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Come on, surely we can do better than the child support system?

“The administration of the claims by the [Child Support] agency is a sorry tale.”

So said Upper Tribunal Judge Paula Gray in MJ v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and FD (CSM) (Child support – cancellation), the latest example of the shocking inefficiencies of the child support system.

Now I’m not going to go into the detail of this case. All I want to discuss is mentioned in the opening paragraphs of Judge Gray’s judgment. As she explained, the case concerned two children who were born on 17 February 1993 and 20 March 1994 respectively and were therefore aged nearly 25 and 24 when the judgment was handed down on 5 February this year (just to remind you, the child support system only applies to children under 16 or under 20 and in full-time education). Their parents separated way back in 1996, the two children remaining with their mother.

The aforementioned ‘sorry tale’ (for each of the two periods since 1996 when the father was liable to make payments) was compounded by the father’s lack of co-operation over many years (where have we heard this before?) and the mother’s lack of contact with whatever agency was responsible for administering child support at the relevant time. Ah, I hear you say: the mother was at fault too for the delay! Well, yes, but I’m sure Judge Gray was right that her lack of contact was likely due to her frustration at the lack of progress in dealing with her claims over all the twenty-plus years since she and the father separated.

As I said, I’m not going to go into the details, but the decision in the case is noteworthy. It was that the First-tier Tribunal had no jurisdiction to entertain an appeal by the mother against a decision of the agency, because by that time the children had grown up and the maintenance assessment had therefore ceased! That particular type of appeal is contingent upon there being “a maintenance assessment in force”. In other words, the case had gone on so long that the system was washing its hands of it. I wonder what that decision did for the mother’s sense of frustration?

This is really not good enough. The old court-based child maintenance system may have had its faults, such as inconsistency of orders across the country, and I’m sure it could be frustrating at times for the parent seeking maintenance, but I don’t recall ever dealing with a case that was still grinding on years after the children had grown up. Under the child support system such cases are not unusual, and the frustrations along the way for parents with care are many times worse. At least when those parents were dealing with a court they had a chance to appear before the court in person and state their case, rather than (for the most part) deal with faceless administrators under the child support system.

One only has to look at the appalling level of failure of the child support system to collect child support that was due to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. A year ago the government admitted that a staggering £3 billion in child maintenance debt owed by parents under the Child Support Agency may never be recovered. The child support system was never fit for purpose, and never will be. Surely, we can do better?

Yes, I know that this case was dealt with under the original 1993 child support scheme rather than the shiny new 2012 scheme, but have things really improved that much? The system is still a nightmarish impenetrable forest of regulations which, as this case shows, can trap even those tasked with administering and regulating it. It is just as likely as ever to ensnare the parent with no access to legal advice.

If we had had a government that really cared about the plight of children suffering as a result of the lack of financial support from their absent parents (not to mention the plight of the parents caring for those children), then this awful child support system would have been swept away years ago. As I said, the old court-based system of child maintenance orders may have had its problems, but it was a lot better than this.

If you want to read the judgment, you can find it here – and good luck with understanding the arcane intricacies of the child support system!

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. rum says:

    Omg the poor woman. In this day and age we should be able to do better. The csa needs more jurisdiction. It should not take years and years to get a hearing after a mandatory reconsideration. Then you find that they are only looking at that particular year. So in essence, every year you do not agree, you apply for a mandatory reconsideration, which takes aprox 2 years all in all. That is without any final decision that needs to go to the second tier . So once you get awarded what your children should have got the previous 3 years ago, after 12 months you have to go through the whole ridiculous process all over again. so it lasts one year but takes aprox 3 years if you are lucky and months and months of calling the csa, who some do not even know what a mandatory reconsideraion means. You go to your appeal. The csa do not even speak to you first. They have no jurisdiction so why are they even there. It is all designed to send you away. I am 100% sure it is a ploy to get rid of you and suffer with your children. The system is horrific and that is a mild phrase. So i face the challenge of doing this for another 6 years , will i have the strength ? will i have the willpower to fight every single year for what the children should have and the csa should have the jurisdiction to give anyway ????? oh and let us not forget. He could be earning anything up to £200k £500 k . whatever he earns, with diversions every year, but the back pay owed is not enforceable. So when he owed £1500 he has every right to have a little £5.00 a month added to what he is underpaying, as the cms tell you ‘we can try and get it in a lump’ . ‘However if he refuses, we do not have any enforcement rights if he offers to pay per month !’ It is absolutely disgusting and this county is absolutely letting this continue year on year without any re-dress . Why does the government just not say ‘it is the survival of the fitessed!, once you run the gauntlet , a few months later you are back at the starting line to just do it all over again and again and again. All that fighting for 12 months to start again ! WHO MADE THIS HORRENDOUS SYSTEM UP FOR CHILDREN

    • Donnie B. Rasko says:

      Feminism. That’s what’s at fault. You all broke the family unit and want the man to pay for your anti-family behaviour. Do away with no-fault divorce. Do away with abortion and pill-form birth control. These things are the enablers of reckless female promiscuity and destruction of the traditional family.

    • Mr T says:

      What is wrong with her being a parent and providing, financially for her children as is her responsibility?

  2. Stitchedup says:

    What’s more important.. Enforcing CSA payments or enforcement of contact orders?? So the woman missed out on some money.. Big deal!

  3. Mr T says:

    Equality – financially provide for your children, period. If you cannot give them to the other parent. Failing that decide between you. If you can or won’t put up or shut up and get on with it.

    The government put the CSA \ CMS in place because it didn’t want taxpayers to continue funding the spiraling bill created by the benefits given to single-parent families, basically single mums so it put a law in place to get partners, father be responsible even after the breakdown of the relationship.

    Inadvertently giving women privilege and now, entitlement. I’d love to show you some of the delusional messages from my ex-wife and ex-partner about THEIR money. Google for a few seconds to see the damage this has now caused throwing everything without thinking of the impact – another common reason and mechanism for parental alienation.

    It needs axing plain and simple.

  4. JamesB says:

    Its morally bankrupt to expect people to pay this feminism tax, at least at the high rate it is currently set, i.e to women for moving in a new lover and kicking out the father when he has done nothing wrong. The entitlement is wrong as Mr T says. Blaming deadbeat men is a cop out and I too am surprised the government waded into families on the womans’ side by default alienating so many men, goes to show how the westminster bubble establishment represent so few people and lobbyists and special interest groups like gays and lesbians and feminists, but heterosexual men not so much I hope Brexit marks the beginning of a sea change in that regard.

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