Wednesday, February 8, 2023
HomeNew ZealandFamily Count decision on private school fees may deter blended families, divorce...

Family Count decision on private school fees may deter blended families, divorce lawyer says

- Advertisement -

By By Hazel Osborne, Open Justice reporter of of NZ Herald

Gavel showing separation of family and house on dark wooden table

The application to declare the man a step-parent under the Child Support Act 1991 is estimated to be just one of 20 put before the Family Court in the past two decades.
Photo: 123RF

A top divorce lawyer says the case of a man being ordered to pay the private school fees of his step-daughter, despite divorcing her mother and never being the girl’s legal guardian, is rare but may put couples off forming a blended family.

Jeremy Sutton said the Family Court decision, made by Judge Andrea Manuel last year, could be a disincentive to blended families and for step-parents forming bonds with their partner’s children.

“If they form a bond with a child and assume responsibility and liability for that child it might end up continuing financial responsibility [if] they’ve ended that relationship,” Sutton said of the controversial outcome revealed by Open Justice yesterday.

The application to declare the man a step-parent under the Child Support Act 1991 is estimated to be just one of 20 put before the Family Court in the past two decades, Sutton said.

“It’s not the sort of case that we deal with on a day-to-day basis and there’s been a lot of interest from lawyers and a lot of other people today in the judgement,” he said.

Nick Sydney and Maya Taylor* (not their real names) were a couple with children from previous relationships.

This included Taylor’s daughter Caitlyn*, who Sydney showered with expensive gifts including a second-hand Louis Vuitton handbag. He also paid for her expensive private school fees.

Sydney said he had only provided for Caitlyn for six years but despite providing significant financial support he was never her legal guardian, and was indirectly financially supporting her through his support of her mother.

This was disputed by Taylor who said Sydney had provided for her daughter as a father would.

“We were in a marriage, we were married, and that was part of his supporting [Caitlyn] as her father,” Taylor said.

He lavished the girl with designer clothes and bags, shopping trips, holidays, and eventually her $24,000 private school fees which he must now continue to pay by order of the court.

Judge Manuel made the ruling under Section 99 of the Child Support Act declaring Sydney as Caitlyn’s step-father, and because of this he is subject to parental responsibilities.

The declaration itself, according to Sutton, is a rare one and doesn’t come before the courts often.

Sutton estimates just 15 to 20 applications seeking a step-parent declaration, and in turn the responsibilities that come with such a decision, have occurred in the past two decades.

That number has been increasing with the popularity and mainstream acceptance of blended families.

Sutton said not all applications for a declaration of this kind have had the same outcome, and all are taken on a “case-by-case” basis, including the decision to make someone financially liable for another person’s child.

Despite his protests of any legal responsibility to the girl, Sydney had a close relationship with Caitlyn according to Judge Manuel.

Sydney held the belief that Caitlyn’s biological father should be financially responsible for her, however, she had not seen her father for some years.

“Although he [Sydney] was never appointed as a legal guardian, he acted as her guardian and would have been her guardian if Miss [Taylor] had died,” Judge Manuel said.

Judge Manuel said in her decision the extent of Sydney’s support for Caitlyn was significant and provided for all of the girl’s needs during those six years.

Sydney said he only provided the support for the sake of his marriage but Judge Manuel disagreed.

“Even if he was equivocal at the beginning of the marriage, she became part of his life and a father-daughter style relationship developed.

“Although the basis for Mr [Sydney]’s support may have at first been non-paternal, he assumed an emotional role as her father figure.”

* This story [ https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/man-ordered-to-pay-for-step-daughters-private-school-fees-how-common-is-it/ANUT3DRB2VCOXCZADHWFA3CQZM/ originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald].

Story Credit: rnz.co.nz

RELATED ARTICLES
- Advertisment -

Most Popular