A man stand inside a marble circular maze

Choose your battleground wisely…

Mr Justice Holman in the High Court, Family Division has handed down his judgment in the case of Dickson v Rennie [2014] EWHC 4306 (Fam) raising very intriguing points on the statutory Child Maintenance Service.

A brief summary of the facts:

  • Mr Rennie is 57 and lives in Jersey.  Ms Dickson is 44 and lives in England.
  • They were not married and have a daughter who is almost 10 years old.
  • They separated around the time of their daughter’s first birthday and soon after Ms Dickson made an application to court for financial provision from Mr Rennie for her.
  • In July 2007  an order was made for provision of a house plus lump sum and maintenance payments of £41,200 a year on the basis that Mr Rennie’s capital wealth amounted to c£8.5m including pension and net annual income of c.£130,000.
  • Both parties accepted at the time of the final hearing that the Child Support Agency (now Child Maintenance Service) had jurisdiction but agreed the court could make an order for maintenance under the Child Support Act 1991.
  • In March 2014 Mr Rennie made an application to the Child Maintenance Service to calculate the payment of maintenance which on an upward variation came to £1,375 a year, although he pays £1,000 a month.

In his judgment the judge expresses his “profound sympathy” with Ms Dickson but continues to say “to my mind the law is crystal clear… She has her avenue of appeal to the First Tier Tribunal, but in the meantime this court can do absolutely nothing to remedy her plight.” [para 32]

However the twist in this tale is that the judge then ordered Mr Rennie to pay Ms Dickson up to £10,000 to fund her child maintenance tribunal appeal; that is her only option unless the parties are able to settle on an agreed level of maintenance.

This case is perhaps a new marker in the sand of how the courts will try to assist people to navigate the overlapping jurisdictions of the courts and the Child Maintenance Service, by providing these ‘fighting funds’.