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Smoke and mirrors from the government on child maintenance

“The aim of the CM reforms is to encourage and support more families to make their own collaborative arrangements and to deliver a more efficient and effective statutory service to those who really need it. This is delivered by promoting the financial responsibilities that parents have for their children and by providing information and support about the different child maintenance options that are available through CM Options.”

So says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in its latest quarterly release of statistics for “children benefiting from an effective family-based maintenance arrangement secured after contacting Child Maintenance Options”, as of the end of December 2015.

For the benefit of those who don’t know, Child Maintenance Options (usually reduced to ‘CM Options’) was set up in 2008 to “provide free impartial information and support to help parents make informed choices about child maintenance”. However, its function has changed subtly but significantly since then. Whereas initially it was a service that you could choose whether or not to use, now contacting it is mandatory if you wish to make an application to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) for a statutory child maintenance arrangement. In other words, CM Options is part of the government’s policy to encourage people not to use the government body that deals with child maintenance/support applications (now the CMS, formerly the Child Support Agency).

The statistical release was published on 20 April. Somewhat confusingly, on 27 April the DWP published further statistics relating to child maintenance, this time experimental statistics for the 2012 CMS scheme. To add to the confusion, this second set of statistics is described as quarterly, but covers the period from August 2013 (essentially when the 2012 scheme opened) to February 2016.

I don’t propose to go through any of the statistics in either release here (if you are interested, links to the two releases can be found at the end of this post). In fact, I am not actually sure I care about the statistics, for the simple reason that I don’t trust the motivation behind them. Statistics such as these should be entirely impartial, but I just feel that these are just being produced by the government with the specific aim of painting a rosy picture of how well the government’s reforms to the child support/maintenance system are working. To put it bluntly, it is all just spin.

Let us go back to that quote at the beginning of this post:

“The aim of the CM reforms is to encourage and support more families to make their own collaborative arrangements and to deliver a more efficient and effective statutory service to those who really need it.”

We have to remember the debacle that came before the CMS. Ever since the government of the day had the bright idea to do away with child maintenance through the courts and introduce a separate child support maintenance system, that system has been a continual embarrassment for all succeeding governments. It has been an ugly running sore: totally failing many of the children it was intended to help, and running up billions of pounds in unrecoverable arrears in the progress. Those succeeding governments tried to do something about the problem that they inherited, but their efforts to make the system work made little or no difference.

So, what was the current government to do to avoid similar embarrassment? The answer was there all along. What do all politicians do to make themselves and their policies look good? Why, turn to the spin doctor, of course. Don’t worry about whether a system is any good – that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the system looks good, or at least a lot better than the failed system that preceded it.

Knowing that it was nigh on impossible to come up with a child support maintenance system that actually worked, the government decided instead to come up with a system that appears to do the job, but actually doesn’t do much at all for a huge number of parents seeking financial support for their children. Those parents now have to do their best to sort things out themselves, rather than having the system do it for them. It’s a great wheeze too, and one that I fear may be working: certainly, you don’t see the same kind of ‘failing child support system’ headlines these days as you used to.

And all of these statistics are just part of the same system of smoke and mirrors. They say: “Aren’t we doing well? The number of children benefitting under the new scheme is increasing, and the amount of arrears is nothing like it used to be!” Well, no, but that’s because you’re dealing with far fewer cases than you used to, as I have explained here previously.

It’s all a bit like the family justice system since the legal aid cuts. Whereas before we had a system that was there for all, now for many people there really isn’t much of a system at all. It’s every man for himself, with many, including the children, suffering as a result. Still, as long as the voter thinks the government is doing a good job, that’s all that matters.

The CM Options statistical release can be found here, and the 2012 CMS scheme statistics are here.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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  1. JamesB says:

    Child Maintenance, it’s a zero sum game. The only way to win is not to play it. In my, quite large amount of experience, child maintenance is about damage limitation and making the best of a bad situation and is best left to the courts. Thatcher and all governments since have been very wrong on this subject since they thought up the bad idea (on that I agree with John).

    The CSA/CMEC/CMS/CMO (now has been renamed at least four times) don’t really help but make matters worse and don’t help toward parents cooperation and collaboration to bring up their children in a good way or at least less bad way either.

  2. JamesB says:

    Broad brush child maintenance liability law which underpins these dodgy organisations encourages mothers to leave the fathers also and that is very bad. It means they lack any moral credibility and are undeserving of respect.

    They were set up to try and reduce government liability for child maintenance and have failed at that by encouraging the thing (single parenthood) that they were trying to prevent, making the bill larger. When they did the setup, they didn’t consult widely and rushed bad legislation with cross party support backed by dodgy feminists without even asking the men who were expected to pay massive amounts who weren’t even in the room when it was ‘agreed’ that’s awful process and bad politicians.

    They also undermine marriage making financial settlements in divorce very much harder as the man cant trade a house for child maintenance and start again. It also encourages gold diggers and people not to marry as it marries people without consent as marriage should be the environment to bring children into the world.

