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Walker v Jeffries and Another [2006] EWCA Civ 479

Mother’s appeal as to amount of housing fund awarded on claim under schedule 1, section 15 of CA 1989 allowed.

Court of Appeal: Thorpe, Laws and Hallett LJJ (15 March 2006)

Summary
Mother's appeal as to amount of housing fund awarded on claim under schedule 1, section 15 of CA 1989 allowed.

Background
This case concerned a claim brought under schedule 1, section 15 of the Children Act 1989 by the mother for full financial relief for her nine-year-old daughter; the mother and father were never married. The judge assessed the father's worth at about £4 million net and, amongst other orders, directed the father to pay the sum of £800,000 in respect of housing costs for the mother and daughter.

The mother appealed against the judge's discretionary conclusion regarding the appropriate amount of housing costs: she had contended before the judge that she and her daughter needed to continue to live in the Knightsbridge area, where the daughter attended school, and where property prices ranged from £1.6 million to £2 million; the father had asserted that there was no reason why the mother and daughter could not relocate to West London, with property prices in the range of £500,000 to £550,000; and the judge had reached a decision between those two polarised positions.

The main grounds for appeal were (1) that the judge had misinterpreted the effect of the decision in Re P (Child) (Financial Provision) [2003] EWCA Civ 837, and (2) that the judge had failed to focus on the daughter's needs as opposed to the needs of her mother.

Judgment
Held, allowing the appeal, that:

(1) the judge had wrongly taken the quantum of the award in Re P and scaled it down to reflect the fact that the father in this case was not in the same league of wealth as the father in Re P; it was an erroneous approach for the judge to have treated the size of the fund in Re P as a benchmark, and that approach had made a significant contribution to the ultimate discretionary decision; and

(2) the judge had failed to focus on the daughter's needs as separate and distinct from the needs of the mother, which he was perfectly entitled to hold were selfish and egocentric. The judge should properly have asked what would be the consequence for the daughter of losing the familiar home, school and friends in Knightsbridge – and, in view of the father's wealth, was it necessary for the daughter to move from the familiar setting, as well as whether such a move would be harmful to her welfare.

The court considered that, while it was not common practice in these cases for children to be separately represented, this case neatly illustrated the advantages of such a course on a section 15 claim: where there was an intense and bitter battle between two adults, it was easy to see how the real crux of the case could be lost to view unless there was an advocate there constantly to urge the needs and interests of the child.

Since the court did not have sufficient up-to-date information to exercise an independent discretion, further submissions would be heard from counsel at a later date as to how further evidence should be prepared and the matter disposed of.

Read the full text of the judgment here