English High Court refuses to vary French maintenance settlement

15 July 2010

The England and Wales Family Court has refused to hear an Algerian woman’s application to force the French father of their child to pay increased maintenance.

The case is M v V [2010] EWHC 1453 (Fam). Though both parents now live in England, their existing maintenance agreement was approved by a French court (Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris Affaires Familiales) in 2007, when the mother was still living in France.

This set the father’s contribution to the child’s maintenance and education at GBP3,000 per month plus all expenses. In the event he paid far more – some GBP15,000 a month (he is very wealthy).

The agreement also contained an undertaking by the mother that she would not seek to alter the maintenance agreement through litigation in English courts. Instead, she agreed to first seek mediation of any dispute in the Paris family court.

Nevertheless the mother has now approached the England & Wales High Court (Family Division) with an application for extra maintenance under Schedule 1 of the 1989 Children Act, plus maintenance for herself and payment of her GBP138,000 legal costs.

The father contested the mother’s application, claiming that the English court had no jurisdiction to hear it. He pointed out that the 2007 agreement fixed Paris as the agreed forum; and that the mother was now returning to live in Paris, spoke poor English and had no settled connection with London.

The judgement turned on the interpretation of Council Regulation (EC) 44/2001 – the so-called Brussels I. Article 23 of Brussels I states that where parties have previously agreed which jurisdiction shall settle their disputes, that jurisdiction shall be exclusive unless the parties have agreed otherwise.

Thus the judge, Sir Nicholas Wall, President of the Family Division, ruled that the mother was bound by the 2007 agreement and the subsequent French court order. He dismissed her summons on the grounds that the English court does not have jurisdiction.





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