K J Smith Solicitors

Upper Tribunal Judge Offers Guidance on intimidation in child support cases

Published: 23 March 2016

An Upper Tribunal judge has addressed the concerns of parents who have worries about attending child support hearings for fear of intimidation from their former partners.

In a recent case, Upper Tribunal Judge Mitchell called for the First-tier Tribunal to address the issue by exercising case management powers in child support cases if one parent is being intimidated by the other partner and as a result is reluctant to attend the child support hearing.

In the case in question, a non-resident parent had lodged a successful appeal against his child support maintenance liability, claiming that the child maintenance calculation was wrong and that he was eligible for a discount due to shared care of his children for at least 52 nights per year. However, the resident parent and mother of the child failed to attend the appeal hearing, having written to the First-tier Tribunal beforehand, stating that she was ‘unable to attend the appeal’ due to ongoing aggression shown to her by the non-resident parent. She also claimed that the non-resident parent had broken the contact order as the children had to stay overnight with their grandmother as the non-resident parent worked shifts which prevented him from having their children for the required number of nights.

The resident parent appealed to the Upper Tribunal, with the appeal being strongly supported by the Secretary of State's representative who said that there was ‘little case law addressing these circumstances’. The Upper Tribunal granted the appeal and issued some further guidance to parents in the same difficult situation.

Judge Mitchell said that the tribunal ‘must consider what case management and/or hearing management steps should be taken to give all parties a reasonable opportunity to put forward their cases.’ He added that a ‘sensible first step would be to write to both parties to stress that everyone has the right to attend a hearing without fear of intimidation and that the tribunal will not tolerate any [such intimidation].’

To help parties who may be too scared to attend such hearings,further guidance was given on the possibilities for the use of telephone conferencing and video technology, changing the format and the venue of the hearing, laying out the hearing room in a particular way to create physical separation, the use of screens if available and the presence of a security guard in the hearing room.

It was also advised that any reluctant party is made aware of the Tribunal's powers and obligation to ensure an orderly hearing, as well as appointing a person with the appropriate skills or experience in facilitating the giving of evidence by a sensitive witness. The Tribunal can also stage a parties' entrance and departure from the hearing room to minimise contact with their former partner.

If you are experiencing intimidation or abuse and you would like some advice about the optionsavailable to you then K J Smith Solicitors are here to help. Our team of family law specialists will listen and advise on the best course of action to take in order to keep you and your family safe.

For more information or to arrange a free 45 minute consultation with one of our team, contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) or 01483 370100 (Guildford).

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