Should grandparents pay child support?

Divorce|February 5th 2015

As I commented here only recently, the child support authorities in this country (whatever they happen to be called at any given moment) have persistently failed to collect huge swathes of child support, ever since the wretched child support system was set up more than twenty years ago. Perhaps they should take a look at how they do things on the other side of the Atlantic…

Over the years I’ve come across various American ideas relating to child support and how to ensure that the payments are made. Some have been quite reasonable, some perhaps a little, shall we say, too enthusiastic and some just downright bizarre.

Take, for example, an idea that is fairly obvious and seems quite common in the US: publishing ‘mugshots’ of the ‘most wanted’ child support evaders online. Now, as I recall, we did at one point try ‘naming and shaming’ non-payers over here, by simply publishing their names online, but publishing their pictures as well takes it a step further. Some authorities over there even demonstrate the success of the system, by publishing details of evaders who have been arrested or located. I’ve not yet heard of a ‘bounty’ being put on the head of an evader, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens.

Another excellent idea that is ingenious in its simplicity: require casinos to do a computer check on any patron who wins more than a certain amount in jackpot winnings. The computer will check to see if they owe any child support and if so, the winnings will be paid to the state rather than the winner. Unfortunately, we probably don’t have enough casinos in this country to make this one a runner over here.

Or how about this great idea from Louisiana: send letters to child support evaders apparently from the ‘Louisiana Recovery Directive’, inviting them to come and collect ‘economic stimulus’ payments. The real sender of the letters is, of course, the Sheriff’s Department, and when the evaders show up they are greeted by two deputies with handcuffs, their car keys are confiscated and they are locked up “until they resolve” the debt. Can’t see that happening over here somehow…

The latest American idea that I’ve come across is perhaps a little more serious than any of the above. Apparently, in a number of states it is possible to make grandparents liable for child support, where the parent of the child concerned is a minor. In fact, it is possible to seek child support from both sets of grandparents. As well as collecting child support, the idea it seems is to help the parents of the minor hold them accountable for raising the child, and allow them to pass on parenting skills.

Hmm, I’m all for collecting child support, but I’m not really sure about this one. Apart from the question of whether a parent should be responsible for their child’s liability, it seems to me that this could divide families, at the very time when they need to be coming together to look after the child. It is likely to be difficult enough for someone to come to terms with the fact that their child, still a minor, is a parent, without burdening them with a liability to pay child support.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea had some supporters on this side of the pond.

Photo by David, Bergin, Emmett and Elliott via Flickr

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  1. Paul Apreda says:

    You’re nothing if not consistent John!

    Why not have a look at the Right of First Refusal legislation in the US for your next blog post as well as

    Go on surprise us by blogging about this 😉

  2. Andrew says:

    “Should grandparents pay child support?”

    In a word: No.

    Because, you see, they aren’t parents.

    If grandparents why not auntie and uncle or older siblings and half-siblings?

    And when the parent is of full age are the grandparents still expected to pay?

    Even by American redneck standards this is bizarre.

  3. Nordic says:

    Of course grand parents should not pay child maintenance. It is a totally ridiculous concept.
    More generally, looking to the U.S. for inspiration on how to deal with child maintenance is like looking to Greece on how to manage national finances. The US is bottom of just about any child well being statistic covering the western world. All you can learn from them is how to make the system here even worse (if possible).
    We should look to places such as the Nordics and other northern European countries, all of whom operate simpler and fairer rules based system for child maintenance (and none of whom have found a need for separate family courts). The problem with CMS/CSA is not that the system is rule based,. The problem is that the rules are stupid, unfair and incredibly inefficiently implemented.

    • Stitchedup says:

      “The US is bottom of just about any child well being statistic covering the western world. All you can learn from them is how to make the system here even worse (if possible).” This is correct Nordic but in the UK we do tend to follow the US lead and this is very true for family law issues.

  4. Andrew says:

    I like the Greek analogy.

    It is not surprising that CRISIS and CATASTROPHE are words of Greek origin.

    It is surprising that TAX is too!

  5. Democratic Senate candidate explains unpaid child support – Best Options for Single Moms says:

    […] Should grandparents pay child support? By John Bolch As I commented here only recently, the child support authorities in this country (whatever they happen to be called at any given moment) have persistently failed to collect huge swathes of child support, ever since the wretched child support system was … Read more on Marilyn Stowe Blog […]

  6. Yvie says:

    Of course grandparents should not pay child support. This is a ridiculous notion. However, having said that, I suspect there will be a fair number of grandparents who already pay child support – but certainly not to the mother. Many fathers will find themselves in a position of financial difficulty post-separation, especially when there is a substantial shared residence order in place. This is where grandparents can help and many do. I am happy to help my son financially to ensure that the children are clothed and cared for, and that there is food on the table. I would be outraged if I found myself liable to support his ex. wife.

