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An ‘unedifying and really rather sad dispute’
A baffled judge has rejected a 41-year-old solicitor’s attempt to sue his parents for financial support.
The man known only as FS, who has mental health problems and has been unemployed since 2011, had been supported by his wealthy parents throughout his life, but they had recently fallen out.
FS argued among other things that he should be entitled to financial support under divorce and children’s rights legislation, as well as invoking the court’s “inherent jurisdiction”.
But Sir James Munby found decisively for the parents in what he called an “unedifying and really rather sad dispute”, leaving FS with a bill for nearly £60,000 in costs.
As well as being a qualified solicitor, FS has a history degree, a tax master’s and is studying for other professional exams. He lives in a central London flat owned by his “very wealthy” parents, who until recently were covering the utility bills as well.
After the relationship with his father deteriorated, FS turned to the courts in an attempt to keep the money flowing. He argued that section 27 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which allows “either party to a marriage” to apply for “reasonable maintenance”, should be interpreted to allow a child of the marriage to apply for maintenance as well.
He also made claims under the Children Act 1989 and the court’s inherent jurisdiction.
Munby opened by describing the case as “unprecedented”, saying that “the initial reaction of most experienced family lawyers would be a robust disbelief that there is even arguable substance to any of it”. It still took him 177 paragraphs to dispose of.
On the maintenance argument, the judge found that “the statutory language is clear and means what it says… The simple fact… is that a child may apply for relief under section 27 only where there has already been an order in the child’s favour applied for by one of the parties to the marriage”.
He dismissed the Children Act argument by pointing out that the legislation specifically says that the power to order payments to an adult can’t be used “when the parents of the applicant are living with each other in the same household”. FS’s parents do live together.
Munby also rejected an argument based on the court’s inherent jurisdiction to protect children and vulnerable adults. While it provides a general legal safety net, “the law — that is, the common law and equity — never entertained a cause of action or claim between a financially dependent adult child and his parents”.
While the case is bizarre in many ways, Munby’s discussion of this concept — as a former head of the family courts — may be of interest to family lawyers. Catherine Rowlands of Cornerstone Barristers said that the case “provides clear guidance as to the limits of the court’s inherent jurisdiction”.