Next Monday the Department for Work and Pensions will begin rolling out a package of reforms that will eventually see the much reviled Child Support Agency (CSA) replaced by the new Child Maintenance Service.
And according to an article in the Daily Mail, these reforms will mean a hike in child maintenance payment for many because their assessments will be based on their gross pay, rather than their after tax salary as currently occurs. Apparently 74 per cent of non-resident fathers currently registered with the CSA will see an increase in payments.
Around half could find themselves paying £5 a week more, and one in ten face substantial rises of £40 or more per week.
The first non-resident parents affected by the rises will be those with four or more children living with their former partners. This is what it is termed, in classic local authority jargon, a ‘pathfinder’ exercise. The changes will then be gradually rolled out to other types of family, until they reach all 1.1 million of those separated parents currently paying maintenance through the aging CSA.
Sometime in the latter part of next year we will see the introduction of so-called ‘Family Based Arrangements’. These will see separated parents encouraged to make their own voluntary child maintenance agreements. If they cannot or will not, both partners will be charged a fee for the imposition of a compulsory payment system.
Child maintenance is one of the single biggest lightning rods for contention and argument in divorce. Only a small minority of divorcing couples have significant assets to squabble over post-divorce, but most families have children, whether natural or adopted.
Paying child maintenance is a long-term, continuous commitment. Non-resident parents – usually, not always, fathers – may be torn between a desire to do right by their kids and a desire to start a new life, to wipe the slate clean and move on, especially if they and their partner have parted on bad terms. Of course, they can’t do that: their kids remain their kids, no matter who rancorous or bitter their relationship with the resident parent has become.
Decent parents will pay their due, putting their children’s welfare before their own emotions. But unfortunately there will those less worthy parents for whom the temptation to drag their feet, delay or simply refuse to pay their child maintenance dues outright is too much. The result can too often be heartache and hardship for the resident parent.
Of course the situation is not always so black and white. The CSA has had an at-times well earned reputation for rigidity and inflexibility in its approach to child maintenance calculations. Rigid formulas based on out-of-date or wrong information could – and often did – leave hard-up fathers genuinely struggling. As recently as October the Agency was branded “obnoxious” and “unreasonable” by the Court of Appeal and found guilty of breaching non-resident parents’ human rights.
But none of that changes the fact that children are a responsibility that only starts to fade once they reach 18. And while those children remain children, someone has to pay the bills!