Mum's battle for justice

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 01/06/2014
Robert

WORTH THE FIGHT: Alida Miculetich says she was determined to stick it out for her son, Robert Spencer.

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After a 15-year legal battle, a Wellington mother has secured thousands of dollars in child support after suing the estranged father of their special needs son.

Although relatively independent, and a volunteer DJ at Access Radio, Robert Spencer, now 38, has the mental age of a 7-year-old, is on an invalid benefit and cannot properly read or write. He still lives with his mother, 67-year-old Brooklyn Galleria owner Alida Miculetich.

She split with Wellington property developer Barry Spencer in 1992. A trust fund he set up for Robert and the couple's two other children was ordered by a court to pay $200 a week in child support for Robert. But after only five months, those payments abruptly stopped in 1995, and Miculetich launched legal action in Robert's name in 1998.

The trustees - including Spencer's close friends, Wellington property developer Philip Vavasour and retired accountant David Underwood - were found in a 2011 High Court decision to have committed breaches of trust and dishonesty in overseeing the trust.

In her ruling, Justice Christine French found Vavasour and Underwood had "allowed their friendship with Barry to override their legal obligations to the Spencer children, and in particular Robert. They operated the trust as if it were for the sole benefit of Barry, although they knew it was not".

She found the men were outraged at being sued, and had expressed a sense of "righteous self-indignation".

The three men then took the case to the Court of Appeal, but ultimately a settlement was reached to pay Robert $81,000, and a further $150,000 to be split between all three of the couple's children.

Miculetich lost her job as a real estate agent and suffered a nervous breakdown during the long legal battle but said she never considered backing down.

"The mother never gives up for the life of her son. I could not have let it go for my son and for my children," she said.

Robert said he was proud of his mother for fighting on his behalf, and he felt better now the legal battle was over.

Longtime friend and Miculetich supporter Hilda Stedman criticised Spencer for not acknowledging his son, and the trustees.

"It's a sad reflection on all of them, that they would put a mother and son through that when it's struggle enough to look after a special needs person."

Lawyer Richard Niven said Robert Spencer deserved fair treatment and the outcome proved that, if a case was strong and morally just, justice would prevail.

"Don't give up, keep going and if you get stonewalled, if you get pushed back, if you get delays, keep going and trust in the court system. Get it before the courts and it will stand on its merits."

Barry Spencer, who divides his time between Noosa and Wellington, said he considered the decision "grossly unfair" but declined to comment further.

 

TIMELINE

1992: Alida Miculetich and Barry Spencer separate after 25 years of marriage.

1995: A trust set up by Spencer for his mentally disabled son Robert and his two other children abruptly stops paying Robert's child support.

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1998: Miculetich launches legal action in her son's name against Spencer and fellow trustees Philip Vavasour and David Underwood.

2011: A High Court decision finds the trustees committed breaches of trust for which they were personally liable, and were dishonest in overseeing the trust.

2013: A Court of Appeal decision upholds the High Court order to pay support, a settlement is reached and $231,00 is awarded to Robert Spencer and the couple's other two children.

- Sunday Star Times

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