In a decision which is bound to cause consternation amongst single mothers, the Court of Appeal has capped the child maintenance liabilities of an absentee father on the basis that his potential earnings of more than £100,000 a year, and savings of almost £200,000, did not make him a rich man.
The 10-year-old girl had been born following a brief office romance. There was no dispute that her father, a financial services worker, had decided during her mother’s pregnancy that he wanted nothing to do with their child and that, for the first seven years of his daughter’s life, he had ‘abdicated’ his financial duties as a father.
During those years, the father had contributed nothing to the girl’s upkeep, despite assessments by the Child Support Agency and a court order in 2004, since when he had not set foot in England. It was not until 2010 that the mother managed to track him down via the French authorities and he decided to co-operate. Since then, he had paid three tranches of £10,000 and maintenance of £1,200 a month.
The mother complained that she and her ‘bright and talented daughter’ – who had never had any contact with her father – had been condemned to inhabit a tumble-down London home whilst the father lived in Geneva with his wife and three children, enjoying a comfortable lifestyle and four holidays a year.
She had sought an order that the father pay £24,000 a year in maintenance for his daughter plus a £180,000 lump sum. The father earned an annual salary of £76,800, as well as a bonus of up to £30,000; however, a family judge had awarded the mother only a fraction of the sums she claimed.
In dismissing the mother’s appeal, the Court found ‘some merit’ in the father’s plea that the mother’s financial demands for their daughter amounted to ‘a wish list, rather than a needs list’. Although the father had savings of £137,000 and £60,000 in long-term investments, the Court noted, “This is by no means a ‘big money’ case.”
The mother had rightly pointed to the father’s abdication of his financial responsibility during his daughter’s early years. However, the Court noted that his income was susceptible to the ebb and flow of the market and that his financial resources were by no means limitless.
The Court’s decision obliged the father to pay the mother a lump sum of £44,600, plus £1,000 in monthly maintenance for his daughter until she is 18. If he managed to earn more than £106,800 in any one year, he would also have to pay 11.25 per cent of the excess to the mother for his daughter’s upkeep.