“The Full Monty” is a great film, with a fine balance of the hilarious and the deeply moving. But when it comes to the law, it’s completely wrong! In the film, the child’s mother refuses to allow the father to spend time with the child unless he pays her the child maintenance which she thought he was liable to pay.
So what would I advise Robert Carlyle’s character do, if faced with the same situation now?
First of all, I would explain that the amount of child maintenance he needs to pay is based upon his income. A non-resident parent with a better-paid job will pay more child maintenance than someone who is on the minimum wage, or who is receiving benefits.
You can check how much child maintenance you should be paying (or receiving) online at https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-child-maintenance. Robert Carlyle’s character was in receipt of benefits, so nowadays he would have to pay £7.00 a week.
But the question of how much time someone should spend with their child is not related at all to the amount of maintenance that they pay. We never mix the two issues up. A child is not a commodity, to be bought or withheld.
If parents are unable to decide how much time they each spend with their child, then the court will make the decision.
The Children Act 1989 sets out the matters to which the court will have regard, when making decisions about the child. The court’s paramount consideration will be the child’s welfare.
When the court decides where a child should live, and how much time they should spend with a non-resident parent, the court will consider:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned;
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
- The likely effect on the child if its circumstances were to change as a result of the court’s decision;
- The child’s age, sex, backgrounds and any other characteristics which are relevant to the court’s decision;
- Any harm the child has suffered or maybe at risk of suffering; and
- The capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the courts find relevant) at meeting the child’s needs.
The court will also presume that the involvement of the parents in the child’s life will further the child’s welfare, unless there is evidence to the contrary.
What the child wants is just one of the matters which the court will include in its consideration. Because, sometimes what a child says it wants, is not what is actually in the child’s best interests. We must also remember that what the child says to one parent, may not actually be what the child really does wish or feel. The court must consider the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child. Sometimes it takes a bit more work to find out what those really are.
It can sometimes be a huge relief to the child to know that the responsibility for such a big decision does not rest with them. It rests with the judge.
Ruth Jackson, a barrister specialising in family law, has prepared a series of articles covering answers to some of the most common problems in family law. We hope that these will help you with some of the common problems which barristers and solicitors see in practice.
Of course, there are limits to what we can do on a website. We cannot give specific advice in such articles, and you should take your own legal advice before relying on what is written.
If you wish to consult us about your problem, we offer a free 30-minute, no obligation, appointment.