Court Emphasizes Limits and Utility of Arithmetical Formula in Child Support Case under Schedule 1 Children Act 1989

Citation: [2023] EWFC 253
Judgment on

Introduction

In the recent judgment of Jason Galbraith-Marten v Catherine De Renee [2023] EWFC 253, The Honourable Mr Justice Cobb delivered a significant decision in a Schedule 1 Children Act 1989 (“CA 1989”) maintenance claim, which underscores the utility and limits of using an arithmetical formula for determining child support payments. The ruling also addressed the conditions for varying previous child maintenance orders and highlighted the importance of the statutory discretion judges must apply in Schedule 1 CA 1989 proceedings.

Key Facts

The litigation between the parties extends over several years, involving financial support disputes following their divorce. Key points include:

  • The mother’s repeated applications for financial relief.
  • The use of ‘Binding Agreements’ post-divorce to settle financial arrangements between the parties.
  • The dismissal of previous applications by the mother, some of which were viewed as fundamentally unjust.
  • Mostyn J’s acknowledgment in previous hearings of the mother’s oppressive conduct and her unsubstantiated allegations against the father.
  • An increase in the father’s income and the mother’s attempt to secure higher payments for child support.
  • The setting aside of an agreed order for periodical payments, with Mr Justice Cobb re-evaluating the payments under the amended formula following James v Seymour [2023] EWHC 844 (Fam).

The judgment by Mr Justice Cobb centred on the following legal principles:

  1. Schedule 1 of the CA 1989 - This framework was pivotal in the judgment, especially the factors set out in paragraph 4 for consideration when making child maintenance orders. These factors include the income, earning capacity, and financial responsibilities of the parents, as well as the child’s financial needs and upbringing manner.

  2. James v Seymour Formula - The judgment acknowledged an adjusted formula for high-value cases where the payer’s income exceeds certain thresholds. Mr Justice Cobb embraced this as a starting point, while also emphasizing the importance of judicial discretion.

  3. Statutory Discretion - The court is required to exercise discretion, reviewing the statutory criteria in paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 CA 1989.

  4. Extended Civil Restraint Order (ECRO) - Guidance was provided on the significance of an ECRO in restricting litigation without judicial permission, reinforcing the court’s objective to prevent frivolous and vexatious claims.

Outcomes

The court concluded that:

  • The child support payments would be set at £1,960 per month using the adjusted formula method stated in James v Seymour.
  • This figure is consistent with both the formula outcome and an inflation-adjusted sum from the original 2018 order.
  • The judge intended this order to be the final ruling on child maintenance during the child’s minority, barring applications for future tertiary education support.
  • Overpayments by the father would be written off, and future payments would adjust annually based on his income.
  • The mother was ordered to contribute to half the father’s costs, reflecting the nature of the litigation and responsibility for the failure to settle the dispute amicably.

Conclusion

The judgment in Jason Galbraith-Marten v Catherine De Renee provides a comprehensive analysis of the use of formulaic approaches to child support calculations under Schedule 1 CA 1989. It reaffirms the court’s discretion in such matters and highlights the importance of considering the child’s welfare as paramount. The judgment also clarifies how changes in income can prompt a modification of previous orders, stipulating that adjustments must adhere to statutory guidelines and consider all relevant circumstances. This case serves as a caution against the persistent and unmeritorious litigation, with an implicit reprimand for actions bordering on abuse of process, while also paving the way for methodical and consistent future applications within the specified financial brackets.

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