payment of £200,000 for renovations, as well as ongoing maintenance of £2200 per month. She argued that she was entitled to these payments because P would return to live with her or that she must have a home in which to see her daughter.

The father had assets worth £3 million but the mother had no significant financial resources.

Sitting at the High Court, Judge Rodger Hayward-Smith QC, said that despite the absence of formal legal orders relating to care arrangement for P, he had to consider the reality of the situation and which parent was now the resident one, caring for the girl. He concluded that there was no legal obligation on the father to support the mother or provide a home for her, separate to his obligations to his daughter, and he  was meeting those obligations to P by providing a home for her with him.

The mother, said the judge, had not always shown clear regard for her daughter’s welfare. She also had the capacity to earn far more than she was currently doing. He dismissed her claims.

This was clearly a thinly disguised attempt by the mother to win maintenance for herself, and the judge states this clearly in his judgement:

“I should guard against a claim by a parent under Schedule 1 which is, in reality, a disguised claim for the benefit of the parent.  In my view this is such a claim.”

The mother’s attempt didn’t work and that is no surprise. Judges spend many years being trained to spot manoeuvrings subtler than these. So why did she bother? There can be little doubt that the mother made her claims because she was never married to the father and therefore had none of the rights to support which would have been enjoyed by a divorced wife.

I have recently spoken on Twitter about the tortuous charade cohabitants so often have to go through in order to obtain some sort of settlement from reluctant former partners. I know all the arguments about walking away if marriage isn’t on offer and so on –  but we aren’t automatons and it just isn’t that easy. So desperate women who find themselves at the end of a relationship with literally nothing have to try and use such law as there is to win something.

One might argue that greed should not be rewarded and entitlement should first be proven. I agree. But if a relationship ends with all the material advantages going to one half of a former couple and all the detriment to the other? I really think this distressing seesaw should be evened up. The have-nots should be able to walk away with something at least and start again. That is all any eventual cohabitation legislation would offer. It would not be a charter for gold diggers – and neither would there be a divorce-style settlement on offer.

One day perhaps!

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Stitchedup says:

    I’m sorry to say Marilyn, in my experience judges do not appear to unerstand the everyday difficulties ordinary people face with regard to work and finances, and do not seem to understand the consequences of sacrifices people make in the interest of their family and relationship.

    I have been on the receiving end of this. I was the main bread winner for the majority of the time that I was in a relationship, made by far the major contributuion towards the purchase of the house, and I owned a house and started endowments before the relationship started.

    I then made a decsion in the interest of my family and my partners career which changed the dynamics of the relationship. I was a global marketing manager for a silicon chip company and my post was moved to Milan. I was faced with the decision to move my family to Milan or take redundancy in my mid 40’s. I discussed it with my partner and we decided it would be best for the family that I take redundancy. It was a tough decision but I did it so that partners’s career would not suffer, even though she was earning significantly less than me at the time, and also so the Children’s schooling wouldn’t suffer.

    Sincde taking redundancy I have been in and out of work able only to secure fixed term contracts and agency work. Despite my ex-partner’s assurance that she would stand by me her patience soon ran out. She became the main bread winner, allowed her head to be turned and called time on the relationship.

    We were not married but she secured an order of sale on the house which sold for at least 50K below true market value in the interest of securing a quick sales. She got 50% of all my assets (including an endowment in my name only claiming constructive trusts), made me homeless and off the housing lader as I was not left with enough to buy a home outright and unable to secure a mortgage due do not having regular work. I also had to pick up all her legal costs of over £9K, I represented myself as I couldn’t afford a solicitor and barrister.

    The Judge had no concept of how difficult it is for people of my age and background to find work and secure a mortgage. He considered me an “intelligent, experienced and articulate man” and judged that I would find work soon albeit I might have to “lower my sights”.

  2. Luke says:

    “I know all the arguments about walking away if marriage isn’t on offer and so on – but we aren’t automatons and it just isn’t that easy.”

    Actually Marilyn, it just is, if one party does not want to sign a marriage contract it really is very clear where everyone stands – it seems to me the father in this case acted honourably but the daughter (for whatever reason) didn’t want to live with her mother.

    Trying to get ‘marriage’ by the back door of cohabitation may be a lawyers bonanza but it is fundamentally wrong. A husband routinely gets shafted in family court but at least he actually signed up to something – so although it desperately needs reform it is at least to a small degree his fault for being uninformed and/or stupid about how family court works.

  3. Tracy W says:

    But if she had had a relationship with a poor guy, she would equally have found herself at the end of the relationship with nothing.
    Or if the rich guy had gone bankrupt before they’d broken up.
    There’s all sorts of ways that relationships can end leaving one or both partners with nothing. The ex-partner in this case got years of free accommodation from the sound of things. I feel more sympathy for a couple who both are working fulltime for minimum wages to raise a family and can only dream of spending £200, 000 renovating a house.

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