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Expert to give child maintenance advice

Family law specialist: Cristen Suess, an associate at Wakefield Quin (File photograph)

Mothers will be offered free advice on how to access child maintenance by an expert in family law tomorrow.Cristen Suess is to present information and answer questions on the topic at an event hosted by the Women’s Resource Centre.She said the seminar came after a number of people contacted her with similar queries, as well as misinformation about the subject in the community.Ms Suess, an associate at Wakefield Quin, explained: “I noticed that there’s a repeated trend of women coming to clinics or reaching out to me on Facebook with questions about maintenance.“I felt like it would be great to get everybody together and just give them some advice in a neutral space for people to ask all of their questions.”She added that the Lunch and Learn session, to run from midday until 1pm, will include paperwork and information about the process to apply for maintenance support from a child’s father.Ms Suess said: “When you make an application to the Family Court in Magistrates’ Court, it’s all free and the staff at Family Court are amazing.”She explained that the most common questions she encounters are: am I entitled to maintenance, and how much would I get?Ms Suess said: “It’s really not a cookie-cutter answer because everything is done on a case-by-case basis, it really depends on the circumstances.“What I do tell people is that if you have a child, both parents under the law are responsible for maintaining that child.”The lawyer believed efforts were being made to clear a “huge backlog” of cases in the Magistrates’ family court.She said that it seemed that the process had also been made as straightforward as possible.Ms Suess explained that someone seeking maintenance needed to have the child’s birth certificate and must fill out forms that included information about both parents as well as the individual’s income and expenses.She said that queries often came up in Facebook groups around similar issues.Ms Suess said: “A lot of people will post anonymously, they always have the same question: what should I do?“Or if they’ve already gotten to the maintenance portion it’s about enforcement.“I try to comment on all the legal questions so that I can just steer them in the right direction because there’s a lot of misconception out there.“I would say that in the past year or so I’ve had complete strangers message me ... they all seem to be having the same sorts of issues.“I don’t know if it’s on the increase in terms of the number of applications but maintenance is certainly a hot topic in the family law field.“It’s the one that’s the most contentious.”• The free session, which includes lunch provided by The Supermart, will be held at the WRC’s location on the second floor of Sofia House on Church Street. To register, call the WRC on 295-3882 or e-mail wrc@wrcbermuda.com