Schedule 1 – Divorce-Lite for Cohabitees?.

Have you heard the one about the WAG who had a baby by a Premiership footballer, then claimed millions from him for a housing fund to buy a luxury flat in Chelsea plus huge sums in annual child support? 

Such tabloid stories are the visible side of financial provision cases for children whose parents aren’t married but they don’t do justice to the impressive arsenal of powers that can be wielded by the court under Schedule 1 of the Children Act.

The number of children being brought up by unmarried parents has increased by more than a quarter since 2009 to make up 16 % of the total of families with dependent children.  Married or civil partnership couples still make up the majority of families at 61 % but the trend is only going one way.  (And it’s not down the aisle at the church).

So it’s surprising then that family practitioners don’t perhaps see more Schedule 1 cases. 

Whilst the powers of the court under Schedule 1 don’t quite match the powers of the divorce court, they are comprehensive. Most separating couples will be aware that they can claim maintenance for the child via the Child Maintenance Service (formerly the dreaded Child Support Agency).  But they don’t know they can also ask the court for a lump sum or transfer and settlement of property.  The court can also top up maintenance over and above the CMS assessment for high earners and order the payment of school fees or other special costs.

The housing fund power won’t provide the parent with care of the child with a home for life, but it will secure accommodation for them during the child’s minority, provided of course that the absent parent can afford it.  The fund simply reverts back to them when the child no longer needs that support.  And if the absent parent is tempted to plead poverty – beware.  The court has been known to order payment of a housing fund to provide for the child with the effect of compelling the absent parent to sell their own home (although they do get the money back at the end of the term).

It’s not quite divorce-lite.  But for parents with small children who have separated and can’t rehouse themselves, it can be a lifesaver.

It’s a pity then that awareness of Schedule 1 is so low.  That is why I support the Resolution campaign #ABetterWay.

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