A High Court Judge has expressed his concerns about rules which allow the millionaire father of a teenage boy to pay just £7 a week in child support.
The teen’s mother had applied for a total of £20,600 from the father, to help her replace her car and cover various expenses relating to their son, ‘N’, who is now 16. These included funds to help pay for a trip to Israel, a trip to China, a kayak, and a new laptop.
High Court Judge Mr Justice Mostyn described the sums sought as “relatively modest”.
The couple have been separated for 15 years and have engaged in “virtually continuous litigation” since 2003. In his newly published ruling, the Judge went so far as to describe this as “extraordinarily ferocious litigation combat”, including confrontations in the County Court, the Family Court, the High Court and the tribunal system.
However, Mr Justice Mostyn did not go into details, noting that:
“The details are well known to the parties and it is not necessary for the purposes of my decision for me to spell them out.”
He went to explain that:
“…the court does not have jurisdiction to make an award to meet the quotidian expenses of living; to meet, if you like, the cost of one’s daily bread. It can only make an award for genuinely capital expenditure of a singular nature.”
However, he believed that the funds sought by the mother did indeed fall into the latter category and so could be legitimately be claimed.
The veteran judge had forthright words for the husband:
“Can the father afford to pay £20,600? Of course he can. He is a rich man, as I will explain. Yet even though he has millions which may be properly regarded as his resources he has paid a mere pittance in child support.”
The father paid just £3,819.40 in child support between April 2009 and April 2014. Since the beginning of 2017, his liability had been assessed at only £7 per week, meaning he has made a total payment of £111.28 since the beginning of this year.
This was, said Mr Justice Mostyn, a “most disturbing state of affairs”.
“It is an indictment of the child support system that it has not been able to furnish reasonable maintenance in the mother’s hands for N.”
These low payments, despite the father’s considerable assets, related to the removal of a previous legal facility which allowed family court judges to increase child support payments if the payer had identifiable assets. However, this provision has now been removed. In this case, the father had reached state pension age and his £7 per week liability automatically reflected this, regardless of his wealth.
The Judge explained:
“For reasons which I cannot fathom the “assets” ground of variation [the ability to increase or decrease child support] has been removed … Therefore, it is possible, as in this case, for a father to live on his capital, which may be very substantial indeed, and to pay no child support at all. The father was only required to pay the pitiful minimum sum of £7 a week from the early part of this year because it was then that he received his state pension. In my opinion the government needs to consider urgently the reinstatement of the “assets” ground of variation.”
Judge Mostyn ordered the father to pay the £20,600, describing this sum as “manifestly proportionate and reasonable”.
Read the ruling here.