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!