Category: Child Benefits

Relocating Children Abroad Without Consent

Sometimes when a relationship breaks down a partner may wish to relocate with the children to a place where they will have a strong support network or perhaps new career opportunity. This can in some cases be worked out with an agreement between a couple but in cases where the move is abroad, this can result in disputes that may end with criminal charges being brought if official permission has not been granted.  

These criminal charges are not to be taken lightly and can even end up with the parent who took the child abroad without consent facing a trial. This is because it is classed as an offence under English law to remove a child from the country without the consent of all concerned.  

This means that it is essential to obtain consent before making the decision to travel abroad with children even for a holiday.  

Even if official consent it sought, a parent who does not wish for their children to be taken abroad can submit a defence against their children being taken abroad. It is then up to the court to decide if it is in the child’s best interests and their welfare will not be impacted by their relocation abroad. 

This I why it is essential in these cases to obtain legal advice at the earliest stage to ensure that the reasons provided to the court for a child’s removal from the country will survive scrutiny.

What Happens To Joint Mortgages During And After Divorce

It is very common for married couples to take on a joint mortgage on their home but if a marriage ends in divorce it isn’t easy to make a clean break when the lender still expects payments to be kept up as before.  

Attempting to negotiate a way out of a joint mortgage will of course depend on individual circumstances. Also, if there are children involved, things can get even more complicated particularly if the couple relied on each other’s incomes to be able to afford a mortgage in the first place.  

Then there are cases where the partner who has custody of the children cannot afford repayments on their own when they either work part time or they care for the children full time.  In these cases the hope is that a former spouse will continue to make the mortgage payments even if they no longer live in the property.  

This however is asking a lot when that person will wish to move on with life after the marriage has ended.  

If you are the person left in a property unable to make the mortgage payments if your former partner refuses to pay their half, then you can contact your local Citizens Advice about potential benefits you may be able to receive.   

If you do have sufficient funds to cover the mortgage then you may be able to have the mortgage transferred to you as part of a clean break divorce by consent.  

New laws allow unpaid child maintenance to be taken from joint accounts

Unpaid child maintenance backlog in the UK is at £3.8bn. At present, if a parent owes maintenance, payment can only be taken from a bank account held in their sole name. The government has stated that a ‘small minority’ are avoiding payments by opening a joint account with their new partner.

From early 2018, the Child Maintenance Service will have the power to recover child maintenance arrears from a bank account that is held in the joint names of a parent who is required to pay child maintenance and another person.

The Department for Work and Pensions has said that safeguards will be put in place when deducting funds from a joint account. One of these safeguards is that money will only be taken from a joint account when the paying parents does not have their own bank account or if there is not enough money in their own account. Bank statements will also be analysed to establish which funds belong to the paying parent and both named account holders will have a right to make their case before any money is taken.

The Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance has stated ‘Our priority is for children to get the support they need. Only a small minority of parents try to cheat their way out of paying towards their children and this new power will tackle those who do’.

Securing child maintenance payments from a former partner can be difficult. Please contact a member of our team today on 0161 927 3118 to discuss your situation.

Unreasonable conduct can cost you in children proceedings!

The general rule in civil proceedings is that the ‘loser’ should pay the ‘winner’s’ costs however in family proceedings, this rule does not usually apply, particularly in proceedings that involve children. However, in the recent case of S v S this position changed.

The case of S v S involved an application made by a father for his two sons (aged 15 and 13) to live with him in Switzerland. The application was opposed by the mother with whom the boy had always lived.

During the course of the proceedings, there was a report produced by an Independent Social Worker who advised that ‘given the strength of the boys’ feelings and wish to live with their father, I believe that there is no alternative to agree to his application’.

The father’s application was granted however due to the highly exceptional nature of these proceedings, a costs order was made against the father. Initially both parties applied for their costs however the father retracted his claim and invited the court to make ‘no order for costs’ whereas the mother continued to pursue her application.

The court held that although the father had ‘won’ his application, his behaviour was reprehensible in certain respects in a way which directly fed into the manner in which the proceedings arose, the way in which they were pursued and the fact that the matter had led to a final hearing. The parties’ total costs came to £938,000 and the court ordered that the father pay £150,000 towards the mother’s costs.

