In Focus – Changes To Child Maintenance

Costs awarded against solicitors for contemptuous attitude to hearing preparation

Costs were awarded against a mother’s solicitors firm recently because the firm failed to comply with court orders in preparation for a fact finding hearing.

In HU v SU [2015] EWFC 535 Mr Justice Keehan was asked to decide the truth of accusations and counter accusations of violence and emotional abuse made against each other by an Afghan couple – in order to determine with whom the couple’s four children should live.

The four children were split up with the youngest aged four living with his father and the other 3 aged between 10 and 14 staying with their mother after the couple separated last September.

Things were turbulent before the couple split – with the mother calling the police and alleging her husband had sexually assaulted her twice. He was temporarily banned from the house whilst on bail but he returned to the property and changed the locks making his wife homeless once the police dropped their investigation and his bail was cancelled.

The mother also contended her husband had taken another wife. The father claimed, meanwhile, that the mother had been violent towards him and towards their youngest child and that she had caused the oldest children emotional harm with her negativity about him.

The judge ruled in favour of the father – saying that even if the mother’s claims had appeared on the balance of probability to be true – that there would still have been no reason to deny the father contact with the older children.

He then made a wasted costs order against the mother’s solicitors, quoting from Re W (A child) (Adoption Order) [2013] EWCA Civ 1227, about “slapdash, lackadaisical and on occasions almost contumelious attitudes” in responding to court orders.

He reiterated that pre-hearing timetables can only be amended by the court and any applications to extend deadlines must be made before the original deadline expires. He said the mother’s solicitors behaviour was “so serious and so inexcusable that [he found] that they acted improperly and unreasonably.”

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