I mentioned in my post here last Friday the plan of the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) for the Child Maintenance Service and Child Support Agency to share certain information about the payment records of their clients with credit reference agencies. The idea, of course, is to encourage non-resident parents to pay their child support, as failure to do so could damage their credit rating and thus result in them being refused loans, mortgages, credit cards, hire purchase finance arrangements, mobile phone contracts and other forms of financial credit. I indicated then that I didn’t have any problems with such a measure.
Needless to say, fathers’ rights group Fathers4Justice do not see things quite the same way. They issued a news release condemning the plans, saying that they “were self-defeating and would drive thousands of fathers and their children deeper into poverty”.
The group took exception to what they saw as the misrepresentation of fathers as “irresponsible”. The DWP’s press release included a quote from Child Maintenance Minister, Steve Webb MP who did, indeed, use the word “irresponsible”. However, he was referring to absent parents who fail to pay maintenance generally, not specifically fathers. Of course, most absent parents are fathers and fathers’ rights groups consider that this is due to discrimination by the family justice system, more of which in a moment.
The news release went on to say that the group want to see “radical reform of the Family Justice and Child Maintenance system”, and to see shared child support and 50/50 Shared Parenting become the norm. They also want to see the government take into account both parents’ income and child support calculated as a percentage of the total, balanced according to the share of parenting time.
To link contact with child maintenance has, of course, long been an aim of fathers’ rights groups. After all, why should a father who is being denied contact with his child by the mother still have to pay maintenance to the mother? One can see the easy allure of such an argument for fathers in such a position. It would, however, be disastrous for the child. The law, quite rightly, considers the welfare of the child to be paramount – a position with which I would hope all agree. The welfare of the child cannot be determined by whether the absent parent is paying child support, or how much they are paying. If the welfare of the child is best served by them having contact with the absent parent (as is the situation in the vast majority of cases) then contact should take place irrespective of how much maintenance is being paid. On the other hand, if the absent parent is not having contact, whether by choice or because a court does not consider it in the interests of the child’s welfare, then support should still be payable, as the child obviously still needs to be maintained.
As I mentioned earlier, the group considers that the system discriminates against fathers. It once said that that it considers that the first step towards a fair solution to the child support issue “must be to eliminate the anachronistic sex discrimination: the gender apartheid”.
They went on: “We must jettison the view that sees mothers as carriers and fathers as cashpoints”. Well, the fact is that the system, both in respect of post-separation arrangements for children and child support, does not discriminate – it is not gender-specific. The results of the system merely reflect the situation in society: that more mothers are child carers and fathers are generally the main breadwinners. Whether that is right or wrong is another matter, but the system can’t be blamed for it.
The simple fact of the matter is that after their parents separate children should be financially maintained to the best level that their parents’ joint income allows. This means contributions by both parents, and any parent who fails to pay their contribution should face the consequences.