Costs orders in children proceedings are exceptional, however, this recent case is a reminder that it is possible to penalise unreasonable conduct within children proceedings with an order for costs.

Tax Free Childcare – What’s it all about??

Plans for ‘tax free childcare’ were initially proposed back in the 2013 budget and are set to be implemented in 2017. According to the gov.uk website the scheme will be available to around 2 million households to help with the cost of childcare.

Parents will need to open an online account with can be done through the government website and can pay into the account to cover the cost of childcare with a registered provider. For every 80 pence paid in, the government will top up an extra 20 pence up to a total of £10,000 which is equivalent to £2,000 per child per year (£4,000 for disabled children). The scheme will be available for children up to the age of 12 and 17 for disabled children.

To qualify a parent must earn more than £115 per week but not more than £100,000 per year. Self-employed parents now also qualify (unlike the previous scheme which was only available for employed parents).

The scheme will be rolled out gradually with all eligible parents being able to join the scheme by the end of 2017.

Child contact arrangements for Christmas – top tips

Christmas is traditionally a time for families to come together. However for parents who are separating, Christmas can be a very stressful time. Contact arrangements that work well over the year can become strained over the festive season whilst parents and children adapt to life after divorce. Avoid any unnecessary upset over the Christmas holidays this year by planning ahead and arranging child care agreements well in advance.

Here are a few ‘top tips’ to help separating couples to ensure that the holiday runs as smoothly as possible:

1. Plan ahead – Do not leave difficult decisions to the last minute. Although the conversation may be difficult and it is tempting to put discussions off this will make negotiations between you and your former partner more pressured which is likely to result in unnecessary animosity.

2. Communicate – Putting disagreements aside, co-operating and keeping your former partner informed of any unexpected changes during the Christmas period will make trying to arrange time spent with the children much easier.

3. Put children first – It is easy for parents to forget to ask the children what they want or consider what is best for them when trying to reach an arrangement which works for both you and the other parent. It is important to take a step back and think about what is best for your child when making contact arrangements. When you do spend time with the children over Christmas, try your best to relax, put your differences with your former partner and enjoy the time spent together. Couples often try and ‘recreate’ the Christmases they enjoyed prior to separation however it may be beneficial to embrace the change and try celebrating in a different way – as you can imagine, many children enjoy celebrating Christmas twice every year!

4. Look at the big picture – Think about the long term rather than just focusing on Christmas. It is likely that both parents will want the children to be with them on the first Christmas Day after separation; however there will be many others and other special occasions in the future. The most helpful approach is to alternate arrangements from one year to the next or even to share Christmas Day if you do not live too far apart.

5. Be flexible – Due to work commitments or extended family traditions it can be difficult to share time equally over busy holidays. Be willing to compromise and consider agreeing for the other parent to have the children on Christmas day this year, and swap the following year.

Don’t leave Christmas arrangements to the last minute. If Christmas contact is a problem, or if you need general advice in respect of child contact arrangements, please contact one of our family law specialists today on 0161 927 3118.

Former director of software company appeals against a suspended prison sentence after failing to pay court-ordered maintenance

The former director of a software company has won his appeal against a suspended prison sentence after failing to pay his ex-wife court-ordered maintenance. The couple were married for 25 years and separated in 2013.

The husband was successful and they lived a prosperous lifestyle however they also spent extravagantly. By the time the case came before the court significant debts were accumulating and the parties’ assets were no longer sufficient to meet both parties’ needs.

The wife was a former stay-at-home mother who gave up her career years before and had little earning capacity. As a result, and as priority was given to housing the couple’s children, the wife was awarded most of the remaining funds (£500,000) whereas the husband received £66,000.

The husband was also ordered to pay the wife £2,000 per month in maintenance and received a six week suspended prison sentence after failing to do so. At the husband’s appeal of this prison sentence his barrister stated that the husband had not deliberately neglected to pay maintenance, his company had gone into administration, he was evicted from his flat, relying on the charity of his new partner and that he was ‘homeless, insolvent and unable to meet his obligations’. The husband’s barrister then went on to argue that threatening the husband with a prison sentence over the unpaid maintenance was a ‘curious survivor’ of the Victorian era of debtors’ prisons which violated his human rights and is ‘not in keeping with the modern view that husbands and wives approach this court on an equal footing’.

