A mother-of-two who registered as a single mother to claim social welfare is to be investigated for benefit fraud, after she herself brought the suspected abuse to light by suing for maintenance payments. 

The woman had registered her two children under “unknown father,” thus claiming social benefits while living with the children's natural father, who contributed to the family’s upkeep.

For years, she claimed to get by solely on social benefits and some financial help from her mother while raising three kids, two of whom were the natural offspring of the man she was actually living with.

The apparent abuse came to light in the course of a lawsuit filed by the woman before the Family Court, two years after the couple broke up and she sued her former partner for maintenance.

That court has now asked the Department of Social Security to investigate her for benefit fraud. 

Situation dates back 20 years

The couple’s relationship went back to 2000 when the then-17-year-old was a single mother to an 18-month-old child.

Two years later, the couple had their first son, followed by a second child five years on.

The couple used to live together at their parents’ homes, while the father contributed to the children’s daily needs, buying baby milk, nappies, clothes as well as medical expenses.

She later claimed that her partner had deposited all cash gifts received at the children’s christening into his own personal bank account with the specific intention of using those funds to buy and refurbish a house, transforming it into their family home.

The man eventually bought the house after getting a bank loan as well as a grant under a Housing Authority scheme.

Meanwhile, the woman continued to claim social benefits as a ‘single’ mother, while lending a hand at a bar operated by her partner at the time.

That state of affairs continued for years.

In 2009 the couple and their children moved into the refurbished home where they continued to live together until July 2013.

Shortly after the move, the man spent some seven months out of work after being involved in an accident.

During that period, he got by on sickness benefits and charitable donations until he was fit enough to get another job.

A monthly maintenance deal

Around that time, after social services authorities sent for the mother, her social benefits were reduced.

Consequently, in 2010, the couple signed a private agreement whereby the father bound himself to hand over €100 a month. That was followed up with another agreement fixing maintenance for the two boys at €200 a month.

The total monthly sum was increased to €400 when the man found a new job.

The woman later pointed out that that money, added to her own social benefits, was used to cover expenses for all the family, including her partner who shared the same residence.

In 2013, following their break up, the man continued to hand her €60 a week.

Conflict reaches legal system

But after some six months, the payments stopped.

That was when the woman started sending him judicial letters which ultimately resulted in a claim for maintenance and arrears before the Family Court.

In 2021, that court declared that the man was to pay maintenance only for the younger son, now 15, as well as half the expenses related to education, extracurricular activities and health.

The mother’s request for maintenance arrears was rejected.

That decision prompted an appeal by the mother and a cross-appeal by the father.

When testifying in the proceedings in 2020, the father said that almost all arrears had been paid up.

He complained that the applicant refused to supply him with details of a bank account where he could deposit the money. She always cited her "relief" (benefit) payments as an excuse.

After examining the evidence put forward, the Court of Appeal concluded that the defendant’s version was more credible, confirming that he had continued to pay maintenance up to September 2014.

The only pending dues related to a 15-month term between October 2014 and December 2015.

The mother argued that her elder son was studying full time and she only got by with the help of her mother and some contribution from her eldest son who had a full-time job.

The defendant consented to paying maintenance for both sons, but contested the amount claimed.

Woman says she is too old to work

In 2019, the woman presented a prospect of expenses that her ex deemed excessive.

Now aged 40, the woman argued that “it was too late” for her to seek employment and besides, she lacked the necessary qualifications.

She had raised her children and also cared for the defendant’s mother.

However, the court pointed out that there was a time when the woman had a job, even if unregistered.

Moreover, the 20-year-old son could seek a part-time job to support himself while studying, observed the court.

It was the woman’s choice not to work although she had many more years to go until pensionable age and nowadays there were many opportunities to undertake training and acquire certificates in various fields of work.

Her children were now old enough not to require her constant presence at home, went on the court.

When all was considered the Court, presided over by Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo as president, together with Mr Justices Tonio Mallia and Anthony Ellul, agreed that the applicant’s prospect was excessive, given the defendant’s modest means.

Whilst declaring that the father was to maintain both sons, a monthly sum of €450 for both was sufficient, until the children continued with their studies up to the age of 23.

The court also fixed the sum of arrears at €6,000, payable in 30 monthly instalments and ordered both parties to shoulder half of the expenses.

Finally, the court ordered service of the judgment to the Department of Social Security for the purpose of investigating and taking action as necessary in light of benefits paid to the mother while in a relationship with the defendant, knowing fully well that he was the children’s natural father.

Lawyers Ludvic Caruana and Janice Borg assisted the defendant.

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