  3. Yvie says:

    Why shouldn’t the parents have to sort it out themselves. Presumably it was their decision to bring a child into the world and their decision to separate. What has it got to do with the taxpayer and why should the taxpayer fund the CSA or CM options.

  4. spinner says:

    Given the enormous support universally given to parents with care by tax payers in the form of child benefit and tax credits which alone comes to around £5k per child per year on top of free schooling, health care and housing support the money transferred from one parent to another for the benefit of children is always going to be for non essentials and so it’s much better handled by the parents themselves. It also acts as an encouragement for the parent with care to keep the other parent fully involved in the children’s lives as opposed to the current CMS calculation where the more they exclude the other parent the more money they get which is obviously perverse in the extreme.

  5. JamesB says:

    It also alienates and disenfranchises fathers from the community and society.

  6. JamesB says:

    It also replaces the father with the State (Government). So, woman is married to the State for support, rather than woman married to man for support.

    Essentially what government is doing is taking the male role, which has been denigrated down the years enough already, for its own and putting the man on the street and threatening him to pay for it while either another man or woman and the state (Government) bring up his children in a less good way than if it had left alone in the first place.

  7. Luke says:

    Where have I heard this before from you John 🙂

    “It’s all a bit like the family justice system since the legal aid cuts. Whereas before we had a system that was there for all, now for many people there really isn’t much of a system at all.”

    Except it wasn’t there for all was it John ? People on Legal Aid could just sit in court and look at the other person and effectively say ‘surrender or lose all your savings in costs’. Maybe when you said it was ‘there for all’ you meant ‘there for all lawyers’ 🙂
    I remember when you used to post on here moaning that Legal Aid was poorly paid and lawyers were only doing it out of the goodness of their hearts – effectively subsidising “little people” – that wasn’t really true was it John?

    “It’s every man for himself, with many, including the children, suffering as a result. Still, as long as the voter thinks the government is doing a good job, that’s all that matters.”

    Oh noes, it’s those “little people” again, having the temerity to use their democratic rights and not having the good sense to let you pat them on the head and do what you say John by handing over all their money in legal costs and income tax for Legal Aid – what a scandal…

  8. JamesB says:

    One thing this site doesn’t mention which to give them credit CMO appear to is the black hole that often the resident parents profligate spending behaviour and the lack of the csa/cmec and court to help with that.

    An example, when I give my 2nd ex (I have 2) money her oldest child (not mine) who is a 20 year old student will demand it off her and spend it on his car or girlfriend or holiday or new clothes etc. So, he goes around in a new car with insurance more expensive than that paid for by myself, while the child I have with her goes around in rags and unwashed and unkept because she unlike my ex’s other children is not a loud mouthed bully. Other examples include expensive foreign holidays and not working and spending money on drugs and boyfriends and expensive accommodation by exes all of which I cannot afford, for as Yvie and other commentators have said they get 2 and a half incomes and I have less than one plus they get the capital settlement also. A friend of mine was also asked to pay on top of that £3k for his daughters braces recently, he has been trying to keep his ex sweet for years but said sorry no and she hasn’t spoke to him for eight months all very unpleasant “Really!”.

  9. JamesB says:

    After she said no eight months ago she stopped talking to him, despite him paying her over £500 a month and seeing their children over half the time (he should really be claiming maintenance from her). The whole CM thing is bad.

  10. JamesB says:

    Should go back to the courts, with all factors considered and clean break possible. To say otherwise is not natural law and wrong and needs changing please.

  11. JamesB says:

    All factors should be taken into consideration, including whether the woman was married to the man or claimed to be on the pill when she wasn’t when got pregnant, if she wasn’t married and claimed to be on pill then amount should be very low, perhaps use lie detector for that. Spoke to a Russian friend of mine and she said in Russia, women who have child outside of marriage are not entitled to any child maintenance if they split up and that sounds reasonable, provided we have more sensible marriage laws like in Scotland, or prenups.

    Also is she is remarried and also her income and capital and inheritance and also the money should be in a bank account which both sides should be able to pay for things for the children from. Also perhaps given in vouchers, or savings which only the child concerned could have spent on them for things they need.

  12. Mark says:

    the Mother of my 3 sons has been in Barbados now since illegally leaving her children during lockdown. She spirited my youngest son away from me for 18 months to a family unknown to me to a void me seeing him and counting nights in my favour. She did this through manipulation (s). My youngest son and I now have fixed relationship and he has chosen to live me with me for the past 18 months. The CMS told me they did not believe my story but said they investigated the Mother’s whereabouts. They never gave me the result of the report. Ultimately I was told by James Younger, the now under Secretary of State for the DWP, following letters to my MP Dominic Raab, that the boys Mother concluded the investigation by saying she would ‘be home soon’. She remains in Barbados. I have been pursued by the CMS with the threat of Bayliffs. They have ruined my life. James Younger ignored my complaints and has said that ‘I must pay for my children’. I house, feed and cloth them while the Mother sits on a beach. I can’t afford a legal challenge and now face financial ruin and considerable mental health issues. Dominic Raab won’t help further. I believe the CMS is set up for private profiteering via SERCO.

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