  7. Luke says:

    Trying to force grandparents to pay child support is similar to trying to force parents to give child contact to grandparents against the wishes of those parents – both ideas are just silly and totally impractical.

  8. Carolyn says:

    I know this is an old blog post but as a mum whose ex hasn’t paid child maintenence in over 3 years and owes me thousands, I was considering asking his parents to pay instead. They never offer to help with clothes or school lunches or anything! It all falls on me (skint part time worker) and my parents to pay for everything the kids need. Meanwhile they are buying new cars, going on holidays and living it up… Doesn’t seem fair at all! Legally I can not make them pay me and the CSA have trouble catching up with my ex due to him changing jobs frequently. If the CSA could take from grandparents instead then my kids would have a fairer deal. My kids see his parents once a month, more frequently than my ex but never buy them clothes or anything. I’m going to ask them to help next time I see them or to get their son kicked into touch with his responsibility!

    • Andrew says:

      Carolyn: please ask yourself what would be fair about claiming support for your children from two persons who are not their father?

      If they will lean on their son to come up with money, well and good, but that is all you can ask them to do.

      • Carolyn says:

        I appreciate your view Andrew but my point is simply this. Why should it be up to my parents to buy the kids clothes etc as I can’t afford to because their father doesn’t support them. Surely if the father isn’t paying then his parents should pay the shortfall not mine. In my case I am supporting my kids best I can at 80% my parents 20% and his father and their family 0%. Surely this is completely unfair and considering my exes parents are well of, they should contribute to their grandkids upbringing. You would hope they would voluntarily want their grandkids fed and clothed well but if they refuse to contribute every now and again then I will most definitely consider court and even perhaps cutting contact. Kids cost money and it takes 2 to make a baby and the whole family should feel responsibility towards the children not just one side of the family.

        • Andrew says:

          Carolyn: in your first post you said that legally you cannot make your ex’s parents pay. That was right – you can’t – so please forget about court. I know it’s hard but in this society it is the parents of a child who have financial responsibility and nobody else.

        • Yvie says:

          I am a grandmother and provide plenty of things for my grandchildren but it is by choice. Every father should support their children but when they dont’t pay the responsibility should not fall to someone else.

          • Carolyn says:

            Thanks again for your comments as I do appreciate them. I wish my kids grandparents did contribute by choice and it’s a real shame for the children that they do not seem that bothered about their well being never mind extras. It’s a shame that the kids have to do without when those blood related to them could help out now and again with buying them school uniform or something useful once a year. i do not expect thousands of pounds. If they bought them clothes now and again, this would ease my load and be very much appreciated. I also believe if my ex had custody 100% and I did a disappearing act and paid nothing like he has done, my own parents would still help my ex by buying things for the kids and seeing them regularly. It may not be the law but it’s a moral obligation to in my opinion for grandparents to help if they can and if it’s needed. If I was working full time it would be less of an issue but unfortunately I would struggle to pay the childcare costs outside the school day. I just hope the kids grow up knowing I did everything for them and put them before anything else. Shame their dad and his family don’t but the kids will pick up on this when they are older.

          • Carolyn says:

            I should have also added in my last message that in South Africa if the paying parent can not pay then the grand parents can be taken to court to support their grandkids unless they voluntarily make a contribution. My personal opinion is that my kids deserve better and their so called grandparents should be ashamed of themselves for not offering any help whatsoever in nearly 4 years now. Their latest of 3 foreign holidays planned this year and yet another purchase, a motorbike this time, just annoys me so much when I have to use food banks to feed the 3 of us. When I’m old and have grandchildren of my own their is no way I would ever see them without especially if I have the means to help out.

          • Yvie says:

            You need to approach their father Caroline. You and your ex are responsible for your children and you cannot put that responsibility onto others, Its sad that the grandparents don’t buy for the grandchildren, as this the natural thing to do. However child maintenance is fraught with difficulties both for the payer and the receiver, without trying to factor in grandparents. Many grandparents are retired on pension only and small gifts at Christmas and birthdays are as much as can be managed, particularly when there are several grandchildren, and to make grandparents responsible for the actions of others would be neither fair or appropriate. That said, most fathers are willing to contribute to the maintenance of their children
            and they should do their share,

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