Between August 2022 and June 2023, I observed, online, a number of hearings in a single case heard by His Honour Judge Shelton who is a judge in the family court in Leeds. The case was about the amount of money that the father/ex husband (James) should pay towards his ex-wife Beth and their daughter Isabelle. (These are fake names.) He had been paying £100 per month to Beth and £1500 to Isabelle. The case was unusual because Isabelle was an adult. Normally, a parent would not have to pay maintenance for an adult child, but there are exceptions to this and one of the exceptions is where the adult child is disabled. Isabelle has multiple physical and intellectual difficulties She lived with Beth in an adapted home and Beth provided her with full-time care, including with the help of various carers.

What the case was about

James wanted to end the maintenance to Beth (which was not a large amount) and reduce the maintenance to Isabelle to £400 per month. Beth opposed this, arguing that he should continue to pay £1,600 per month overall.

While many orders for maintenance for an adult child would be made under Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989, this application originated as part of the parties’ old divorce proceedings, and was dealt with under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The judge heard evidence about the parties’ financial situations. When the judge considered how much, if any, money James should continue to pay to Beth the court needed to meet her needs and consider whether she could become financially independent without undue hardship. When it considered money for Isabelle, the court had to apply the law in a case called James v Seymour [2023] EWHC 844 (Fam). This case says that courts can look at how much the Child Maintenance Service would tell James to pay if they had power over maintenance for an adult child (which they do not) but the court has a discretion to change this amount. Disabled children may have different financial needs to children who are not disabled and the court can take this and other factors into account. I felt that Beth and Isabelle’s financial situation was tied together so what was most important was how much they received altogether. The way the amount was divided between them might, however, affect their benefits.

The evidence

Although the council gave Isabelle about £45,000 per year for carers, when Beth could not find the carers she had to return the unspent money, and this was a large amount. She was not able to use the money for other needs (except by approval of a council panel to meet a need identified in Isabelle’s care plan) or to pay herself. Despite the fact that the lack of carers meant that Beth picked up all the extra care herself, she was entitled only to carers’ allowance which is currently £76.75 per week. Beth’s evidence made me realise the sheer exhausting burden of administering the money, finding and retaining carers, ensuring coverage, preparing timesheets for auditing by the council, and arguing with them for the resources Isabelle needed. It seemed to be a full-time job in itself even before Beth got to the normal running of a household and the care of Isabelle.

James argued that Beth should be able to get a part-time job because Isabelle was going to be attending an educational facility for disabled people. However, Beth’s GP testified about Beth’s own health problems and amount of care she undertook even if Isabelle was not there during weekdays. Even just caring for Isabelle from Friday evening to Monday morning was about 66 hours of care. The judge decided that Beth could not be expected to work at the moment. She would have needed an exceptionally understanding employer and I felt that there seemed little sense in her working if the upshot was that the state would need to pay carers to enable this, and with no guarantee of an equivalent level of care for a young woman with very complex needs.

In contrast, James seemed to be living beyond his means. He lived rent-free in a large house with a swimming pool and his wife did not have a paid job. They had another flat that they rented out. Although he had a very well paid job, the judge said that he had ‘recklessly taken on responsibilities he could not afford’. He needed £5,500 to £6,000 per month to live on, but he was spending about £8,500 and had a large amount of debt. Even though James wanted to reduce his work and retire in the next few years, the judge said this was not going to be possible without him reducing his spending so he could support both families.

The judge looked at what money Beth and Isabelle needed on top of their benefits and funding to be able to live. An enormous number of hours of court time were involved in calculating their income and expenses and deciding what was reasonable. One problem which delayed the case quite a bit was that no one was sure what Isabelle’s benefits would be once she started at the educational facility, especially as she had to take time away from it for medical treatment. They were also waiting on an assessment of Beth’s own benefits. ‘None of the figures will sit still’, complained Beth’s lawyer at one point.

The judge’s decision

      In the end, the final order was that James should pay £1,199 per month to Isabelle and £1 per month to Beth. It was, noted the judge, less than Beth wanted but sufficient to meet her outgoings, and if it was any less there was a risk that Isabelle and Beth would have to leave their specially adapted home and would be homeless. The judge found that Beth would not be able to adjust to independence without undue hardship. It was significantly more than James had wanted to pay, but the judge found that he could pay it if he controlled his expenditure to what he really needed.

