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The liability to support children

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.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    They are right about taking both parties’ income into account; and where a mother could work what she could earn should be imputed to her.

  2. Nordic says:

    John. I agree that child maintenance and issues around breach of contact should be kept separate. However, your claim that our current system for child maintenance is gender neutral is plainly nonsense as evidenced by current CMS and HRMC rules.
    Under the CMS rules, child maintenance is paid to the parent who is in receipt of child benefits. In turn, the child benefit status is determined by the HRMC and under their rules only one parent can qualify for these benefits. By default, that one parent is the wife/mother. The HRMC website states that:”where a husband and a wife resides together, the wife has priority of entitlement”. Similarly, for cohabitants, HRMC states that “where the father and mother resides together, the mother has priority of entitlement”. I hope we can agree that the references to “wife” and “mother, respectively, is a reference to the female gender.

    It follows that on divorce, the default is that the wife/mother is the designated resident parent for child benefit purposes under the HRMC rules and hence the maintenance entitlement under the CMS rules. This is hardly what you would call a level, or gender neutral, paying field. In fact, we have managed to turn child benefits into a means of control by one gender over the other.
    Obviously, the notion that only one parent can be the carer also renders the system totally incapable of dealing fairly with shared care arrangements. Parents that sensibly decide to share the care in the best interest of their kids, will find that one of them (generally daddy) will be designated the non-resident paying parent and the other the receiving resident parent (generally mummy). This is true even if they share 50/50. Our current rules do indeed reflect gender roles aka the1950s.
    Finally, if in fact child wellbeing truly was the paramount consideration for family courts as they so hypocritically claim, then contact would be enforced with the same vigour as maintenance payments. Substantive contact with both parents is by far the single most important determinant to a divorced child’s wellbeing. Believe me, I know. I was one. So, the courts’ pathetic excuses for not enforcing contact orders is cowardice and in direct opposition to the children’s best interest. If resident patents knew uncomfortable consequences would follow from denial of contact, such denial would not be the huge problem it is. In Denmark 2-3% of parents loose contact with their children after divorce. Here the same stat is reported as being somewhere between 20 and 40%.
    While I do not support F4J’s view that contact breaches should be directly reflected in maintenance payments, they are much more on the side of children than the current system or your defence of same. To claim that this system is fair, gender neutral or in the children’s best interest, you have to be blind or unwilling to open your eyes.

  3. Stitchedup says:

    When my ex left the family she still claimed the child benefit even though I was the primary carer. The HRMC rules beg the question how a male primary carer can claim child maintenance if the female still claims the child benefit on divorce/separation.

    • Nordic says:

      Stitchedup, it’s actually worse. if the parent deemed non-resident under the HRMC rules for child benefit (CB) in fact is the primary carer, then not only does that parent not receive the benefits, that parent is also liable to pay maintenance to the other parent under the CMS rules. The CMS relies solely on the CB status to determine who the relevant children are as well as with whom they live. Likewise, recognition of so called “Other Relevant Children” living with you in the CMS formula is also dependent on you having obtained CB status for them. If you haven’t, they do not exist (as far as CMS is concerned).
      The upshot is that if a child transitions to your care, it is critical you go through the (rather painful) process to get recognised as the parent eligible for CB, even if you income is above the HRMC cap or you simply don’t want these handouts. Otherwise, not only will you not receive child maintenance, you are liable to have to continue to make such payments to your ex, even though the child Is in your care.

  4. Yvie says:

    If there is a shared care arrangement in place, I don’t see why child benefit shouldn’t be shared between the two parents.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Nordic and the other commenters are correct.

    All I can add is that, when I read articles like this, I can only conclude that moral intelligence is seriously lacking among judges and lawyers.

    The author of the article does an excellent job of 1) saying gender apartheid is okay and should be normalized, and 2) spinning the nonsense that it is this gender apartheid that creates the system, not the reverse.

    I don’t think he’ll ever get the elementary fact that the system, as he calls it, produces and reproduces this gender apartheid.

  6. Randox Drug & Alcohol Testing Services | Failure to pay child support could damage credit rating - Randox Drug & Alcohol Testing Services says:

    […] […]

  7. Nick Langford says:

    I cannot understand why Marilyn gives so much space – and risks her reputation – to this man’s awful bigotry. There is a clear explanation of why Bolch is so wrong here:

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Nick
      Thanks very much. I publish people’s views because I wouldnt seek to dictate what people should read and think. We live happily, Im pleased to say in a democracy when so much of the world does not and everyone is entitled to their own opinion provided the line isn’t crossed into crass offence and your comment is getting near that line now!
      I also think my reputation would suffer greater risk of harm if I only published one opinion and ignored all the others.

  8. Yvie says:

    Has John considered that children also need to maintained at the home of their father, particularly when there is a shared residence order. Fathers also have to feed and clothe their children and keep a roof over their heads. Is it only mothers who need financial help? How do fathers manage to care for their children when they are low paid? Apparently it is the duty of the State to relieve fathers of their meagre earnings, not supplement them.

  9. Luke says:

    The liability to support children by John Bolch

    “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.”
    Really John ?
    This comes from Marilyn’s article so it’s a pretty decent source 🙂 :-
    “The research also indicates that the vast majority (97 per cent) of ‘resident’ parents who continue to live with their children following divorce or separation remain women.”
    So what you are trying to tell us John is that in 2014 we have a society where 97% residency in favour of women (or anything in that ballpark) represents the way society is now living in terms of who spends more time looking after their children. That there are virtually no men at all that put in as many or more hours with their children as women do. We are not talking about it being a minority, you are effectively claiming it is virtually ZERO !
    Perhaps you should think harder on what you write John, because what you have written is factually inaccurate and misleading.

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