How can unmarried parents get financial provision for their children?

Mum and daughter

John Bolch starts the week with an article about Schedule 1 Children Act applications. What are they? Who do they help? What can you use them for?

Today I’m going to write about Schedule 1 Children Act applications. That may not mean much to readers who are not lawyers, and that is part of the reason why I am writing this post.

I think few parents looking after children, and I am referring in particular to those who were not married to the other parent, know that they can apply to a court for financial provision for their children from that other parent.

But it is not just because these applications are not well known that I am writing this post. Schedule 1 Children Act applications are also I think misunderstood by many parents who do know about their existence. In particular, they think that they are actually to do with financial provision for the parent looking after the children, rather than for the children themselves. As we will see, that is not the case.

The idea for this post was prompted by a recent case in the High Court: MT v OT. I do not propose to go into the details of the case (you can read the full judgment here), but I will briefly summarise it at the end of this post, as it provides a useful example of how Schedule 1 claims work.

So what are Schedule 1 claims?

As indicated above, Schedule 1 claims are claims for financial provision for children, usually made by the parent looking after the children, against the other parent. That may not seem very special – after all, the parent with care of the children can apply for child support maintenance via the Child Maintenance Service, can’t they? Well, yes, but what really sets Schedule 1 apart is that it enables the parent with care to apply for much more than just maintenance.

They can also apply for an order that the other parent pays a lump sum of money to them for the benefit of the child, or even for an order that property, such as a house, be transferred to them, or provided for them, for the benefit of the child.

As I mentioned above, Schedule 1 claims are normally made by a parent who was not married to the other parent. The reason for this is simple: where the parents were married, the divorce court can award the caring parent whatever financial settlement it considers appropriate, having regard to the needs of the children, in particular for suitable housing. Thus it may, for example, be that the court will order that the former matrimonial home is transferred to the parent caring for the children so that he or she can remain there with the children.

But doesn’t that mean that Schedule 1 effectively gives unmarried parents the same rights as married parents, when it comes to financial settlements following the breakdown of the parents’ relationship? Well, no. This is the misunderstanding that I referred to above. Schedule 1 is not directly to do with the financial or property needs of the parent, it is to do with the needs of the child. Thus, any lump sum ordered to be paid by the other parent must be for the benefit of the child, for example meeting some particular financial need of the child. And, most importantly, an order requiring the other parent to provide a home for the child will usually only last as long as it will benefit the child, with the property reverting to the other parent when the child has grown up.

And so to that recent case. It actually comprised several Schedule 1 applications made over a number of years, mostly by the mother, in relation to twin girls now aged nearly 17 years old. The parents were not married, and the father spends much of his time in Nigeria (which presumably was why the Child Support Agency, the predecessor of the Child Maintenance Service, could not deal with the issue of child support/maintenance, as it does not normally have jurisdiction if the paying parent lives abroad).

In the case, the father was ordered to make various payments, including in respect of child maintenance, education costs for the girls, and ‘periodic expenditure’. In respect of the latter Mr Justice Cohen, who heard the case, noted that:

“In doing so I bear in mind always … that I am dealing with an application under the Children Act and that monies, insofar as they are paid for the benefit of the mother, are to be paid to her purely in her role as a carer of the children and different in kind from payments that might be made to her if she had been a wife in financial remedy proceedings [i.e. following divorce].”

In addition, the father was ordered to house the mother and the girls, by providing the mother with a ‘housing fund’ of some £1.35 million, on the basis that the property will eventually revert to him when it is no longer needed by the children.

In short, Schedule 1 Children Act applications can be extremely useful for parents looking after children, but they do not provide that parent with the same sort of financial remedies for themselves, to which they would be entitled on divorce.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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