Getting access to the case

This was a long-running case. Another trustee of the Transparency Project, Julie Doughty, observed two hearings and I observed about a week of different hearings spread over a year. These were not the first hearings between the parties who had been in court periodically for many years. James represented himself although a couple of times he had a barrister, especially to help him with cross-examination. Beth was represented by Rhys Taylor, a barrister who was acting for her free of charge – he did 16 hearings for her.

I was able to attend the case as a ‘legal blogger’ because I am a lawyer and a legal academic, and I write for the Transparency Project – all three of which are grounds to be a legal blogger. The rules say that a reporter – the collective name for journalists and legal bloggers – can only be excluded from a hearing if it is (a) it is ‘necessary’ in the interests of any child, the safety or protection of a party or witness, or the orderly conduct of proceedings; or (b) where justice would otherwise be impeded or prejudiced. In this case, Beth did not object to Julie’s or my presence. James did not want us there. The judge ruled that it was not necessary to exclude us and justice would not be impeded by one of us being there.

In her discussion of a recent unhappy legal blogging incident here, Transparency Project Chair Lucy Reed KC has written that ‘a journalist turning up unexpectedly can be discombobulating, anxiety inducing, even irritating. And … it adds just one more thing to the teetering Jenga pile of STUFF that the judge has to balance to keep the show on the road.’ However, Judge Shelton and his staff were very courteous and even welcoming to me.

Permission to report

Admission to a hearing does not mean that it can be reported. A reporter can attend all the hearings in a case and fail at the end to obtain permission to report either at all, or in any meaningful way.  (The Reporting Pilot changes this by creating a presumption that reporting will be allowed, hence being called a ‘transparency order’ rather than, as I had, a reporting restriction order, but there can still be restrictions on what can be reported.) I therefore asked for an order that explicitly granted me permission to report and said what I was not allowed to report. I was clear early on that I wanted to report for the Transparency Project website. Later, I modified this to say that I wanted to also publish in the Financial Remedies Journal because it had become evident that this was one of very few examples of financial cases being blogged.

What, if anything, can be reported and the contents of any reporting restriction order depends on the balancing of different human rights. One is Article 6, the right to a fair and public hearing of your case. One is Article 10, which is freedom of expression. This includes both the right to talk about your own situation and the right of journalists (and legal bloggers) to write. Then there is Article 8, the right to private and family life.  The court has to consider each of these and how they affect each person.  I sensed early on that I would be able to report, but expected there to be various restrictions. I did not argue that I should name Isabelle.  So as to avoid identifying her, this meant anonymity for her parents. I am absolutely positive that Judge Shelton would not have allowed me to name Isabelle in any case. The evidence included intimate detail about Isabelle’s personal care needs which made it at times similar to the type of evidence heard in Court of Protection cases, and an aspect of Isabelle’s Article 8 privacy rights is dignity. Against Isabelle’s privacy rights lay her interest in there being more public discussion about the issues in the case, including the moral and legal obligations of parents, the role of carers including her mother, and the role of the state in providing support for disabled people. Beth wanted the names to be public but (perhaps sensing the prevailing wind) did not press this argument. James sought anonymity. Of course, the decision is for the court.

The reporting restriction order

As the transparency Reporting Pilot only, at this point, covered children cases, there was no template order that could be used for this financial remedy case. I knew that the journalist Louise Tickle draws up two separate lists during the hearings she attends, of respectively those things she wants to seek permission to report and those things she suggests restricting. I drew up a draft court order that gave me permission to report everything except specific things such as their names, the GP’s name, and the educational facility that Isabelle was going to be attending.  The judge was happy with this and made it into an order.  Additionally, the judge agreed to publish his judgments, again suitably anonymised. You can read these judgments at  AB v CD [2022] EWFC 197 and 198; and [2023] EWFC 103


This was an interesting case and one that I am glad I was able to observe. The judge hoped, I know, that his decision would stand for some time. In reality, I think that James will be anxious to argue that Beth does at some time become capable of work, although for the reasons stated above I am not sure what effect that should have. The case raises interesting issues about moral and legal responsibility within the family and in society as a whole. Of course, such discussions derive from the real lived experience of the parties and while Beth was interested in the issues she faced as a primary carer being talked about, James did not welcome the publicity and perhaps anticipated public opprobrium. What was evident was that both parties were very tired of the litigation, and of a benefits system that was so onerous in its requirements and unpredictable in its assessments, that the parties were never able to plan or see the light at the end of the tunnel.

A longer version of this article will be published in the Financial Remedies Journal in March.

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