Following these arguments the wife’s barrister announced that they would accept the dismissal of the prison sentence however the wife was still opposed to the proposed clean break on the basis that there is a ‘complete absence of clarity’ about the husband’s income, due to ‘contradictory statements and complete lack of disclosure’.

The Judges have reserved judgment and will give the ruling at a later date. Without a clean break, the wife could again seek to enforce the debt, putting him at risk of a prison sentence once more.

Judge says more children should have their voices heard and be allowed to give evidence in Family Court

Sir James Munby, Court of Appeal Judge, has said that more children should have their voices heard to explain their feelings in court. The judge outlined his thoughts in a ruling on a Court of Appeal case which involved a 14 year old girl who complained that a judge had not met with her and she was deprived of her right to participate.

Sir James Munby said that judges’ approach to the issue of children giving evidence in Family Court hearings must change ‘sooner rather than later’.

Six years ago, a Supreme Court Justice said there had been a presumption against children giving evidence. Lady Hale, during a Supreme Court ruling said that such a presumption raised significant human rights issues and judges should not presume that a child should not give evidence. Sir James Munby referred to the fact that Lady Hale’s analysis had led to discussions among senior judges and new guidelines being published however he also stated that sometimes judges had been slow to recognise the need for change.

Sir James Munby then went on to say ‘one thing is clear: that proper adherence to the principles laid down (by the Supreme Court) will see ever increasing numbers of children giving evidence in family proceedings.’.

High Court rules three children of mother who tried to take them to Isis controlled territory must stay with their grandmother in the UK

In the recent case of Leicester City Council v T [2016] EWFC 20, the High Court has ruled that the three children (aged between 4 and 12) of a woman who tried to take them to an area of Syria controlled by the Islamic State must live with their maternal grandmother.

The mother was arrested at Birmingham Airport having checked in nine suitcases on a flight to Munich. The mother initially stated that she and the children were taking a holiday to see their father in Munich and then travel to France. However, the mother’s luggage showed an itinerary which contradicted this and showed a plan to travel onward from Germany to Turkey, where she had booked three nights’ accommodation in Istanbul.

A mobile phone belonging to the woman was also seized after her arrest last summer which contained images of children carrying firearms and wearing balaclavas bearing the Isis emblem. A further examination of electronic devise and mobile phones at the family’s home indicated that the mother had been in conversation with a large number of people known to be linked to the Islamic State.

After initially being taken from the woman under a police protection order and placed into temporary foster care, Mr Justice Keehan, who sits in the family division of the High Court, said that it would not be in the children’s best interests to return them to their mother’s care and ruled that they should live with their maternal grandparents.

No specific order was made in respect of contact and the judge gave no indication as to whether the woman had faced criminal charges.

Government policy to increase number of children being adopted falters as adoption figures fall

Adoption was made a priority by the coalition, as the prime minister declared in 2012 there was ‘no more pressing issue’ than speeding up the adoption process. Between 2012-2014 the number of children completing the adoption process rose by 60%.However, latest figures released by the Department for Education show the number of children granted an adoption placement order has dropped by 24% from 2014.

The National Adoption Leadership Board has linked decreases in placement orders to the impact of two recent court judgments, Re B (A Child) [2013] and Re B-S (Children) [2013]. These cases concerned appeals by parents opposing the adoption of their children. The number of looked after children has increased steadily over the past seven years however the majority of children looked after are placed with foster carers. Of the total looked after children in March 2015, 75% of them were cared for in a foster placement.

A spokesperson from the Department for Education has stated that the reason for the decrease in the number of children with an adoption decision is a result of the way local authorities have interpreted some court judgments. The Adoption Leadership Board has therefore published guidance to clarify what these judgments mean and to allow clear and confident adoption decisions to be made.

The Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, Javed Khan, has expressed deep concern at the fall in the number of children being put forward for adoption. Mr Khan feels that Local authorities shouldn’t ‘shy away’ from acting decisively on adoption. If the fall in adoption numbers continues ‘unchecked’ it is thought that a real crisis could occur as children will be stuck in limbo or miss out completely on the chance of growing up in their own loving and supportive family.